Have you heard the adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” Well, in sports, it’s more like “who knows you” or “who is familiar with your work“. The key to getting your first sports job (or any job) is networking. You need to get out there in front of the decision makers who have the power to hire you, whether that’s the head of the sales department, box office or the general manager.
Attending networking functions is a great idea. Most teams and leagues either run their own career fair or attend sports related fairs every year. For example, job seekers interested in a career in Minor League Baseball should attend the annual PBEO Conference (the same “Winter Meetings” where players are traded and the Rule V draft are held ever year) and network with as many people as possible.
2. Get Ready to Sell
Sales is the most important aspect of a front office. One of the first things you must know about working in sports is that you’re always selling, even if you don’t work in the sales department. Although you might work in marketing, public relations or events, you will be called to sell tickets-or perhaps even sponsorships-from time to time. You’re always selling the value of attending a game at your stadium/arena so the concept of selling tangible goods like tickets really isn’t that different from selling the experience itself.
3. Be Comfortable Wearing Many Hats
Get ready to wear many different hats throughout the day-it’s true of the sports industry and especially in minor league sports. One day you might be driving to the airport to pick up the newest addition to your roster and the next day you might be dressing up as the mascot. Understand that all sports organizations do this to some degree. It’s more prevalent in minor league sports where staffs are small and “to do” lists are long but it occurs in major league sports at times as well.
Be a sponge. Soak up as much information you possibly can about the sports industry itself and especially about the team or league where you’d like to work. Ask for informational interviews to learn about the positions which interest you the most. The employee you’re talking to was probably in your shoes not too long ago. A little information can be a powerful think, especially as you try to position yourself as the best candidate for a position in the midst of an already crowded and extremely competitive job market.
5. ‘You Are the Team’
For all intents and purposes, this adage is especially true of the sports industry. A fan might only encounter one team employee during a game. It is therefore necessary that all employees represent the team and provide excellent customer service at all times-it is the single most important responsibility you have as an employee. If a customer asks you for help and you can’t help them, find someone who can. This may be your only chance to impact this customer all night–and often times the smallest interactions can leave the greatest impact on a customer and their overall enjoyment that night. The higher you rise in an organization, the more visible you are.
6. Love What You Do
Working in the sports industry is often a labor of love. There are millions of people out there that love sports but only a select few among them work in the industry. You have to be passionate about sports and really love what you do to stay in the sports industry. You will be asked to sacrifice your time on weekends and holidays. If you’re interested in working a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, the sports industry is definitely not for you. There are always college students and recent graduates salivating at the chance to work in the sports industry (and often work for free).
7. You’re Not Going to Be Able to Watch the Games
One of the biggest misconceptions about the sports industry is that employees have the opportunity to watch the games themselves. This is absolutely not the case. In baseball, for example, you might catch an inning or two while you move around the stadium but you will never have the opportunity to sit down and watch the game.
The game itself is your primary chance to interact with your clients which is why watching the game is something you will almost never do.
As with athletes, sports employees will often start at the lowest levels of the minors and work their way up the ladder in their respective sports. It’s common for employees to move from one position to a more senior position in the span of several seasons.
Employees will often climb the minor league ladder as athletes do, especially if they work in sales, public relations or broadcasting. Employees have tremendous growth potential in the sports industry if they work hard and tirelessly and build relationships constantly.
9. Be Innovative
Creativity rules in the sports industry. Every year, teams gain exposure due to wacky and off-the-wall promotions, especially in the minor leagues. Sometimes the best sponsorship ideas come from a wild idea someone offers at the end of a meeting. That’s just how it happens sometimes.
10. Have Fun
Although sports is a business, it is also a fun business. You meet a lot of great people and gain valuable experience by working in the sports industry-experience that really transcends the sports industry itself.
Think about it: where else can you dress up like a mascot or dance with the Blues Brothers on the top of a dugout? Sports is a unique industry and can be fun if you give it a chance.
I’d love to hear the story of how you landed your first sports job. Please let me know in the comments below!