Sports public relations has long been used to promote the big game and highlight key players. Then, the coronavirus crisis halted sports, and the constant stream of public relations content fell silent. There was no game to hype, no sports moment to celebrate. This essay is about the public relations lessons learned during the pandemic. It discusses how sports public relations prior to COVID-19 often valued relational breadth over depth. As a result, sports public relations operated at a superficial level of momentary engagements sustained by creative content rather than the deeper relational connections that public relations purport. The essay then illustrates how COVID-19 cultivated opportunities for relational breadth and depth to grow between players and fans. Finally, the essay questions if we really want sports public relations to return to normal or if sports public relations professionals should incorporate these lessons into sustainable, postpandemic public relations practice.
Christie M. Kleinmann
Karen L. Hartman
This scholarly commentary addresses COVID-19’s financial impact by examining how current and proposed National Collegiate Athletic Association bylaw waivers could negatively affect women’s collegiate athletics and Title IX compliance. These potential bylaw changes come after years of misinformation, a lack of education, and minimal understanding of the law. In the chaos of COVID-19’s impact on American society and athletic programs, Title IX has become the elephant in the room. The essay concludes with three recommendations that could help athletic departments alleviate Title IX compliance issues when enacting the bylaw waivers.
Ellen J. Staurowsky, Benjamin Koch, Grace Dury, and Cooper Hayes
In this essay, the authors explored Pinsker’s conception of two pandemics, as reflected in the concerns expressed about the future of women’s sport, prospects for female athletes, and the security of women leaders in sport as they emerged in articles published in national news sources. The purpose of this essay was to capture, in a limited way, how women’s sport concerns surfaced in the media in the aftermath of a forced industry shutdown; to gauge reactions, assess real and perceived threats; and to examine how and whether this crisis inspired positive thoughts about women’s sport opportunities for the future. Our work is based on the tracking of articles published in major news outlets about the impact of the pandemic on women’s sport from March 10, 2020, to May 25, 2020. Readings of the collected articles revealed several themes that fit within the two pandemics framework: reactions to the loss of momentum in women’s sport; fears regarding a reversal in gains made by women’s sport in the marketplace as competition for limited resources escalates; concerns about women’s sport participation decreasing due to cuts and delays in programs; and a focused commitment to gender equity and maintaining momentum, even in the face of significant headwinds.
Bo Li and Olan Scott
This commentary analyzes how misinformation related to a coronavirus case of a star soccer player (i.e., Wu Lei) was spread widely on Chinese digital media and accepted by sports fans as the truth. The paper first examines the mechanisms by exploring how misinformation emerged and was disseminated. Then, the paper explores how social media and the fast-growing self-media in China exacerbate tendencies toward misinformation during the news production process, which poses a new threat to legacy media and journalists’ profession. The paper concludes by discussing new challenges faced by Chinese sports journalists in the new digital era after COVID-19.
Yiran Su, Bradley J. Baker, Jason P. Doyle, and Meimei Yan
As COVID-19 lockdowns force most sport leagues into hiatus, engaging fans has emerged as a key challenge confronting the sport industry. While navigating social distancing protocols, athletes are experimenting with new ways to connect with their fans. Alongside established social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), TikTok, a short-form video-sharing platform, has gained prominence in terms of registered users and shared content. Yet, little is known about the utility of TikTok as an athlete branding tool. This study uses a netnographic approach to explore the use of TikTok among athletes (N = 10) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings reveal that athlete-generated TikTok videos are characterized as playful and authentic. While athletes are recent adopters of TikTok, this emerging social media platform can be profitably integrated into their online branding strategies. Communicating via TikTok presents opportunities for athletes to foster existing fan relationships, promote branded content, and appeal to new fan segments. Overall, athletes and sport practitioners can leverage these findings to create content for an audience that is attracted to novelty and the activities of athletes extending beyond game highlights or interviews.
Christiana Schallhorn and Jessica Kunert
During the COVID-19 pandemic, TV broadcasters and clubs were challenged to provide alternative formats and content for fans of Germany’s favorite sport, football [soccer]. Thus, they emulated matchdays and created a Bundesliga feeling in new ways. The authors focus on this alternative creative sports coverage during the Coronavirus crisis and consider the effect on the audience. TV broadcasters, for instance, recreated Bundesliga matchdays through broadcasting historical matches, sticking with the original fixtures from before the crisis, while offering renewed commentary. Clubs conducted the Bundesliga Home Challenge, that is, FIFA20 videogame matches with their professional and eSport players, covering these matches on Twitter and their website. The authors argue that these efforts of keeping up the beloved structure of daily sports events satisfy social and entertaining belongings that are normally continually recreated through watching and talking about live sports events. Moreover, they discuss the possible sustainability of these innovative ways of sport communication.
Timothy Mirabito, Robin Hardin, and Joshua R. Pate
The sports world’s near universal moratorium in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was abrupt and unprecedented. From professional leagues to youth sports, doors were closed to competitions and events to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The hiatus began at one of the busiest times on the calendar for sport, with the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons concluding; the Women's National Basketball Association and National Football League drafts taking place; Major League Baseball's spring training nearing its conclusion; the Professional Golf Association and Ladies Professional Golf Association Tours starting their seasons; and the National Collegiate Athletic Association's marquee events, the Division-I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, set to begin. The suddenness of the interruption was met with a need by the various sport entities to engage their public with information about their respective responses. The statements that emerged on or after March 12—“the day the sports world stopped”—were not all the same. Many of the statements, in fact, were quite different. That was especially the case with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, whose governance structure and messaging practices hindered their ability to have a uniform response. The purpose of this essay was to examine the public messaging of sport leagues and organizations and to discuss the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of those public statements.
With sporting events canceled and Safer at Home orders in place, both athletes and sports fans have a void to fill. Consequently, social media use by both parties has increased. Athletes have become more active and interactive online, which may serve to strengthen parasocial relationships between them and their fans. These connections could develop to the extent that the line between parasocial relationship and friendship is blurred. Will stronger ties between athletes and fans be a by-product of COVID-19? In this editorial, the author builds an argument for the plausibility of this result by linking published studies regarding sports fandom and parasocial relationships to current trends in athletes’ use of social media. The author then raises questions regarding the future of sports fandom, which can be assessed once athletics resume. To conclude, the author offers practical recommendations to sports organizations coming out of COVID-19-related suspensions.
Madeleine Pape and Fiona McLachlan
A growing body of research suggests that economic crises tend to exacerbate existing gender inequalities, particularly in the realms of paid work and political representation. Translating this to the case of sport, how and why might the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic be felt unevenly by professional female athletes and women leaders? In this essay, the authors reflect on the classic feminist critique of the gendered construction of dependence and consider how its application in the context of sport might aid scholars in making sense of (a) the persistence of gendered precarity and inequality in sport, (b) the prospect of their exacerbation under conditions of a pandemic, and (c) how the current crisis might enable sport to move toward a model of interdependence in which its vastly unequal structures are changed for the better.
Kevin Hull and Miles Romney
When COVID-19 shut down the sports world, local sports broadcasters were without the games and events that traditionally fill the content of their shows. While national media outlets could dive deep into the archives to play old games and classic content, local sports broadcasters traditionally do not have that option. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine how the jobs and daily routines of local sports broadcasters changed in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. A cross-section of local sports broadcasters from a variety of markets was surveyed, and, based on the responses, several themes emerged: (a) an emphasis on creativity, (b) a shift in daily responsibility, (c) and an uncertain future.