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How to Lose $15 Million in Three Hours

The infamous video leaked to Tunsil’s Twitter shows him smoking marijuana with a gas mask. To this day no one knows who was behind the leak.

Laremy Tunsil was a projected top five pick in the 2016 NFL draft, largely due to his successful career at Ole Miss and the fact he played one of the most important positions in the NFL: Left Tackle. Being the guy that protects the quarterback’s blind slide, left tackles are often among the leagues highest paid players. Everything lined up for Tunsil to be picked in the top five- until 30 minutes before the draft.

An “anonymous” hacker accessed Tunsil’s twitter account at approximately 7:37 PM ET, about 30 minutes before the Rams had the number one pick in the draft. At this time the pre-draft show was airing on ESPN, and news quickly got to the set that the hacker posted a video of Tunsil smoking marijuana in a gas mask in front of a confederate flag. Tunsil claims the video was five years old, but users posted images of him five years ago showing he was noticeably slimmer.

In the pre-draft process, teams vet players extensively for any red flags or off the field issues that would give bad press to the organization. Normally these get uncovered months before the draft takes place, not thirty minutes before. Because teams did not have adequate time to get background context to this story, Tunsil fell in the draft, and fell hard. From being a consensus top five pick (even number one overall by some experts) to falling to pick 13, Tunsil lost almost $15 million in the process. According to the NFL’s rookie wage scale, you make a certain amount on your first contract based on what spot you are drafted in. At the conclusion of a four year rookie deal, the number 1 overall pick would make $26 million, compared to $10 million after four years for spot 13.

Tunsil’s play has mainly taken the focus away from his draft night incident.

Tunsil’s agent, or whoever was in charge, failed him by having very poor response time to the incident. The video was up for 30 minutes on his twitter account, which may as well be two days. He later deleted his account, re-activated to post an apology, and then deleted the apology tweet later. Mixed in with all of this was a statement from his agent Jimmy Sexton: “It is BS, his account was hacked.” Deflecting blame with a simultaneous apology just wasn’t the right move and showed they were not on the same page.

The Baltimore Ravens had the eighth selection in the draft and needed a left tackle, but opted to choose Ronnie Stanley instead of Tunsil, a clear sign teams were not interested after this incident surfaced. However, after the Dolphins picked Tunsil at 13, analysts were praising the Dolphins for picking “the best player in the draft.” After the draft was over, Tunsil was interviewed about the incident, where he didn’t run into too many issues.

Unknowingly while this was going on, his Instagram was hacked claiming he took money while he was in college, which would be an NCAA violation. Tunsil denied this while questioned, but right before he was ushered off stage he said: “It may have happened, yeah.”

Due to the lack of guidance throughout the process and proper media training, Tunsil compounded one issue by admitting to a second, and overall lost $15 million by not being prepared for a crisis.

Manchester City’s Sponsorship Ties in the Middle East, Examined

In 2008, Manchester City Football Club, a perennial middle of the table team in the shadow of the European champions Manchester United, were purchased by Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and half brother of the current President of the UAE. The Mansour family is worth an estimated $1 trillion and vowed to inject money into Man City to make them a football powerhouse in the Premier League. While Mansour is loaded financially, he is not involved in the day to day proceedings and has only attended one game in person. He simply finances and leaves the publicity aspect to an extensive public relations team.

The unofficial head of this is Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the owner of the other Man City stake titled City Football Group. Mubarak is the one who takes interviews from the press and talks about the expectations for the team. Mubarak owns a wealthy construction company in the UAE and has enormous influence in the club and with sponsors. Mubarak was the main figure in Manchester City’s recent Amazon Prime Documentary “All or Nothing” in which he explained the inner workings of the team and why they decided to hire manger Pep Guardiola, one of the best managers of his generation.

Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, and manager Pep Guardiola have seen huge success, but have come under intense scrutiny from rivals.

In late November, German newspaper Der Speigel published documents obtained by a football watchdog website titled Football Leaks in which FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Man City reached a settlement of $35 million after City violated Financial Fair Play provisions. Normally when one violates FFP protocol, it is a one-year ban from the Champions League, the most prestigious club competition in world football, which leads to around $180 million in lost revenue.

