Sports Crisis – Be Ready Before it Hits You with Crisis PR Expert Kevin Sullivan

Sports Crisis – Be Ready Before it Hits You with Crisis PR Expert Kevin Sullivan

By: Natalie Mikolich

“Let your imagination run wild and think of the worst three of four things that can possibly happen that keep you up at night.”

That was the advice from Kevin Sullivan, Founder, of Kevin Sullivan Communications ( specializing in crisis planning and strategic communication counseling, when first asked about Crisis Communications and how you begin preparing for the unexpected to happen in sports.

This year alone, we have seen many of the major sports leagues face difficult events and situations that no one would’ve predicted.  From the NBA’s Donald Sterling racist comments being exposed as the Owner of the LA Clippers, to NASCAR and the death of Kevin Ward Jr. with racer Tony Stewart involved in it (and currently under investigation), and most recently the NFL’s decision to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely following the release of a domestic violence video by TMZ, these a just a few of sports crisis situations that have erupted the past few months.

With more than 25 years of experience at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, NBC Universal, NBC Sports and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Crisis PR Expert Kevin Sullivan shared more with us about not only why being prepared for a crisis in sports is extremely important, but also the impact it has on the sports industry and the kind of damage it can cause to many.

Here is more with Kevin in our full Q&A:

1.Generally, why is being prepared for a crisis extremely important?
A crisis can be defined as an event that threatens your brand.  Mishandling a crisis can lead to serious damage to your brand.  Companies spend years and decades earning a good reputation and positive brand position – and all that work and equity can be derailed in the span of minutes by mishandling a crisis.  Since pretty much every crisis scenario has already happened to someone, there is no reason not to be prepared.  L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling's racist comments represented a crisis for the NBA, but the league's urgent and skillful management of that crisis prevented damage to the League's brand. 

2.Who do crises impact in the sports industry?
Every stakeholder group can be alienated by mishandling a crisis:  Fans, players, sponsors, staff, media and just as importantly, potential fans and sponsors.

3.What kind of damage and impact can a crisis have on an athlete, organization, institution or brand?
A crisis mishandled can lead to loss of revenue from the full range of revenue opportunities, including ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, licensed merchandise, etc.  There is also the intangible loss of goodwill.  People don't want to be associated with a damaged brand.

NOTE: It has been reported that negative media value earned for Ray Rice was $36.5M, $5.8M for Roger Goodell and $16.9M for the NFL following the release of the TMZ video of Ray Rice.

4.What are the main steps to having an effective crisis plan put in place?
We suggest to our clients that they let their imagination run wild and identify the scenarios they most fear.  What keeps you up at night?  Once you compile that list, set out to build a disciplined, simple process to manage it – then practice that process.  The preparation allows a company to assert command and leadership from the outset, which is an important first step.  It also gives peace of mind that you are ready to serve your fans and protect your brand in the face of challenging circumstances.

5.How do you need to be prepared for crises when it comes to social media?
Social media needs to be integrated into every crisis plan.  When Sully Sullenberger heroically landed his stricken U.S. Airways flight, the first tweet was sent 47 seconds after the plane touched down on the Hudson River.  Today it would be more like 4.7 seconds.  Regular communication is imperative in a crisis situation – and social media platforms must be included since that is where so many of us get our news today.