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Dallas Mavericks & Renee Felton Shift To Virtual Media Operations Inside The Bubble

Renee Felton | Basketball Communications Team | Dallas Mavericks

The NBA hiatus has presented such an interesting challenge (and opportunity) for us because you have 30 teams and one league office trying to figure out operations, health protocols, logistics, communications and more in an ever-changing environment.

Renee Felton

Basketball Communications Team

Dallas Mavericks

× The interview with Renee Felton 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 in Basketball Communications for the Dallas Mavericks. What does a typical day look like for you?

I support all aspects of basketball communications for the Dallas Mavericks, with a focus on ensuring local, regional, national and international media have the information and access they need to cover our franchise.

Our four-person department is responsible for media services, team publications, game notes, statistical upkeep, managing a team of game night staff and more. At least one of us travels with the team on road trips to facilitate media obligations on the road.

We work regularly with our local broadcast partners as well as producers and crews from ESPN, TNT and NBA TV as well as the NBA’s international broadcast partners.

The NBA season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11. We were playing a home game against the Denver Nuggets, and the suspension was announced during halftime of our game.

Over the last four months, like people across the country and around the world, we have been navigating a new normal.

Renee Felton Dallas Mavericks Communications

While we waited for the league to determine a return-to-play strategy, we helped tell the story of the Mavericks’ efforts to support the DFW community in the wake of the pandemic and as part of the conversation surrounding social justices issues.

The NBA is resuming the season in “the bubble” on the Wide World of Campus in Orlando. The biggest transition for our team has been moving to virtual media operations.

As we get closer to our first game of the restarted season (July 31!), the vast majority of our media is covering the team remotely so, like so many of us, we are relying on Zoom press conferences and phone interviews to get our message out and make sure that the media and our fans have access to players, head coach and leadership staff.

Our digital team is also doing a great job of keeping our fans engaged if you want to check us out @DallasMavs on Instagram and Twitter!

Fingers crossed that things continue to go well and everyone remains healthy in the NBA bubble! Such an interesting time to be an NBA PR person! 

Since you have multiple aspects to focus on at once (e.g. team publications, crisis management, long-term media 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?

Like I mentioned before, I’m part of a four-person team so we can all chip in to support each other as needed. As a whole, our team is responsible for a lot and we try to divide and conquer while playing to each of our strengths.

For example, two members of our team do an exceptional and very thorough job on our game notes, leaving the other two of us to focus on, say, following up with media or covering practice.

When one or two of us is on the road with the team, the others at home will step in to prep for upcoming home games, write press releases or take care of other things that come up.

That’s not to say that we aren’t all touching everything at some point over the course of the season.

It’s important to understand that for anyone interested in sports communications, you’re going to have to learn and be comfortable with each aspect of the job.

Of course, there are parts of any job you’ll like more than others but it’s important (and expected) to be well-rounded and willing to learn.

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 organization?

Our department strives to give the media the best possible experience when working with our team, meaning we take a service-oriented approach.

Our players, coaching staff and leadership team are very accessible and transparent when it comes to matters relating to the team. We have strong working relationships with media around the world owing to the fact that we have several international players on our roster.

I truly believe that members of the media know that they can rely on the Mavericks basketball communications department to be reliable, honest, friendly, and hard-working.

Timing of messages is key in managing and promoting situations. What guidelines do you follow to ensure that the messages you send out are timely?

In live sports, the news cycle moves very quickly – especially during the season. We have to make sure that the information presented in game notes, press releases and other team publications is updated and informative.

We wouldn’t be doing our job if we have outdated stats or numbers in a publication. As for player personnel and other matters, we work under the NBA’s guidelines and with our front office staff to share accurate information and then make our general manager, coach or another team spokesperson available to the media to speak on that matter.

The NBA hiatus has presented such an interesting challenge (and opportunity) for us because you have 30 teams and one league office trying to figure out operations, health protocols, logistics, communications and more in an ever-changing environment.

As an organization, we’ve had to be patient but then be ready to jump in and do something (i.e. figure out the best way for our team to manage virtual media availabilities) in a matter of minutes, hours or a few days.

In media relations and communications, how important is it for you to be extroverted? On the flip side, can someone be introverted and work in a communications role?

I consider myself an extroverted introvert – I love to be around people and build relationships quickly.

Relationship-building is critical because we have to develop great rapport with our players, coaches, staff, media and fellow PR people around the league. We also work closely at times with players’ families and agents and arena and league staff. However, I love to spend time by myself to recharge and relax after being “on” a lot during the season, if that makes sense.

There is so much to sports communications (written and verbal communications, statistical upkeep, social media management, staff management, interdepartmental collaboration, etc.) that there is room for people with all kinds of personality types – the main thing is that you have to be willing to work hard, earn the trust of those around you and have fun. Oh, and become an expert in AP style!

Tell us five things you look for in effective communications people working in the NBA (and the sports industry in general) and describe why those traits are important in your measure.

Here are some characteristics that I think are important for anyone in sports communications.

  1. Organized: Generally, our jobs are big and we are always working again deadlines – our own or someone else’s – so it’s critical that you are organized work in a timely manner. It’s amazing how quickly emails and missed phone calls can pile up, or how easily you can forget about an ask for an athlete because you haven’t written it down. Trust me, it’s usually easier to ask a player to do an interview in person than it is to wait for a return phone call or text message.
  2. Confident: It’s easy to get intimidated, especially as a young professional, by the star power of people you may work around on a daily basis – athletes, coaches, owners, broadcast personalities, journalists – but it’s important to remember that you’re the expert in communications. Be confident in your skills and in the fact that you’re always working in the best interest of your organization and those who represent it.
  3. Good writer: It’s so important to be a strong writer in any communications field. The ability to write and edit is vital as a PR professional – and most of the time you have to be ready to throw together a memo, talking points or a press release. Learn how to write in a quick, concise and grammatically correct manner – it will serve you well I promise.
  4. Patient/flexible: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planned for one scenario and it changes 100% in a matter of minutes. It’s easy to get worked up when things don’t go according to what you planned but being able to roll with the punches is necessary on a regular basis.
  5. Friendly: Be nice! It’s going to make your job a lot easier if you’re friendly, reliable and trustworthy. (There will be times when that’s easier said than done!)

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

In response to COVID-19, the NBA first took a brief hiatus and is now resuming play in what they call “the bubble.” As a result, Renee and her colleagues have been actively working to digitalize their media operations. Renee’s insight about her role and career in the sports industry was not only extremely fascinating but also, eye-opening. I’m sure every sports fan is excited for the NBA to be resuming play but, we must think about those behind the scenes that make it happen. When the Dallas Mavericks resume play on July 31st, Renee and her colleagues will be doing everything in their power to make sure us fans and the media have access to players, coaches and leadership staff. I wish her well and know she’s going to rise to occasion!

Connect With Renee Felton

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