In the high-stakes world of professional sports, success isn’t solely measured by on-field wins and championship titles. The reputation and public perception of a sports franchise can significantly impact its long-term popularity and profitability.  

While more high-profile and consumer facing than our clients, say, in manufacturing or energy or tech, sports teams’ problems and challenges in the corporate world aren’t really all that different, and neither are the strategies to solve them.  

Here’s a few ways we work with our clients in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Women’s Soccer and professional auto racing to help them stay above the fray by recognizing vulnerabilities and developing strategies to mitigate reputational damage.

1.  Make Friends Before You Need Them

Public affairs advisors are constantly on the lookout for ways to boost and bolster a team’s reputation. Think about it like money in the bank for a rainy-day reputation fund — the more we can build political capital and public goodwill for a team in times without controversy, the more a team’s relationship-building and neighborliness will pay off in times of crisis. 

That means making strategic charitable contributions and forging partnerships in the community that aligns with the team’s brand and values. That means feel-good stories about players going above and beyond to help out a loyal fan. That means ongoing communications with elected officials and regulators about all of the above.  

It’s all about how to build trust and loyalty among fans and other important audiences so that when problems arise, you can lean on those groups to speak out on the team’s behalf. We like to explain it’s better to make friends before you need them. 

2. Spot Issues Early

The world of professional sports is fraught with complex issues — player controversies, league regulations and local political headaches. Public affairs advisors excel at navigating these challenges, offering guidance on how to address them effectively while minimizing negative fallout.  

3. Be Prepared for Worst-Case Scenarios 

Prevention is often better than cure. Our public affairs advisors can assist teams in developing crisis preparedness plans, ensuring a swift and effective response when unforeseen challenges arise.  

But don’t let those playbooks collect dust on your office shelf — make sure your leadership team is regularly conducting trainings. These exercises will create muscle memory to enable the crisis team to respond swiftly and effectively when a real crisis occurs.   

4. Crisis Management: When a crisis strikes – and it’s not a question of if but when — a public affairs advisor can be the difference between containment and catastrophe. Controversies in the sporting world tend to spread faster than in other industries because of the nature of their passionate fan base, so our job is to provide a swift and strategic response to mitigate damage and protect the team’s brand.

Winning on the field, paired with an off-field playbook for snuffing out issues before they happen or responding quickly when circumstances are out of the organization’s control are the game changers for professional sports teams vested in building and maintaining a well-regarded reputation.  

This article was written by President Natalie Bauer Luce. Natalie is a seasoned communications and public affairs strategist with extensive experience in government, law, media, politics and business.