The lack of rule enforcement is troubling, because FIFA knows that Man City draws huge ratings in the Champions League and that BeIN sports, the channel which airs many Man City games, is owned by Qatari investors who have ties to Mansour’s business dealings. The internal reactions from Man City and the lack of action of FIFA is threatening the integrity of their success.

Financial Fair Play is FIFA’s attempt to level the playing field, as Mansour’s seemingly unlimited wealth to field the best team cannot be matched by any other club in the world. In simple terms, the provision was made so teams in debt could not spend more than they make in player signings. Any money that came directly from the owner, as in Mansour’s case, would be listed immediately as a debt, but Manchester City cleverly got around this by using money earned from club sponsors Etihad Airways, Arabatec, and telecommunications companies in the Middle East- all owned by Mansour or the royal family of the UAE.

Etihad Airways has been Manchester City’s shirt sponsor for 10 years, and has been front and center for four Premier League Titles, including one just last week.

Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the UAE for mistreatment of women, lack of fair trials, religious freedom and workers compensation. Over the past five years, it has repeatedly condemned what has been going on at Manchester City:

“The UAE’s enormous investment in Manchester City is one of football’s most brazen attempts to ‘sportswash’ a country’s deeply tarnished image through the glamour of the game,” said Amnesty International’s Gulf researcher Devin Kenney.

“As a growing number of Manchester City fans will be aware, the success of the club has involved a close relationship with a country that relies on exploited migrant labour and locks up peaceful critics and human rights defenders.”

Der Spiegel claims City bosses ignored warnings from their own public relations experts about reputation damage and increased scrutiny to sign a three-year, regional sponsorship agreement worth £7m a year with Arabtec in 2014, a company Mubarak leads which has been cited for numerous human rights violations and poor treatment of workers.

Sheikh Mansour is not just a wealthy individual in the United Arab Emirates: he and his family run the country and make all the important decisions. People live and die by their rulings. Sportswashing is a term I was unfamiliar with, but as Der Spiegel described, a man by the name of Simon Pierce at the club was in charge of managing the image of the UAE and the Royal Family by using Manchester City’s success as a promotion for the country. The problem with this is that as the UAE’s human rights ranking continues to plummet, the silence from the top and the source of money used to fund Manchester City’s success can be traced back to mistreatment of citizens in the owner’s own country.

January Measles Outbreak Scare at Portland Trail Blazers Game Raises Questions

In an article written by the Washington Post on January 19, It was confirmed that a fan with measles attended a Portland Trail Blazers game against the Charlotte Hornets. Health officials in the area had already declared a health emergency after the number of known cases reached 23. Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be spread quickly in settings such as a basketball game with 20,000 fans in a tight proximity.

In the ongoing debate about vaccinations, anyone who hadn’t been vaccinated for measles that night at the Moda Center was especially susceptible to catching it, due to its tendency to linger airborne well after the person with it leaves the room. Normally airports are a commonplace for measles outbreaks, as people from different places around the world who may not be vaccinated come all in one location with others.

While this has been the first sports related incident with measles in nearly 30 years, one incident in particular gives us a look at what can happen to teams during an outbreak. In 1989, a measles outbreak at Siena College and University of Hartford led to spectators being banned from the conference tournament. One player on the Siena basketball team even came down with measles because of the outbreak.

A Map Showing the Number of Measles Outbreaks as of March 2019

While not measles, the most recent outbreak related to sports was a nasty MRSA outbreak in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room that hit five players, causing them to miss games. The Bucs had to deep clean their locker room and visiting teams were afraid to use their facilities after the story broke. MRSA also affected hockey locker rooms in Canada months before that in 2015.

Something like that happening today would be unprecedented, as banning spectators from a Blazers game would be something that would make national news. The only thing recently that is comparable is when the Baltimore Orioles had to play behind closed doors due to protests over the police shooting of Freddie Gray. This controversy seems like one that can be avoided, but according to the Chicago Tribune the measles outbreak is the worst in the United States in 25 years. It recently hit O’Hare airport, which is one of the busiest in the United States, only adding to the risk it will be spread further.

