Getting more Rugby PR, part 1 of 2

The column below is something I had written about ten years ago for e-Sports Media when they were still around.  The Web site was kind enough to give me a little bit of a space on their server to write my random rugby thoughts. (by “kind enough” I mean they took anything written for them by anyone with a pulse – breathing was optional back then).

This evening I was walking the dog listening to the most recent edition of American Rugby News’ Rugbytalk podcast. Brian Lowe and the broadcast team were talking about NBC’s recent announcement that they will broadcast some of the games from the upcoming 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and the low attendance figures at some of the recent Churchill Cup games. A mention was made of how the American Rugby community needs to work with, or work on, the media to start raising rugby’s profile in the U.S.

For far too long, too many rugby players and teams across this country have treated the sport like it was something that was to be kept secret.  Hidden away in enclaves such as the San Francisco Bay area and the preppy areas of the Northeast, the sport was to be kept away from the unbelievers and those who can’t get its nuances.

And in the meantime, those same people were busy playing rugby and then partaking of some of the sport’s more unseemly activities after the game – drinking at the pitch, “Shooting the Boot,” or everyone’s favorite, the “Zulu” (where you strip down and dance around naked after scoring your first try, or touchdown). I don’t need to say that these are not the most “family friendly” activities and are sure to turn off some potential players and supporters.

That said, let me end this post with a blast from the past, and a brief look at how some rugby teams should be trying to get better PR.

Benson

——-

Recently, I took a phone call while working in the sports department of the local daily paper, from the coach for the local university team. He gave me information about where the team would play in the first round of the collegiate championship tournament, who they would play, general information that a coach would give the media to publish.

He then began to relate how he was very disappointed with the newspaper, for their lack of coverage of the team last fall.

“We were promised a story and never got it,” he told me.

He went on like this for a few minutes. I was polite, informing him that I would pass on the message to the sports editor and tried to convey to him that we would do better in the spring. He then asked for the editor’s name and told me he’d call him the next morning, along with faxing me a letter that USA Rugby had sent him.

After I got off the phone, I began thinking and got angry. What the hell just happened? This is the only coach that I hear from that is, confrontational.

None of the other coaches or players have acted like that. For the most part, they’re professional and understand that there’s only so much space in a sports section, and they do not fall in the most reported sport categories. While this coach wants as much press as the university women’s basketball team (which at this paper get covered every day of the week during the regular season), that will not happen.

Then I started wondering, “How can local rugby teams get more (or any) press?”

This hails from the journalism side of the desk, what I as a journalist would like to see rugby teams do. We’ll just go over a few ideas here, with more coming in the second part of this column (including how to write a press release)

The first thing to hit me was, they need to put wins on the field. Newspapers will follow teams with W’s on the board. This is a double-edged sword, though. As soon as the team starts to lose, the press will go elsewhere.

Work for charities, or a members notoriety (for example, killing someone – which did happen with the former player for a team I was covering), are probably the majority of instances that a team will receive coverage.

Rugby is not well-known or understood. The press won’t learn unless you take the time to teach them. Invite the press to an afternoon on the rugby field. Show them a controlled scrimmage, where they can see a ruck, scrum, maul, lineout, etc. Do it in such a way that they will learn the basics of the game. Oh yeah, collect some money to feed them; journalists have a tendency to gravitate to free food and drink. Every little bit helps.

You also need to nominate, strong-arm or bribe a player into becoming the Media Relations guy for the team. This is the guy whose responsibility is to keep the editors and reporters up to date, once or twice a week. Don’t email them everyday if there’s nothing new. Let them know who you are playing next, why it is important (a rivalry, cross-town grudge match?), the leading players on each team, when and where the game is. Remember to answer the W questions: Who, what, when, where, why (and how, although it’s not a W question). The more information you provide, the easier it’ll be for the person writing the story.

In next week’s column, we’ll put together a small media kit, write a press release and look at the dangers of requesting too much coverage (remember all coverage isn’t just good, we get to start questioning your decisions and covering your team’s bad days).

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