Abstract: The sport industry has become an enormous cultural and economic force across the globe. Yet it is one that is largely understudied in regards to public relations. In the United States, intercollegiate athletics—particularly football and men’s and women’s basketball—garners a tremendous amount of attention from media, the government, sports fan communities, merchandisers and scholars. However, there is scant research on public relations within intercollegiate athletics departments.
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to learn how intercollegiate athletics directors (ADs) from National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I institutions with major basketball programs understand public relations, overall and in the context of men’s and women’s basketball coaches. For this study, a phenomenological approach was used. Twelve ADs were interviewed, and their transcripts were analyzed using comparative analysis procedures.
The findings show that the overall understanding of public relations to the participants is integrated impression management: a combination of image, message, and action/interaction. The ADs associated public relations with marketing, branding, communication, media relations, community/university relations, fundraising and crisis management. They expressed a range of responsibility within their organizations for public relations, as well as related issues and challenges. They also associated some specific responsibilities and challenges regarding public relations to the context of men’s and women’s basketball coaching. The results of this study imply that despite some scholars’ insistence that public relations is a distinct discipline from marketing, executives do not necessarily separate the two.
The findings of this study aid in understanding how public relations might be evolving within intercollegiate athletics. Learning how those with power and influence in this industry understand public relations can help intercollegiate athletics departments with the root and ramifications of some major challenges. For scholars, this presents an opportunity to test and develop theory, as well as to identify trends, changes and solutions for public relations in an industry with cultural power and influence.