Health officials in Washington and Oregon also stated that infected people visited schools, churches, malls and Portland International Airport, meaning the issue is closer to us than we may realize. As of March 19, 79 people had been affected in Washington and Oregon. Placing importance on vaccinations will help society as a whole, and will help us avoid watching the Trail Blazers play in front of no fans.

A Path in Sports Communications Isn’t Linear

Getting an in-house position right out of college as prospective public relations (PR) professionals can be challenging, if not impossible. Although getting to the high-level communications jobs may seem daunting, the impressions I took from visiting Adidas and the Portland Trail Blazers teams were that there isn’t one path or secret to making it in the industry. At both locations they had teams of professionals who all came from different backgrounds, some crossing over from different industries but utilizing the same skillsets.

As someone interested in working in sports communications, I enjoyed the Adidas panel because I got specific advice related to the field. Conor McAvoy and Jon Shaw, who work for Adidas’ US and Global basketball brand communications departments, went in detail about how their projects in China and Europe have made Adidas the number one basketball brand globally. McAvoy specifically went in detail about some of the campaigns he’s worked on, including Derrick Rose’s best-selling shoe in 2011 and currently working with rookie Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks. McAvoy discussed how being able to speak to trends in a way the public who likes basketball and managers above you who may not fully understand basketball can understand is an important, attainable skill. McAvoy, Shaw, and Brianna Neumann, the Senior Manager of Corporate Communications, all attended the University of Oregon, either majoring in journalism or business departments.

Derrick Rose’s Adidas line was outselling LeBron James’ shoes almost 3-to-1, according to McAvoy

Many of the crowd’s questions were about the panelists’ backgrounds and Adidas’ internships. While Adidas does have full-year internships for college graduates, all four panelists, including Assistant Manager of Brand Communications Ngozi Monu, did not internship directly with Adidas. Neumann, who graduated from the University of Oregon in 2009, went into detail about how working for an agency right out of college helped her decide what industry she liked best. She also described how working in industries she did not know a lot about helped her better her networking skills which ended up landing her a job at Adidas. All four panelists, and Monu, in particular, liked the culture of Adidas as an “underdog brand” in an area that is Nike’s backyard.

When visiting the Moda Center and the Trail Blazer’s communications staff, I observed a similar central message. Out of the six panelists, three were University of Oregon graduates. Michael Lewellen, VP of Corporate Communications, told a story about ticket services intern Karel Calcote, explaining how the role you first have doesn’t necessarily dictate where you will end up.

Only 16 years ago, the current President and CEO of the Portland Trail Blazers was a ticket services intern. Lewellen and Cheri Hanson, VP of Team Relations, both gave behind the scenes, honest industry advice about how they deal with the NBA, sponsors, and community relations that may have been answered differently if we were media members. Hanson occupies a role that is of interest to me, dealing with players and sponsors and being the middleman between the two. Lewellen also discussed how you do not necessarily have to work for a team to be in the sports communications industry, as companies such as Alaska Airlines and Coca-Cola have sports advertising and communications departments that work with teams from various leagues.

Moda Center is one of the only arenas in the United States to be recognized for environmental sustainability (Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers)

The story that best represents flexibility as sports communicators came from Keoki Kakigi, the Sustainability Operations Manager. Kakigi makes sure that the Moda Center is one of the most environmentally efficient buildings and answers to the media regarding facts about the building in that regard. Kakigi described how he worked at Disney theme parks for several years and had no intentions of working in the sports industry; however, since his skills were transferable to any industry, he found a great team and situation in Portland. For potential sports communicators, there are many options in order to achieve your goals but having a flexible skillset in other industries will make you more attractive to employers.

NFL’s Handling of Domestic Violence Cases After the Ray Rice Incident

In early 2014, Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice was accused of a domestic incident with his fiancee while both were intoxicated at a hotel. Rice was facing five years in prison for third-degree aggravated assault, but after reaching a deal to be put on probation and testimonies to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL decided to suspend Rice for two games for the upcoming 2014 season that July. After facing initial criticism due to reports that the situation was potentially serious, Goodell tried to do damage control by making a scrambled domestic violence policy for players.

