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Volume 26 No. 181
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SBJ Unpacks: PR Consultant Hiltzik On Dealing With Crisis

Sports leaders are performing a difficult balancing act between the financial incentive to return to play as soon as possible and the social responsibility to keep their employees and fans safe. The pressure to responsibly lead is shared by team and league executives and players alike. On the most recent episode of the “SBJ Unpacks -- Weathering COVID-19” podcast, our Bill King speaks with communications consultant and attorney Matthew Hiltzik about how to talk to fans, staff, sponsors and each other during this unprecedented global crisis.

On how athletes can best use their platform and resources to support their communities:
Hiltzik: There’s a helplessness a little bit that athletes have about not always knowing how to do that, and here, I think it’s really important to follow guidance from the mayors and governors and other community leaders who really have an understanding of where the needs are.

On how leagues and team owners can navigate the minefield of reopening their sports:
Hiltzik: Ensure the safety and security and the comfort level of the athletes and of everybody else involved with the teams and the leagues and the employees and make sure you’re taking steps so that you’re adding to the dialogue more broadly in a positive way. … The commissioners are fairly wise men who have learned things. The leagues will be smart about it.

On how sports leagues can avoid a public relations debacle by having a player test positive for COVID-19 after rebooting the leagues:
Hiltzik: A lot of it is understanding that the best preparation is to not start until you’ve decreased the likelihood of that happening so significantly that you won’t have to make necessarily the same contingency plans. I think being patient is probably the most important thing. ... This is more of a science issue than a media or communications issue, and if you’re following those processes right, then you can just share and communicate them and be very transparent about what your plans are.

On advice he would give sports leaders who communicate their plans with the public:
Hiltzik: Things like that are going to continue, where someone who has significant means is going to be questioned or tested a little bit about how are they caring about their communities and their players. ... Say, "Look, we’re looking at the big picture." Strategically, and philosophically, when we look at things, we try to look at the medium-to-long term interests, understanding that short term can have an effect on that, but you have to really keep that longer view.