PUBLICIZING YOUR TEAM: How to Get the Word Out – Part I
Writing the Youth League Team’s Press Releases (Part I)
by Doug Abrams
The other night, I received a phone call from a youth hockey player I coached for several years until he graduated from high school in 2006. He told me that he had been re-living old memories by reading his scrapbook containing news articles about our teams. At any age, youth leaguers enjoy seeing their name in the sports section, where family and friends can read about them. Old news clippings also remain valued souvenirs years later.
In many communities, high school varsity sports receive regular newspaper coverage but youth league teams rarely break into print. Things do not necessarily have to be that way. If youth sports associations or teams submit press releases to the sports editor, they may be able to share some of the limelight with the varsities. The association can designate one person to write for all the teams, or a coach or designated parent can write about his or her own team.
Many suburban and small-town newspapers — dailies and weeklies alike — run press releases that they receive, including ones for teams whose players are as young as six or seven. Newspaper coverage adds spice to the youth league season as the coaches and parents “go the extra mile” for the players.
I began writing my youth hockey teams’ press releases in 1970, and I have written a few hundred since then. In the twenty years that I coached in the Nassau County hockey program on Long Island, these press releases appeared regularly in the old Long Island Press (a daily that ended publication in 1977) and in weekly papers throughout the county. Daily papers also published my team’s press releases during my two years in upstate New York, and more recently in mid-Missouri.
This two-part column discusses ten guidelines for how youth sports associations, coaches or designated parents can write and submit press releases about their teams. The first five guidelines appear below; the next five guidelines, together with two sample press releases at the end, will appear next week in Part II.
1. Will the newspaper publish press releases?
Before submitting the team’s first press release to the sports editor, you might call the newspaper’s sports department, or check the paper’s website to see whether the department considers press releases at all. Otherwise you might simply submit the first release and see what happens. Submission without an initial phone call has always worked for me, but some associations and coaches might feel more comfortable calling first. Particularly in smaller communities, a parent may know the sports editor and thus open the door.
When you fax or email the first press release to the sports editor, you will learn quickly whether the paper will use it. Include your name, address and phone number, and invite the editor or staff member to contact you if he or she has any questions or suggestions about future releases.
If the editor publishes the first release without contacting you, keep the releases coming after future games. If the editor does contact you for information, you can begin building a personal relationship by expressing thanks and appreciation. After a few releases, the newspaper might also accept an occasional photograph, with your suggested caption. Perhaps add a personal touch by sending along the team’s game schedule and inviting the editor and staff to attend a game. Sometimes staff members do a story of their own after publishing press releases for much of the season.
The remaining nine guidelines assume that the newspaper will publish youth league press releases.
2. Make the press releases user-friendly
In daily and weekly newspapers alike, news rooms are busy places with frenetic deadlines. Make sure that your press releases are well written, grammatically correct, neatly presented, and ready to use as-is. The sports department’s staff simply does not have the time or inclination to do heavy edits about youth league games, particularly games that no staff writer watched in person. Nor does the staff usually have the time or inclination to seek out the association or coach for clarifications.
Before submitting a press release, try to have it proofread and critiqued by a friend, preferably someone who understands good writing style but did not attend the games. Your proofreader may catch typos that you missed, and may also flag ambiguities that might confuse the editor, who also did not attend the games. Another pair of eyes helps any writer, and biochemist George Wald was right: “We are the products of editing, rather than of authorship.”
Check the newspaper’s website for any guidelines about submitting press releases. Nowadays most editors prefer submissions that are emailed rather than faxed because emailing permits instant use without retyping. Most newspapers also want the emailed submission in the main text, and not in an attachment.
3. Follow the conventions of good journalism
Provide a headline (which the editor might choose to rewrite, according to the paper’s own style). In the first paragraph, provide the “five W’s” – who, what, where, when and why. Spell the players’ names correctly, and be precise about scores, events and other matters. Do not expect or ask for a byline containing your name.
Because the news cycle works so fast these days, submit the press release quickly. Unless the editor suggests otherwise, quickness usually means emailing or faxing the release on the day of the games or the next morning. The editor might not run the article for a few days, but chances of publication decrease when the news is stale before the editor sees it.
4. Be brief
Your team might be the most important team in the world to you and your players’ families, but you are not the New York Yankees or the New York Jets. Newspaper sports editors operate under chronic space limitations that may let them devote a few inches to youth league coverage, but not full-length articles.
After a few press releases appear in print, you will learn how much space the paper can devote to youth sports. If the editor consistently cuts to a particular length, your future releases should adopt that length. If the editor routinely deletes the last paragraph, include less essential information in that paragraph and hope that the editor does not cut from earlier paragraphs!
Chronic space limitations compel you to follow the three guidelines of good writing – “Cut, Cut, Cut.” Err on the side of brevity until you learn what the newspaper can handle. William Shakespeare was on target (in Hamlet): “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
I always operated under the assumption that if I cut a press release in half, I would double the chances of publication; but that if I doubled the length, I would reduce the chances by half. I cannot prove the math, but I like the formula. Because good writer’s strive to finish before the reader does, your press release should finish before the sports editor feels the urge to turn attention elsewhere.
5. Don’t “flame.”
You are a non-employee seeking access to the sports pages. You are not a staff sportswriter who understands the newspaper’s style and holds the editors’ confidence. You may be fiercely proud of your team, but the editor does not want to read that the team “annihilated” or “massacred” their ten-year-old opponents. Write gracefully, but you lose credibility unless you tone down the partisanship and let the score speak for itself.
A press release succeeds when readers remember the players and not the writer. Youth sports should be about the youths, and not about the adults.
Next week: Writing the Youth League Team’s Press Releases (Part II)