Ray Rice would never play in the NFL again after being released by the Ravens in September 2014. (Photo by NPR)

It took only a month for Goodell to backtrack on his two game suspension and realize that it was wrong, and later created a policy that included a six game suspension for the first offense of domestic violence, and a lifetime ban for the second one. A video of Rice’s incident was given to police two weeks after the incident occurred, but it was not made public until September 8, three days before the Ravens season opener.

Heavy criticism was levied against the NFL after reports that the NFL was given the video before they decided to suspend Rice for two games, which the NFL later denied. The Ravens were already preparing for Rice to miss more time due to the revised policy of six games for a first time offense, but after the public backlash of the video, they cut ties with Rice and he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

While six games is not nearly enough for a first time offense, it was a warning sign that the NFL suspended him indefinitely because they didn’t even follow their own protocol that they had made up weeks earlier. It showed that they weren’t going to follow a protocol and just make it up case by case. Rice would never play another down in the league, partly because of his age but partly because the NFL needed to use someone as an example because of how poorly they handled the situation from the start.

Former Ravens cornerbacks Cary Williams and Fabian Washington earned two- and one-game suspensions, respectively, for similar first-time offenses of domestic violence, showing the NFL’s lack of situational awareness considering their harsh penalties for marijuana use on players which has included full season suspensions. This didn’t just begin with Rice, but because of the graphic nature of the second video released showing Rice knocking his fiancee out in an elevator, it put a disturbing, lasting image to this issue the league was desperate to erase.

Unfortunately for the NFL, inconsistencies would continue to show. The next year, star defensive end Greg Hardy was accused of violently assaulting his girlfriend, and was suspended 10 games. After appeal it was reduced to four. Hardy was released from Carolina after other personal issues, but was still given a second chance by Dallas later on. After photos were released, Hardy wouldn’t play in the NFL again, but the optics once again looked terrible because Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended the entire 2015 season for substance abuse.

More recently, two Kansas City Chiefs players Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill had notable domestic violence cases. Hunt was accused of an incident at a hotel in February 2018 and told the Chiefs officials a story which was later disproved by a TMZ video showing him kicking a woman lying on a floor in a hotel lobby. Hunt was let go by the Chiefs the same day, but because he was younger than Rice, teams were still interested and he later landed with the Cleveland Browns, where he is eligible to play in week nine after he serves his league imposed eight game suspension.

Kareem Hunt was released by the Chiefs in December, but due to him still being young unlike Rice, the Cleveland Browns signed him in January. (Photo by Kansas City Star)

As for Hill, before he came into the NFL he was accused of punching his pregnant girlfriend, but the Chiefs still took a chance on him in the sixth round and he has developed into a star player. He never served a suspension upon entering the league, but recent audio tapes that leaked show Hill making threats to his girlfriend after she is accusing him on hitting their three year old son. Currently Hill is away from the team as the investigation is ongoing.

These situations show how inconsistent the NFL’s handling of domestic violence is, and the terrible message it is sending to female fans. If you are talented enough and valuable enough to at least one team, you will get a second chance. The NFL will loosely decide how many games you are suspended, and even in some cases you miss less than half the season. If the NFL is serious about its personal conduct policy, more effort will need to be shown in the beginning stages of the investigative process, not until TMZ backs them into a corner.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Brand, Reputation on the line with ongoing assault case

In 2009, Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo and some of his business associates traveled to Las Vegas for a vacation. Through social mingling, Ronaldo met Kathryn Mayorga, a then 24-year-old American part-time model, at a hotel nightclub. Mayorga alleges that Ronaldo sexually assaulted her later that night and called police at around 2 a.m. on June 13, 2009, but did not name Ronaldo specifically due to fear of public backlash. A few months later after mentioning Ronaldo’s name for the first time, Mayorga and Ronaldo signed a non-disclosure agreement worth reportedly $375,000 and nothing was heard of the case for seven years. The tone of the statements in response by Ronaldo and his team acknowledge something happened but seem to be tone-deaf to the severity of the accusations.

