On Wednesday afternoon, the Lowell Thomas Screening Room was packed with students and faculty eagerly awaiting a talk from Chris LaPlaca, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at ESPN. Right off the bat, he began cracking jokes, showing the students their Director of Sports Communications, Jane McManus, in her athletic prime: as the subject of an ESPN post showcasing her in her roller derby days.
As a journalism major at St. Bonaventure University, LaPlaca thought he knew where his life in sports communication would lead. “I was going to be a sports editor. I knew what I was doing,” he told students as he recapped his earlier years. After a basketball game he covered between St. Bonaventure and Villanova, he offered assistance to the Sports Information Director from Philadelphia. “A 30 second decision that changed the course of of my life,” he recalls it, as it eventually lead to a job in sports communication. After a year working at Villanova as a Sports Information Director, he joined ESPN. The organization had begun only months prior, and LaPLaca has remained with the ever-evolving team since.
Throughout the talk he gave the students valuable advice for careers in sports communication, journalism, and public relations. When asked about how to deal with tough situations, he always had examples of crisis situations he has dealt with himself throughout his 38 years at ESPN.
LaPlaca recalled at length when ESPN was accused of meddling with the conferences in which college football teams compete back in 2011. LaPlaca and his team’s solution was to “let facts drive,” a motto he stands by. His team created a blog, ESPN Front Row, and posted a timeline with what he referred to as a, “factual representation of how we got to this point.” When asked about why this solution was chosen, he said, “Sometimes [the accusations] are flat out wrong and you’ve gotta fight like hell.”
He also told the students about when Fox began their sports network, FS1, and claimed that they would surpass ESPN in ratings. After years of not responding, ESPN did so through posting a meme on Twitter with a link to a blog post on ESPN Front Row. The post explained all the ways in which FS1 had failed to surpass them.
“We broke a cardinal rule in the PR business,” LaPlaca said about calling out their competitors. Stories were written regarding the matter, and FS1 has yet to publicly declare their superiority again. The advice he gave to students about taking risky moves like this? “If you’re gonna take a shot, make sure your aim is right.”
In keeping with his personal motto, LaPlaca signed off on his poster with the rule he lives by: facts first.
Edited by Meaghan Roche