For the Wolfpack, we always stood by the main core values which are trying to grow the game of rugby here in Toronto, our country and globally.
Director of Media Relations
The interview with Erik Grosman was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as Director of Media Relations for the Toronto Wolfpack. What does a typical day look like for you?
Well, this is a complicated one. Being the only transatlantic sports team in the world offers many challenges and being Toronto based is definitely one of them. Due to the fact that the team spends the majority of time in the UK, when I wake up in the morning – 5 hours have already gone by in the UK. That means, I am playing catch-up and trying to find out what new information and news has taken place.
So, if your typical workday starts in the UK at 9:00 am (for example), things are happening while it’s only 4:00 am in Toronto. Therefore, I have to rely on our head coach and other front office staff in the UK to provide me with any news that might have occurred. Not ideal if you are the proactive type (which I tend to be).
A typical day in Toronto when the team is in town is a lot less stressful.
I start the day by going through all the emails and WhatsApp messages with other departments to figure out how we are going to tackle that particular day. This could be by way of marketing and promotion initiatives and social media messages that are planning to be posted that day.
Messaging to our audience and engaging with them is vital for us since it’s the easiest way to communicate with our fans to show what kind of exciting things we have planned.
I would then reach out to media to see who would be at our training session and then head over to the stadium to prepare. I would meet with the players about any upcoming media availabilities and talk to the coach to hear what he is planning on saying to the media that day.
During the course of a day, I’m always thinking about which outlet I can pitch a story to in order to get the maximum exposure for the team, whether it’s getting a player and coach on a sports radio talk-show or a podcast to discuss upcoming games and what their journey has been like. Each player has a great story of where they have come from and what brought them here to Toronto and I try to showcase that as much as possible.
Have you had any career highlights thus far: a moment or event that really stands out to you?
I would have to say being able to get one of our players on the day-time talk show – “The Social” on CTV.
I constantly spend time pitching and framing media requests for stories, articles and in-studio interviews as a way to get our players out in the city from a visibility standpoint. For this particular media event, however, I wanted to try and cross over from not just a sports angle but target a different audience.
My goal is always to gain as much exposure as possible, to all demographics (not just sports) and I felt this one would be valuable in that regard. It all worked out well and garnered a lot of attention.
Another highlight for me was the fact that I spent the entire first year with the Wolfpack, trying to educate and constantly pitch media in the city about the Wolfpack and why this is the next big thing and why it would be good to have these players on their TV and radio shows within the city.
We needed to be more visible since it was the 2nd season and being in a very crowded sports market with the Raptors, Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, TFC and Argos – it can be quite challenging for that time and space.
I always said to myself, that one day I hope it becomes the other way around where those major media outlets in the city like Sportsnet, TSN, CP24, CBC, City TV and CTV would contact me then I know we have had accomplished something. And that ended up happening just the way I had hoped towards the end of our 2019 season on the way to capturing our Championship League title.
What principles do you believe are most important in ensuring that the information provided to the media is consistent with the mission and vision of the Toronto Wolfpack?
For me, it was very difficult at the beginning to truly illustrate this as I was very new to the sport. I couldn’t educate, promote and inform any media person before I had grasped the concept of what Rugby League actually is and why that brand of the sport and rugby, in general, played a huge part in our mission and vision. Once I was able to do that, it made the messaging a lot easier.
For the Wolfpack, we always stood by the main core values which are trying to grow the game of rugby here in Toronto, our country and globally. We envision and continue to try and execute a grassroots approach to getting younger kids playing rugby, experiencing the game at that age and seeing our players and how they carry themselves on and off the field.
Depending on where I pitched stories and ideas I would also incorporate that messaging into my introduction to let the media know that these are the main aspects that we are looking to achieve. Everything takes time to grow, and this is no different.
Since you have multiple aspects to focus on at once (e.g. press releases, crisis management, long-term public relations planning, multiple requests, etc.). How do you prioritize and manage all that goes into your role? How does someone learn how to do so many things at once like this?
The only way to learn is to just do it. I often tend to overthink too much and I sometimes get in my own way. So knowing I have a tendency to do that, I try to literally take one thing at a time by prioritizing what needs the most attention first. Then once that’s complete, I go through the rest of it.
This goes back to your first question, where sometimes I don’t even have to prioritize, it just happens naturally. If something is going on in the UK that needs my immediate attention, that’s where I put my focus to first since I’m probably already late at that point.
When I was in the Toronto Blue Jays media department, this was a lot easier as we had a four-person team handling a heavy workload on a daily basis. With the Wolfpack, more times than not, it’s just me and I’m responsible for handling it all.
And I can always ask for help when I need to. I am very fortunate to have a great group of people that I work with at the Wolfpack. Everyone is extremely good at their job and always provides really great solutions to problems that arise.
In your experience, what makes a good media relations/communications employee in sports? What advice can you offer those looking to work in sport at a similar level to yourself but just starting off in their career?
You have to always be communicating, staying in touch with front office staff and making sure you know what’s happening at all times. You try and limit the scrambling and running around if you don’t have to. That’s the idea anyway, sometimes things are out of your control and you just have to adapt at that point.
The communications and media relations side of sports has shifted and changed dramatically since I started working in the industry almost 20 years ago.
Social media dominates the industry so you have to know how to properly communicate through that forum but also have to make sure that your players and coaches are aware of how it can positively and negatively impact them. It’s just another version of speaking. A lot of people think that a tweet has less impact than when you say something on camera or to another person. It’s probably the opposite of that.
Another piece of advice is how to deal with crisis management. It’s important to know that you don’t have to feel like it has to be done all by yourself.
Yes, it’s on the communications person to write that press release, statement or social post but I feel that it should be done as a unit. I don’t talk for the organization; therefore, it has to be a group effort where ideas and strategies are discussed in order to come up with the right decision. Or at least we all hope so.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has withdrawn the Toronto Wolfpack from the 2020 season, what can we expect to see from the Wolfpack in the 2021 season and future?
Trying to answer that question today is virtually impossible at this point. All I can say is what I hope. I sincerely hope that the team continues to grow for as long as possible.
I am the perfect example of what the experience did for me. Before I started working for the Wolfpack in June of 2018, I had never watched a minute of any rugby match, ever. I didn’t know there was Rugby Union or Rugby League (which is the version the Wolfpack play). I just assumed that rugby is rugby. And it is just that, it doesn’t matter what style, the game is outstanding and I became a big fan of it towards the end of my first season.
I can’t even believe I’m saying this but a really good Rugby League match would be my top choice to watch live as a spectator compared to any other sport out there. I grew up watching, playing and breathing baseball and love basketball but it’s actually Rugby League that wins for me right now. And if this game had that kind of effect on me, then I can only imagine how far it can grow locally, nationally and then globally.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
The Toronto Wolfpack are a unique team. Based in Toronto, they compete in the British rugby league’s, Super League. Not only are they the first fully professional rugby league team in Canada, but they’re also the first transatlantic rugby league team! That’s what makes Erik’s job is so fascinating! We know “typical days” in sport are few and far between, but Erik’s days are probably the farthest we’ve seen from typical here at SPMA Hub. It’s not common that when you begin work at 9:00 am, you’re catching up on news that happened 5 hours ago overseas. Erik’s current role with the Toronto Wolfpack is definitely hectic, but that’s why he loves it. I applaud Erik for his work. In addition to being 5-hours behind the UK, Erik is responsible for many tasks and he gracefully handles the Toronto Wolfpack’s media relations despite these challenges.