In 2017, German magazine Der Speigel received a tip from investigative soccer journalist website Football Leaks, which had documents of the allegations with Mayorga being mentioned under a pseudonym. Although this was published, the story didn’t receive international attention until this past September when Mayorga personally went to Der Speigel and wrote about the disturbing details of the incident that night. Mayorga claims that the recent #MeToo movement inspired her to come forward and share her story. Ronaldo and his attorney quickly denied allegations and threatened to sue Der Speigel. His team also claims that the documents brought forth by the magazine were “fabricated,” a statement which included claims of a hacker selling information to publications and documents being altered to include language that Ronaldo never used. Ronaldo’s sponsors, including Electronic Arts, Nike, and other companies responded on social media, including his current team, Juventus FC in Italy.

For Ronaldo, his reputation is obviously at stake not only in the eyes of fans but for his off the field endorsements as well. In 2017, Ronaldo made €94 million, €41 million of which came from endorsements. Any criminal charge may threaten to end Ronaldo’s career, as he is 33 years old and in the twilight of his career as a player. For the companies themselves, having Ronaldo be the face of their brand and choosing to back him could be detrimental to the integrity of the company if found guilty. Ronaldo has a huge following globally and is one of the most accomplished players in history, having won every major tournament besides the World Cup. In his hometown of Madeira, Portugal, he has a museum, hotel, and airports named after him. If charges against him are true, it would be a PR nightmare for the city that honored him with so much.

Nike and Electronic Arts released swift responses as well as Ronaldo in the aftermath of this. Nike’s statement to Associated Press read “We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation.” EA took it a step further, as they released a statement reading: “We have seen the concerning report that details allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo,” EA Sports told the AP. “We are closely monitoring the situation, as we expect cover athletes and ambassadors to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with EA’s values.”EA went a step further in removing Ronaldo’s picture off of the cover for FIFA 19 on the EA Sports website until the investigation is complete. Because FIFA is such a huge moneymaker for EA globally and having someone like Ronaldo represent the brand only helps promote it, I wonder if EA will take the same actions if he is guilty as they did with cutting Tiger Woods for a far less serious crime. The same standards must apply for EA and its “values” to all of its athletes, not just the less important ones from a business sense.

Ronaldo’s image was removed on EA Sports’ website and now features Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne

Portugal’s exhibition matches during the international break were of high importance due to upcoming Euro 2020 qualification, and Portugal’s manager Fernando Santos, as well as higher ups for the national team, decided it would be the right thing to do for all parties to not have Ronaldo represent the country at this time. This was a positive because it avoids a distraction for other players looking to make a name for themselves and allows Ronaldo to focus on the investigation. It is fair to wonder, however, if the same course of action would have been taken if this came out right before the World Cup, one of the most important sports tournaments worldwide.

Ronaldo’s original Twitter statement said the right things: “I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me. Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in;” He did an Instagram live story with fans a few days later saying Mayorga was “fake news” and that people are trying to use his name and stature “to get a paycheck.” Regardless if this is true, Ronaldo’s best route is to let the court prove that and not potentially be victim blaming. Harassment in a case like this does not help anyone, and Ronaldo’s associates have had to have known better than to let him talk about the case on a free forum like Instagram.

Ronaldo’s club team in Italy, Juventus FC, was not only late to issue a response by four days but the message and the tone of the statement was highly insensitive and missing the point: “Cristiano Ronaldo has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus. The events allegedly dating back almost 10 years do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion.” The message misses the mark as if him being a great champion on the field somehow correlates with him being able to behave himself off the field. This message may have been worded poorly or mistranslated from Italian to English, but either way, it is not a good look for Juventus, who just this year spent approximately €89 million to bring him in from Real Madrid. The statement also reads as if he is too good of a player for them to care what people accuse him of. Juventus was met with harsh criticism because of this statement, none summed up better than Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Robinson’s tweet: “So while Portugal leaves Cristiano Ronaldo off the national team and Nike calls the rape allegations against him ‘disturbing,’ Juventus responds by… backing their 80 million Euro investment unequivocally.”

