Professional sports demand a mix of top athletes, overworked coaches, big ego front office executives and a stir-the-pot media presence that connect fans to the action. The triad of athletes, coaches and front office personnel is perfectly logical—play for today’s game, coach for this season and build for long-term success. A natural push and pull exists amongst the aforementioned troika while the media coalition often feels like a slightly wobbly fourth wheel. The media is necessary but not quite equal to the rest of the set. And that brings us to press conferences, the ultimate convergence of team and media. Why are they necessary? Who orchestrates them? What’s the blueprint?
Press conferences are not impromptu player interviews or a coach’s spur-of-the-moment diatribe. They’re used to make announcements or answer questions on a specific game, personnel decision or off-field happening. An organization’s public relations staff is tasked with creating a positive aura for the team using “free” media coverage. A large part of the department’s day-to-day activities includes writing press releases as well as determining when press conferences are necessary and getting them organized. Those interested in this kind of career need interpersonal skills, media savvy and a detail-oriented mind because crafting an hour-long presser is a lot of work.
Is the announcement press conference worthy? Often times, in sports, precedent answers this. Years of professional sports history tell us when a team should organize a press conference rather than offering no comment or sending out a simple press release. Announcing major free agent signings, apologizing for team, player or coach misgivings or declaring the hiring or firing of a team’s coaching staff or front office leadership are all worthy of a show. Without some manipulation, a news story—positive or negative—is shaped into whatever tale media outlets choose to tell. When a team helps craft the message with a press conference, it’s often relayed to fans in a more favorable light. Fans hear what a team wants them to hear instead of what reporters choose to share.
Think before you schedule. Don’t introduce your newly inked superstar on the day of the Super Bowl. Don’t hire a big name college coach to run your program during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics. And never announce the firing of your head coach the day before a game—that’s a disastrous distraction. Look at what’s happening locally and nationally before circling a day and time on the calendar for your press conference. You want a lot of media in attendance so select a day without a lot of competing news. You were likely given available days and times for the player, coach or front office leader that will be taking the stage. Confirm your preferred time with that person, or their representative, before you start spreading the word. The most traditional way to tell the world? A press release, including team contact information, a bolded headline and some highlights—who, what, when, where, why and how. That’s your megaphone to attract local, and even national, media attention. Get the word out, being specific about timing and logistics, to draw the right kind of media coverage.
It’s time to set the stage. Sports press conferences are typically set in the same space every time. Most organizations have a media room at team headquarters adorned with all the essentials you need to pull off a presser. If just one person will stand before the media you’ll need a podium, sound system, lights, and a team backdrop. If more than one spokesperson will talk—perhaps for a major free agent signing—you’ll widen the background, add some microphones and dress up some long tables and chairs. Set up seating for media attendees along with space for video cameras. Test everything to avoid a mishap when the video cameras and audio recorders start rolling. Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare—you never know when a coach, general manager or boss might change up your plan. And, for bonus points, offer your media guests some coffee, water and snacks upon arrival.
Shine bright when the lights are on! You, or another team spokesperson, should greet arriving presser attendees to build goodwill and pass along any last minute changes. Make them feel like you want them there so they’ll come back again. And have an audiovisual technician on site to help smooth out technical issues. Once people are settled in, get final thumbs up from your keynote speaker, take a deep breath and step up to the podium. Remember, you’re not a carnival barker so don’t feel the need to put on a show. Briefly welcome attendees, remind them to save questions for the end and introduce your main speaker. As soon as the star of the show is done sharing his or her news, approach the podium again to explain how the Q&A session will go. Your speaker will answer media questions but you’re responsible to end the session if it finds no natural conclusion. You’re also tasked with controlling unruly media members and showboats that refuse to give up the mic. To cap the presser thank everyone again, dismiss the crowd and give yourself a pat on the back.