Legal and Ethical Dimensions of Sport Public Relations

SPORT PUBLIC RELATIONS, pp. 299-316, C. Stoldt, S. Dittmore, and S. Branvold, eds., Human Kinetics, 2012

18 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2012

See all articles by Anastasios Kaburakis

Anastasios Kaburakis

Saint Louis University - Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business

Galen Clavio

Indiana University

Date Written: February 3, 2012


The legal dimension of sport public relations grows in importance and influence each year. The process of maintaining favorable relations between a sport organization and its public often involves balancing the marketing effects of communication with the legal ramifications of both the topic in question and the method of communication itself. Closely tied to the legal dimension of sport public relations are the ethical ramifications of decision making and the process of relating those decisions to an organization’s public. Not all legally sound decisions are ethical, and not all ethical decisions are legal. Sport organizations must examine their actions from an ethical perspective because of the importance of sport in the larger societal framework.

Consider the following example. NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball student-athletes are featured in video games licensed through the NCAA Collegiate Licensing Company and produced by game producer Electronic Arts in recent times, as well as by other companies in the past. This practice has been the object of considerable criticism and analysis, and class action suits were brought against it in the federal courts of California in 2009 and 2010 (Kaburakis et al., 2009).

The most recent and prominent of these lawsuits was filed by Sam Keller, a former quarterback for Nebraska and Arizona State, against the NCAA, the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), and Electronic Arts. The suit alleged that the NCAA, in conjunction with EA and the CLC, purposefully circumvented the prohibition on using student-athlete names by allowing users to modify and download rosters from an EA-hosted online server. Those rosters are easily adapted to the real names of the players, and most “real” players have a digital analogue present in the game (Kaburakis et al., 2009).

As with any intellectual property situation, several issues are at work. On the one hand are the fundamental intellectual property rights of student-athletes, which frequently conflict with those of their institutions and the NCAA, and on the other is the constitutionally recognized freedom of expression, including commercial speech, that communication professionals and industry executives need to be aware of and incorporate in their communications and strategic planning.

At the same time, major corporations and athletics associations or governing bodies need to maintain the balancing act between a positive public image measure against practical and mostly financial considerations. Answers to the difficult questions posed by such conflicts often are provided by either black letter law or, in most contemporary situations, by recent case precedent, as well as through policy solutions that governing bodies reach after considerable membership and constituent input leading to consensus (Kaburakis et al., 2009).

Keywords: FERPA, Intellectual Property, libel and slander, Freedom of Information Act, code of ethics, media rights

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K12, K19, K20, K29, K30, K39, K40, K41, K42, K49

Suggested Citation

Kaburakis, Anastasios and Clavio, Galen E., Legal and Ethical Dimensions of Sport Public Relations (February 3, 2012). SPORT PUBLIC RELATIONS, pp. 299-316, C. Stoldt, S. Dittmore, and S. Branvold, eds., Human Kinetics, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Anastasios Kaburakis (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University - Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business ( email )

3674 Lindell Blvd
Davis-Shaughnessy Hall 407
St. Louis, MO 63108-3397
United States

Galen E. Clavio

Indiana University ( email )

1025 E. 7th Street
SPH 112
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States
8128553367 (Phone)

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