Juventus Football Clubs controversial statement which was met with strong criticism

From a sponsor standpoint, I believe EA and Nike did a good job with expressing concern but also waiting for the case to be resolved and not jumping to conclusions. As with Ronaldo and Juventus, I felt their messages were tone deaf and putting the pressure on the supposed victim. My recommendation going forward for Ronaldo is to apologize for his Instagram live rant and for Juventus to release a new statement expressing the severity of the situation. Ronaldo not playing isn’t going to happen because this case could drag on for months, but it would be wise to just let the court decide if Ronaldo is guilty or not and not openly rant against Mayorga. Ronaldo has been in the news over the years due to a nasty tax-fraud case in Spain that some speculate led him to leave Real Madrid and disassociate with the country completely because of a two-year suspended prison sentence being levied against him. Ronaldo was ordered to pay €18.8 million and many feel his image and reputation helped him avoid actually serving time in jail. Due to this, many are not giving him the benefit of the doubt when he used the excuse: “They are using me for my fame.”

In the case of former athletes such as NBA star Kobe Bryant, a settlement out of court even though most assumed he was guilty did not cause Nike to drop him. Nike has always stood by controversial athletes, but the reports from this case are too damning to keep even someone as big as Ronaldo around. The fact that the supposed victim felt she couldn’t talk for eight years and having it be true is automatic grounds for removal as the face of a company. When the result of doing the right thing comes at a financial cost, companies such as Nike have too often failed to properly react. Now we will see how EA, Juventus, and others react if Ronaldo, one of the richest athletes in the world, is found guilty. While the legal process needs to still play out, the importance of public relations can not only affect the public perception of a team or company but can also undermine an athlete whose words can not only affect their brand but how we view them as people.


Make-A-Wish’s MyWish brings together kids, professional athletes

In 2012, Thiago D’elia was a 17 year old cancer survivor who wished to play in the NBA one day. Formerly from Brazil, D’elia was adopted and moved to the United States, where his current family provided him with every avenue to fulfill his dream. D’elia’s favorite players included the likes of Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, but his favorite was LeBron James, who then played for the Miami Heat. A weird feeling during practice at age 15 was later diagnosed as cancer, and the resulting treatment forced him to miss an entire season of high school basketball.

After hearing about the story, the Miami Heat and James invited D’elia out to attend a practice and game, with James giving him autographed balls and shoes. Stories like these appear on ESPN’s SportsCenter, as Make-A-Wish partnered up with ESPN to promote their foundation and the stories of kids facing life-threatening illnesses. Wishes have been granted in a variety of sports including basketball, tennis, football, soccer, hockey and NASCAR. Make-A-Wish has the ability to use its platform to land big-time athletes, as LeBron James is normally very private and hard to access for fans.

Today, D’elia is fine and back to normal, but unfortunately not every story has a happy ending after the kids’ wishes have been granted. However, one of my favorite episodes of this series came way back in 2006, when a 12 year old form New York named Charlie Pena got to meet the Philadelphia Eagles and head coach Andy Reid for a day. Pena was close to death numerous times due to a hematologic disorder, but the enthusiasm juxtaposed with the severity of the situation made for an episode that I still have not forgotten today.

A year after the episode, Pena needed a bone marrow transplant and nearly died after developing graft vs host disease, but miraculously today is just diabetic but otherwise healthy and has graduated from college. During Pena’s bone marrow transplant, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb reached out to Pena, showing that it wasn’t just a one-time deal. The storytelling in these SportsCenter segments are fantastic and highlight the realities of life and death but also inspiring stories that humanize athletes in the process. While some episodes you cannot fully enjoy because you know what the end outcome for the kid will be, this episode with Pena highlights how nonprofits, especially one of Make-A-Wish’s scale, can use their platform to connect kids with their favorite athletes.

University of Oregon Athletics seeing elite recruiting classes thanks to creative social media branding

University of Oregon athletics have never been tied to tradition like other major college programs. The attitude around the athletic department for two decades has always been “what will make us better tomorrow?” In the shadow of University of Washington’s Seattle lure and competing with major California schools like University of Southern California and UCLA, Oregon has gotten creative with ways to bridge or eliminate the gap altogether for athletic publicity. From a state that produces very few high level division one athletes, Oregon does not have a built in base to pick talent from, so instead it has raided California for football and Canada for basketball. But how?

