Monthly Archives: April 2013

Lance Armstrong A Crisis Management Case Study

Lance Armstrong a seven times Tour De France winner and testicular cancer survivor was perhaps one of the biggest names in all of world sport and an idol and inspiration to many people. That was until this past year when allegations of doping appeared again and turned his life upside down.

Timeline of Armstrong's Career & Doping Allegations.

Timeline of Armstrong’s Career & Doping Allegations.

In May of 2012 former teammate Tyler Hamilton alleged that he and Armstrong took performance-enhancing drugs together, these allegations then snowballed into an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and concluded with Armstrong admitting to doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on January 18 2013.

This scandal resulted in the loss seven sponsorship endorsements, and an estimated $30 million dollars in future earnings for Armstrong (USA Today). It also caused Armstrong and his public relations (PR) team to go into full crisis management mode.

According to Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold a crisis can be defined as “a situation or occurrence possessing the potential to significantly damage a sport organisations financial stability and/or credibility with constituents.” According to this definition the media storm surrounding Armstrong, and more broadly cycling, can most definitely be considered a crisis.

As we can see from the timeline of events surrounding Armstrong’s career he and his PR team have used two of the four different strategies outlined in Sport Public Relations. The first strategy that was employed is the “denial posture” which has three different sub-strategies, the first of these is to “attack the accuser” and challenge the claims against the organisation/person. For Armstrong and his team this was the first reaction to the allegations.

When the allegations persisted they then moved onto strategy two “straightforward denial” by saying that Lance had never tested positive before and there was no evidence to substantiate these false claims against him.

When this again however failed they moved onto step three “scapegoating” by blaming people or groups around them saying that he didn’t feel he was cheating because “The definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they didn’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field,” suggesting that he believed majority of the field was doping.

The next step was the Oprah Winfrey interview in which Armstrong admitted to doping in all seven Tour victories and thus begun using a new PR strategy the “rebuilding posture.” Under this strategy there are two possible directions to take “apology and compensation” during the Oprah interview Armstrong has taken the “apology” approach by admitting and accepting responsibility as well as apologizing to those fans he has let down through his actions.

During all of these crisis management strategies Armstrong and his PR team have had to “create symbolic messages they hope the public will interpret in the desired meaning” (Domingo). This means that at all stages of the crisis one central pivotal message was decided on and all media communications during that time were focused and built around this message to ensure that it was clearly understood by the public.

Another aspect of this scandal that was of particular interest to me was the use of new media such as Twitter to accelerate the message delivery and increase the number of channels of communication between Armstrong and the public.

The main talking point in regards to the use of Twitter in this case was the image sent out by Armstrong of him in his lounge room with all seven winners jerseys in what seemed like an act of defiance and denial of these allegations.armstrong-tweets-yellow-jerseys-tour-france-twitter

This use of Twitter falls directly in line with Hutchins who states that there has been an “increasing use of online digital media and social networking services by athletes for self-promotion, self-representation and personal expression.” Hutchins also suggests that Twitter and other online media tools have led to an “intensification of digital content production and transmission has altered the operation and supply chains of media sport.” This theory is supported during the Armstrong scandal as many news sources ran stories based on this photograph Tweeted by Armstrong, as can be seen in the Article by the Sun Newspaper ‘Lance Armstrong Post Defiant Tour De France Yellow Jersey Snap on Twitter.’

As can be seen by the examples throughout this article the past year has been a very turbulent ride for Lance Armstrong, but it is a very good learning tool for those looking to gain an insight into crisis reporting and management in regards to sport.

References and Further Reading:

  • Domingo, B. (2003). Stop slammin’ Sammy: A theoretical approach to the first 24 hours of a communications crisis in sports. Public Relations Quarterly, 48 (4), 20-22.
  • Hutchins, B. (2011) The acceleration of media sport culture: Twitter, teleprescence and online messaging, Information, Communication & Society 14(2) 237-257
  • Stoldt, G.C., Dittmore, S.W., & Branvold, S.E. (2012). ICommunicating in Times of Crisisin Sport public relations: Managing stakeholder communication (2nd Ed.) Lower Mitcham, SA: Human Kinetics. 195-215
  • Schrotenboer, B 2012, “Paying The Price: Doping Case Costs Lance Armstrong”, USA Today Sports, 18 October, accessed 12/04/2013
  • Battle, B 2012, “Lance Armstrong Post Defiant Tour De France Yellow Jersey Snap on Twitter.”, The Sun, 12 November, accessed 12/04/2013
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Has Australian Sports Sleeping Giant Been Awoken?

Over the past six to twelve months it seems that the sleeping giant of Australian sport, football (or as some still call it soccer), has been awoken and she is hungry for an audience.618487-weekend-sport-crowds

This was never more evident than this past weekend when the ‘new boys’ of the A-League competition played in, and won, the first semi-final in front of a sold out Parramatta stadium crowd of 19,369 delirious fans.

A-league v NRLThe overwhelming support that the team in their debut season, despite being given little chance of success and according to The Australian “many predicted they would take the wooden spoon”, can be clearly seen in the photographs in this article and with a specific focus on NSW and the battle for crowds between the A-League and the NRL.

