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Four Ways to Make Breaking into the Sports Business Industry Easier

Is there a real secret to breaking into the sports industry and setting yourself up for success? We have four.

Jarrod Barnes

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Why do you want to work in sports?

The answer might determine your future success.

Being an expert at debating why your favorite NFL team will win the Super Bowl this year with your three closest friends doesn’t qualify you to be on ESPN’s “First Take” as a sports broadcaster. While your passion for sports and love for competition may draw you towards a career in sports business, breaking into the industry is no small task — and, keep in mind, the journey becomes even more challenging as time goes on.

While looking for job openings, staring at your computer screen and scouring the pages of LinkedIn or Indeed will only get you so far. So, what’s the real secret to breaking into the sports industry and setting yourself up for success from the start? We have four:

Seek opportunity — and clarity

Sports business is rapidly expanding, and so is the definition of “sport.” One of the fastest-growing sports in America may surprise you, but rugby — yes, rugby — has over two million kids playing in the United States. Why does this obscure fact matter for someone looking to break into the industry? New jobs, markets, and opportunities have been created by this demand. Esports and the new betting boom both fall under this category as well. These are just small examples of using trends to your advantage in a job search.

In addition, you should know exactly what type of role you’re searching for, and more importantly, what skill set is required to obtain that position. Is your core competency in content creation, sales, marketing, or operations? Narrowing your search in an organized, tactical manner will certainly help your odds of landing an opportunity.

Will Baggett, operations coordinator for the College Football Playoff, said “the key to not only breaking into the industry, but continuing to ‘kick glass’ as you grow, is to create a roadmap. Whether it’s an entry-level opportunity or long-term goal, be strategic in your job search. As you are reviewing job descriptions, begin to take note of the requisite skills, especially if you aren’t yet qualified.”

Patience is a virtue, especially in your job search. Informational interviews are a great way to gain clarity towards your strategy, increase your perspective, network with professionals, and build your personal brand at the same time.

Fighting the battle of comparison can be a challenge too — but it’s important for young professionals to remember to chase the dream, not the money.

“While some of your friends are making more than $50,000 per year right out of college, a job in the sports industry will come nowhere close to that salary. If that’s an issue, get out right away as you’re likely not in it for the right reasons,” said recent graduate and current Premium Sales Associate for the New York Jets, Sean McNamara.

A passion-first mindset always wins in sports business.

Find a way to get in the room

Network, network, network. It’s important to stay visible — not only as an active sports business professional on social media, but in person as well. How does one physically meet new industry pros? While it might not be the most exciting choice, volunteering has continually opened doors for many successful people.

“Find ways to gain experience to position yourself for future success,” Baggett said. “You can create opportunities through volunteering and relationship-building.”

McNamara emphasized the importance of working diligently even if don’t land your dream job right away by saying, “you don’t have to know the plan yet. The job you have now likely won’t be the one you have in 10 years, but you have to still bring your best every day.”

Searching for more volunteer or relationship building opportunities? Here are a few listed below to check out:

Learn, learn, learn

A recent article from Forbes on the future of work stated: “across many jobs, there is a death of a single skill set, and what has made you employable today will not be enough to ensure you are employable tomorrow.”

In the context of sports, have a crossover to your “right-handed layup” or specific job niche.

“Make yourself indispensable,” said Corinne Milien, former ESPN events supervisor and current executive director of The Winning Edge Leadership Academy. “It’s better to hire one person that can do multiple job functions than three people who can only do one thing. The ability to work with Adobe Photoshop and InDesign allowed me to do graphics on the job for ESPN. It made me that much more valuable.”

The internet has leveled the playing field when it comes to education, too. Adobe, Google, and Microsoft all offer online training and education opportunities. “Find out new things that could enhance your skill set; think about all of the players that are needed to be successful. Become a dual threat,” Milien added.

If you’re looking for a more structured approach, sports management degree programs and certifications have exploded in the last 10 years. With over 400 sports management degree programs, there is no shortage of formal education and training available.