While most people look at Oregon athletics’ innovation through its uniforms and state of the art facilities, recent success in football and basketball has largely been tied to finding undervalued recruits from places like California and Hawaii for football and California and Canada for basketball. Even going back to the Chip Kelly era, Oregon never had a recruiting class higher than 15 despite its success on the field. Oregon basketball had been a steady force in the Pac-12, but most recently took it to the next level with a trip to the Final Four. The recent success in recruiting hasn’t necessarily correlated with current success in both sports as Oregon football slumped to two straight mediocre seasons and Oregon Basketball having missed the NCAA Tournament in 2017-2018. But better days are on the horizon after a surprise Sweet 16 birth in basketball this season after a slow start and a bowl win in football. Oregon Football had its best recruiting class ever ranked number seven and Oregon’s basketball recruiting class for the 2018 season ranked third in the nation, the highest in school history and above powerhouse basketball programs like Arizona and Kentucky.

Brand exposure is always crucial in having an appealing program to recruits, and Oregon has far and away been the best school in reaching target audiences. According to’s recent study on social media exposure with Pac-12 schools, Oregon has more than doubled exposure to the next highest school across all major social media platforms. Bol Bol, Oregon’s star freshman center and highest rated recruit in Oregon basketball history, wrote in The Player’s Tribune about certain factors in his decision to come to Oregon: “The last thing I loved about Oregon was that the university has one of the biggest social media brands in college sports. And if you follow me on IG, maybe you know that I’m really active on social media.” Oregon’s social media team is conscious of where its players come from and what pipelines they have established, as shown by its Canadian Thanksgiving appreciation post towards Duck basketball alums.

Oregon’s ability to recruit California is tied directly to their most successful years under Chip Kelly, and their lack of success under Mark Helfrich.

As for football, one of the reasons Oregon’s 2019 class was so successful is because Oregon launched two marketing tag lines for the class: “M19HTY OREGON” and “#califlock” for recruits from California. Having a tag line to connect the group of recruits despite living in different states has helped them bond over social media. Oregon has ran with it and retweeted graphics made by recruits to show the brotherhood of the incoming class, 11/22 of which are from the state of California. Number one recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux, who chose Oregon over other national powers such as Alabama, was left impressed by the brotherhood that exists within the football program. He tweeted after the win over rival Washington, a game he visited on a recruiting visit: “I see why the #califlock is so big.” Up next in Oregon’s quest: landing star southern California high sch00l quarterback DJ Uiagaleili Time will tell if this branding strategy will lead Oregon to its first national title in football and men’s basketball since 1939, but there is no doubt the impact Oregon’s social media presence has had, and that Oregon is now a national brand for athletes.

Mohamed Salah’s rise to prominence re-established Liverpool’s global brand by shattering stereotypes

Four years ago Liverpool embarked on an eighth place finish in England’s Premier League , a far cry from their storied success in the 1970s and 1980s and even in 2005, when Liverpool won the Champions League to be crowned the best club team in Europe. Liverpool were mocked in England and irrelevant on the global stage as a former power, but two things started to elevate Liverpool’s brand back to global heights: hiring manager Jurgen Klopp, a charismatic manager full of energy, and finding a star player named Mohamed Salah. Back in July 2017, Salah, fresh off a good season with Italian club AS Roma, was not considered by anyone to be a star yet. Liverpool acquired him for a paltry $36 million, which is considered cheap in hindsight for what he would go on to produce.

Salah, born in Nagrig, Egypt, struggled early on in his career with Premier League side Chelsea before being sold to Roma, but slowly started to improve and caught the eye of Klopp due to his great speed and dribbling ability. This, combined with his great form for the Egyptian national team, saw him immediately make an impression his first few months at Liverpool. From there, he would go on to score 32 goals in 36 games in the Premier League, and 43 for the season, finishing one shy of Lionel Messi for the most in Europe and winning the Golden Boot for the most goals in England. In addition, Salah scored the winning penalty in the 94th minute for Egypt to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia in a dramatic win over Republic of the Congo.