When we look at the coverage of this battle between codes a pattern of sport becoming almost a religion to some people. A phenomenon Nasya Bahfen explored in ‘Bridging Codes: Football and Islam in Western Sydney’, whilst the focus of her article relates to how Muslims react to the conflicts they face in terms of their religion and passion for AFL, we can use it develop an understanding of the powerful grip both religion and sport hold on people and how these lines can blur.

As Hasem El Masri said on ‘Bridging Codes’ “sport unifies people” and for me this is where the blurring of the lines between religion and sport occurs, especially in a sport like football. The unprecedented surge in popularity of football, which has its roots seated in European and South American culture compared to rugby league which is very much Anglo-Saxon Australian based, has created a situation in Australia where different cultures are now coming together to support a team despite their many differences.

If we look at the photo of the Wanderers crowd we can see this melting pot of cultures very clearly. A very basic level of image analysis, using Helen Caple’s methodologies, of the photographs chosen for this article suggests that they all capture a “critical moment”, which carries “historical weight, emotion” and displays the “cultural power” of sport. These images carry all of these values because in my opinion they have captured the “moment” that football has taken over as the dominant sport within NSW.

789843-manly-cowboysCrowd numbers already support this especially in Western Sydney where both the Wanderers (A-League) and Tigers (NRL) have 20,000-seat capacity home grounds in Parramatta and Campbelltown respectively, only the Wanderers are achieving sell-out fixtures compared to the Tigers struggling to fill half of their stadium.

Whilst there is still some aspects that need improving, such as TV audience numbers as pointed out by The Roar the A-League draws “close to 80,000 viewers per game” compared to the NRL and AFL’s “more than 170,000”, before the A-League can be officially pronounced top dog. However this could change next year with the introduction of live A-League matches on SBS free-to-air television.

The foreseeable future for the A-League is bright and tipped for more growth with the planned introduction of the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) Cup, which would include more than 600 teams from all levels of football around the country. The plan is for this tournament to begin around this time next year and run all through winter, ensuring football remains in the media year round, with A-League clubs to join in September and the final to be played on Australia Day each year (News.com.au).

In my opinion there will be no stopping football from surging to the top of the pack of Australian sport given the participation rates of children in junior football being almost double that of rugby league, thirteen percent and seven percent respectively (ABS). Therefore unless there is a drastic change in the future we could be witnessing the downfall of rugby league and the rise of football right before our eyes.

References and Further Reading:

Sport or Education? A Constant Struggle for Young Athletes

As Donald Horne said in The Lucky Country “Sport to many Australian’s is life and the rest is a shadow.”

This passion and importance of sport to the Australian culture is evident in Australian Bureau Statistics figures released in 2009, which showed that 70% of boys and 56% of girls played organised sport in the twelve months prior (more detailed figures can bee seen in the table below).

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63026_126687634048165_4657970_nFor some young athletes this can cause a conflict between education and their passion for sport. One such athlete is seventeen-year-old Christopher Hart who divides his time between year twelve at school and playing under eighteens S.G. Ball rugby league for the Canberra Raiders.

Chris currently lives in Goulbourn with his family and is studying for his Higher School Certificate (HSC). Whilst Chris hopes to make a career out of football he understands “that it is very hard to achieve” so he has a back up plan to either attend university to study sports management or begin landscaping with the hope eventually running his own business.

Chris has been playing football since he was eleven years old and is now in his third year with Canberra Raiders. Chris has been a standout on the football field earning a place in the Canberra under sixteens developmental squad at the age of fourteen and quickly progressing to the top side the following year. Now in his third year at the age of seventeen he has been placed into the top under eighteens team, where he will play for the next two years.544559_354911924559067_1688457825_n

These two major aspects of his life have caused some tensions and difficulties for Chris, especially his training routine that consists of three sessions per week.  When I asked him how he was finding balancing school and football he said “at first it was so hard to get into a routine but after I did I found that I used my time more productively with school work and assessments. I think it all just comes down to using my time wisely and getting on top of things so they are not left to the last minute.”

imagesThis idea of balance between sport and education has even been adopted by the NRL in regards to their developmental competition the Holden Cup (formerly Toyota Cup). To ensure that any players participating in this competition are not disadvantaged in their ability to develop careers outside of Rugby League, teams are prohibited from training between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday and all players must be engaged in either 24 hours per week of study or work.

Chris has embraced this thinking in his own football career with his motto “remember no matter how good you are, there is always someone better.” Chris also told me that whilst he would “love to make this sport my income” the greatest benefit for him was “signing a hat for a little fan and seeing how happy it made them.” This brings us right back to the centrality of sport to the Australian culture, with the idolisation of athletes.

In conclusion sport is one of the biggest facets of the Australian culture and lifestyle, almost to the point that those people that do not participate or follow some form of sport are looked at as “degenerates” according to Horne in The Lucky Country. This however can place added pressure on young people that display extraordinary talent or ability in a particular sporting field whilst still having to ensure they put in the maximum effort into their studies at the same time.

Further readings that have helped shape my understanding.