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Living the Dream… The Road to Your Sports Career (Step 3)

Hello again, dear valued reader.  Hopefully Step 1 and Step 2 of this column have been both informative and enjoyable to read.  You are already past halfway!  After reading and applying the first two Steps, you are now connected in the industry and you know a specific job you ultimately want to earn.

But simply talking to people does not earn a full-time position, so how do you get there?

Intern & Volunteer

I remember thinking, “Great I’m going to take the necessary steps to become a team Salary Cap Analyst.  But how do I find a job that is not posted anywhere?”  Luckily, one of my informational interview questions asked current industry professionals how they arrived at their current position!  Almost every single person mentioned volunteer work, internships, and research.

Please let me clarify.  In the sports industry, you will need to work in the industry for free before you will earn a full-time job; hence the internships and volunteer work.  And you will need to be willing to work in just about any department: I worked in Game Operations, Promotions, Customer Relations, and Stadium Operations before I got anywhere close to the football side of a Front Office.  Most universities offering Sports Management programs now mandate a practicum or internship or something of the like, and that is a fantastic start to a career in sports.  But remember, almost every single student acquiring a Sports Management degree (and many others with different degrees, like myself) wants a job in sports and has the same degree requirement.  So, one internship or practicum does not put you ahead of any other college student.  You need to distinguish yourself!

The same applies for your research.  Educating yourself in your classes does not make you any more knowledgeable than the next person.  So get on the internet and learn some things on your own!  Hopefully you already do this without realizing it simply because you enjoy the topics and subject matter.

The Pool of Talent

Stop for one minute and consider the countless Sport Management Programs located across the country.  According to the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), there are at least 344 colleges offering the degree.  So consider 344 colleges graduating students each and every year.   Then add students graduating with alternate degrees wanting to work in sports.  Next, add those in the workforce that are already graduated that want a career change and are trying to get into the sports industry.  Lastly, consider the scarcity of job openings for all of those seeking jobs.  I hate to say it, but I got a rude of awakening realizing that there are not that many jobs available in professional sports.  And I was targeting a job that offered only 32 opportunities!  Most NFL Clubs only employed ONE Salary Cap Analyst.

Supply versus Demand

It is important to note that the sports industry operates under a very simple business principle:  Supply versus demand.  In the case of the sports job market, as illustrated above, the supply outweighs the demand on a colossal scale.  I often tell anyone inquiring about the industry, “Everyone thinks they want to work in sports, and there are only so many positions.”  One thing not working in your favor is the fact that sports teams know they have a vast pool of talent to choose from.  And with any supply versus demand comparison, a great supply and low demand drives down the cost of purchasing from that supply.  In your case, the low “purchase price” is your starting salary.  You do still want to work in sports, right?

Seek Experience

So lets get back to the question at hand: If you graduate with a Sports Management degree with an applicable internship, and you have networked with numerous industry professionals, is that enough?  Possibly, but probably not.  You need to go above and beyond to separate yourself.  But how do you do that?  After all, you’re in college working hard to get good grades and stay involved so that your résumé is desirable for employers.  Here is my humble advice: (Remember this list is not all-inclusive but it should work for you, especially if you can afford a low starting income.)

1. Stay in touch with the industry professionals you have established communication with.  Keep them informed of your academic progress and industry experiences, and your name will stay fresh in their minds.

2. Work in the Athletic and/or Recreational Sports departments at your university.  You need a job for income anyway, so you might as well get some applicable experience and contacts while you’re at it!  (The football coaches that I established relationships with referred me to contacts they had in the NFL, and most of them eventually advanced to other college football programs or the NFL!)

3. Seek out volunteer opportunities.  Call local minor league teams, and tell them you will work for free.  You would be surprised how many teams will welcome a willing hard worker.  Very quickly your work ethic could result in some actual responsibility.  (I was getting paid to operate the live game scoreboard within a month.)  And you can easily work part-time.  These teams need any reliable free help they can get.

4. Find internships.  Call as many teams as possible, regardless of the sport or level or location.  Most internships are not advertised, so be resourceful, find phone numbers, and place calls.  Be willing to move.  It is hard to find opportunities in this industry.  (I surprised myself one summer when I found an internship had “just opened” even though I was sure all internship opportunities has already been filled.  I was blessed to discover a friend living about 30 minutes from the internship that allowed me to sleep on the floor of his studio apartment during the unpaid internship.)

Earn these volunteer opportunities during school and the internships in the summers after school, and you will be so very thankful later.  Actually, if you acquire enough internships and volunteer work, your hard work will be recognized, and one or more of these employers will want you to interview for a full-time position when you graduate.  As with any other sports industry professional, keep in touch with these people and inform them of your progress.

I will leave you for now with these warm and fuzzy feelings.  You are well on your way to success, and there’s only one more step to paydirt!  I will give you the keys to the car in Step 4 next Friday.

In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions on this Step 3 or either of the previous two Steps of this series.  And please let me know what industry specifics you would like for me to touch on in future articles.  I appreciate your support, and I look forward to educating through many more enjoyable future reads.

This is part three of a four part series in which Joe Pirucki examines the ways to get a job in sports. Click here to contact Joe directly

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