Salah gained swift popularity for his play style, humbleness, and his Afro haircut. More importantly, to people in the Middle East, they had a superstar who looked like them and that they could look up to. Salah is a devout Muslim, and in a time where the Middle East and the Arabic world gets attached with negative headlines, negative stereotypes were not attached with Salah who brought forth a great representative for his team and the Middle Eastern part of the world. While Salah still faces racism from pockets of rival fans, he is by far the most marketable and popular player for Liverpool, and also acts as a spokesperson of sort for his culture, country, and region. Him changing the perception of Muslims from the extremists that make the headlines to a personable fan favorite is something that has been a great step forward, but what is most impressive is Salah willing to take stances to be a spokesperson for his country, culture, and region.

This season, Salah has Liverpool at the top of the Premier League with four games remaining, and in the semi-finals of the Champions League, a competition which they finished runner up in last season. His continued success has Liverpool back on the global scale, as he just was announced in the Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, with his feature written by Liverpool fan and famous comedian John Oliver. In the article Salah describes how he witnessed women being treated poorly in the Middle East, and called on people in the region to promote women’s equality to improve the condition for women in countries where they don’t have basic human rights. This comes after Salah threatened to quit the Egyptian national team for being used as a “pawn” by the Egyptian Football Association after meeting a controversial political leader in Egypt by surprise, which received heavy criticism.

Salah’s rise has been great for English football and for global fans who not only share similar beliefs as Salah but for those who misunderstood and labeled them to begin with. Now what’s left is for Salah to cement his legacy in win the Champions and Premier League with Liverpool.

Mohamed Salah featured on TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list after his incredible rise to stardom for Liverpool F.C.

An Introductory Post: Why Sports Communications Matter

Sports have always been something I have been interested in, but the art of communication, public relations and athlete brand management are things as of late that I have taken more interest in because it can make or break a career. Take legendary NBA player Allen Iverson’s infamous practice rant for example. The soundbites in that interview from 2003 are still brought up regularly today and used as a punchline, and in a microcosm summed up Iverson’s career: Extremely talented, but extremely high-maintenance and egotistical as well. After reports that Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens was contemplating suicide, reporters showed up to his house to see him sit-ups in his driveway. Because of the tense situation, reports were peppering him with very personal questions. What people don’t realize about that incident was that in his ear, his publicist was listening to all the questions and telling Owens how to, or if, he should respond at all. The story was inaccurate from the start, but his publicist helped diffuse the situation by guiding Owens through the firestorm. With 24/7 media coverage due to the rise of social media, a sudden rise of an athlete can be met by an even swifter fall. Before the 2016 NFL Draft, consensus number one pick Laremy Tunsil’s twitter account was hacked, showing him smoking marijuana. A firestorm brewed, and Tunsil ended up falling all the way to pick 13, and costing himself a $12 million loss on his initial contract. This blog will examine crisis communications in the sports world, growing challenges with the rise of social media and the growing role of athlete activism, brand protection and the growing conflicts between sports media and athletes. Not only are athletes facing challenges with poor communications advice and decisions, but executives and coaches have also had their share of missteps along the way as well. Going forward with news being immediate, the challenge for PR professionals to manage chaotic careers of professional, collegiate, and sometimes now even high school athletes has been more difficult than ever. The way to learn from past mistakes is to not repeat them, but another way to learn is to look at athletes who have been responsible in brand-building and examining the model other athletes can follow. For some, this means no social media at all, and for others that means using social media rather than letting it consume them. Stay tuned for future posts, with Friday being a busy publishing day.

Philadelphia Eagles’ Terrell Owens does sit-ups in front of his home, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005, in Moorestown N.J., while surrounded by news media and neighbors. Owens, the All-Pro wide receiver, was asked to leave training camp after a heated exchange with coach Andy Reid, which attracted more negative attention to Owens after a reported thought of suicide. (AP Photo/Philadelphia Daily News, Joseph Kaczmarek)
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