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Why the Need for Strategic Sport Communication?

Posted on: September 15, 2021

Written by W. Timothy Coombs, co-author of Strategic Sport Communication: Traditional and Transmedia Strategies for a Global Sports Market , who discusses the growing importance of strategic sport communication in the sports industry.

Sport is a multi-billion-dollar, global phenomenon that has drawn the attention of communication scholars. The sport industry is valued at over $620 billion dollars a year with football (soccer) leading the way at over $20 billion per year. Sport communication is a vibrant and growing area of study in academics. Strategic sport communication is an important component for the recent academic expansion into sport communication. 

What Fuels the Sport Industry?

The recent growth in the sport industry has been fueled by media rights and sponsorship deals.  Media rights involve the rights to share the sport with fans.  The rapid growth of streaming services has resulted in increased opportunities of media rights deals and competition among media outlets increasing the price for media rights.  For instance, Hulu, Amazon, ESPN+, Peacock, and Paramount+ are all streaming various sports.  Sponsorship deals include naming rights to facilities and names on clothing.  Media rights and sponsorship deals are half of the revenue base for sport.  The other half is composed of ticket sales for events and merchandise. 

Social media has been a major contributor to the growth of sport communication employment.  If you look at any professional sports team, you will see a large number of people employed in social media.  This trend is more likely to increase than to decrease because of the value teams find in fan engagement.

What Fuels Academic Interest in the Sport Industry?

The academic interest in the sport industry is composed of research and teaching. Sport communication is now an established and vibrant research area within communication. Sport communication has its own journals and research traditions.  Sport communication research grew primarily from research in the areas of mass communication and rhetoric. The seminal works in sport communication reflect the roots in these two disciplines. 

The growth of the teaching aspect is function of the growth of the sport industry itself.  The sport industry is a source of employment as over 2 million people in the US are employed within the field with a growth rate of 3.4%.  Jobs are available and students are interested in sport communication making the major attractive to academic institutions.  Sport communication programs are a means of attracting, recruiting, and retaining students.  This reflects the business side of academics.

What is Strategic Sport Communication and Why Does it Matter?

Strategic communication helps an organization to achieve its goals. Strategic sport communication is the utilization of communication to help sport entities achieve their goals.  In sport, the two main goals are to generate revenue and to cultivate favorable social evaluations.  Professional teams must generate revenue to exist. How people view the professional team (social evaluations) help to build support for the team and to help with revenue generation.  Strategic sport communication utilized ideas from public relations, advertising, and marketing to help sport organizations to achieve their goals. 

While sport communication has grown in terms of academic research, the area of strategic sport communication has lagged behind the rest.  This lag is important because of the jobs in sport communication focus on strategic communication.  Students need to learn how communication can be leveraged to help achieve sport goals. 

Fans are at the core of sport goals.  Fans helps to generate revenue.  Fans buy the tickets and the merchandise.  Fans are the reasons companies want the media rights and why sponsors sign deals.  For instance, fans are likely to buy the sponsors product.  More fans means more and mor lucrative sponsorship deals.  Social evaluation is critical to revenue in sport.  The more fans identify with a team, the more money the fans will spend.  Committed fans spend more on sport than casual fans.  The committed fans buy the apparel, home décor, and streaming services. 

Engaged fans are more valuable fans because they are more likely to contribute to revenue than other fans.  A critical value of strategic sport communication is its ability to facilitate fan engagement thereby enhancing fan identification and ultimately generate more revenue.

What about Training People in Strategic Sprot Communication?

Relatively little has been written about strategic sport communication that seeks to help explain how to execute effective strategic sport communication effort.  This is unfortunate because many colleges and universities are offering courses and even majors in sport communication that area actually center around strategic sport communication in some manner.  For instances, we see many public relations and strategic communication programs adding courses in sport communication. 

To be successful, any strategic communication professional must understand how to function with a specific industry.  If you do not understand the industry, you will not be very helpful in reaching larger organizational goals.  Understanding strategic communication is only the starting point.  That knowledge has limited value if you do now understand how it fits with the context of your particular industry. 

Our goal to provide a useful resource for those teaching and those interested in learning more about strategic sport communication.  This includes the relatively new utilization of a transmedia approach to strategic communication.  The transmedia approach utilizes a variety of channels, including digital channels, to engage stakeholders. Transmedia places a strong emphasis of using narratives at the core of messaging and involving stakeholders in the creation of those narratives.  Fans have a desire to engage making them the idea target for transmedia-based messages. Strategic Sport Communication: Traditional and Transmedia Strategies for a Global Sports Market   is designed to address the limited resources available for understanding strategic sport communication. People need some guidance and training if they are to understand how the basics of strategic communication function within the world of sport.  Our book is one attempt to fill that void.