In 2016, Roger Goodell presented a motivating speech for the Ohio State football program. Goodell shared on his journey to becoming the NFL commissioner, stating that in the beginning of his career, he wrote letters to every single NFL team, fighting to get an opportunity. Through working his way up, he stated that “relationships always come full circle,” and what makes NFL players — and employees — last the longest are “availability and durability.”

Become a problem-solver

The National Association of College and Employers (NACE) identified the No. 1 key attribute that employers seek today is the ability to solve problems. In order to do so, one has to understand not only their specific job role and responsibilities, but also the needs of the organization and industry as a whole. Research is constantly being conducted on the business of sports. Deloitte and Nielsen Sports are the latest to release studies on what’s coming next in the industry:

“Barriers to entry have never been lower. More markets around the world than ever before are receptive to the power of sports,” said Glenn Lovett, global managing director, Nielsen Sports. “It’s never been easier to reach millions, even billions, of fans. This vast opening up of opportunity brings an increase in competition — for sponsors, for media revenue, for fan attention. Sports must work harder than ever to obtain, retain and grow their fan bases and revenue streams. That work starts with understanding what is happening in the industry and figuring out what it means for your organization.”

So, you want to work in sports business? You have the ability to start today by understanding the industry, seeking opportunity, diversifying your skill set and becoming a problem-solver.

Jarrod Barnes has served in athletics administration at Clemson University and is also a former Defensive Back's coach at Ohio State University, where he worked directly with coach Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano. Jarrod was a two-year letterman and first ever Ohio State football player to pursue a Ph.D. while on the active roster. Jarrod currently resides in Charlotte, NC and works with Rise Sports Advisors, a brand management firm for professional athletes and also runs Prime U, a talent & leadership training company for collegiate student-athletes and young professionals. Jarrod has been widely recognized by Who’s Who Magazine, ESPN, Fox Sports and The Big Ten Network as a top up-and-coming young professional. Jarrod can be reached at Jarrod@frntofficesport.com

Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations with Michael Taylor

After ten years on the business side of pro basketball, Michael Taylor has learned how valuable persistence and personal branding are in ticket sales.

Front Office Sports

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Michael Taylor: Director of Team Marketing & Business Operations at the National Basketball Association (NBA). Taylor will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Squad Goals: The Evolution of Group Expectations.”

Taylor played basketball at West Virginia State University, where he graduated in 2004 with a degree in business administration and management. After playing basketball in Europe for a few years, pursuing a career on the business side of basketball simply made sense. It’s also proved to be a natural fit. For example, during his time in Detroit with Palace Sports and Entertainment, the group sales department jumped from 29th in revenue leaguewide to fifth in just over three years.

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

Now, with over a decade in the NBA, Taylor takes great pride in the people he has been able to develop.

“I look at some of the people that I’ve been able to work with and have hired and are thriving in the industry and moving on to different leadership positions, and that is probably the thing I’m most proud of,” he says. “The people and the development pieces are where I like to focus my time.”

The biggest mistake that Taylor sees young reps making in their early years is not having a short memory.

“In this business you have to be able to take the bad days…the days where you make a hundred calls and 50 people hang up on you and you leave 50 voicemails and no one returns,” he says. “You have to be able to maintain the same enthusiasm, the same confidence on that next call. And then, on the flip side, you have a day where maybe you made that big sale. Do you then slack off? Do you get complacent? Do you not focus on your fundamentals anymore because you’re starting to see some success? Don’t focus on what happened yesterday, whether it was good or bad, but approach each day as a chance to be great.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

Taylor’s other piece of advice to young professionals just beginning their career in ticket sales is to constantly be maintaining their reputation online and in real life.

“It’s never too early to think of yourself as a brand,” he say. “The things that you do now, you’re building your reputation before you even realize it. The sports world is small. When you think about applying for internships or applying for jobs, your reputation is what speaks before you even get into the room. Everything that they do either adds to their brand, or it takes away from it.”

Meet Michael and hear more of his thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

German will lend her expertise on premium sales at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland Coliseum on May 10.

Front Office Sports

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Naimah German: Premium Sales Consultant with Legends at the Las Vegas Stadium (the future home of the Raiders). German will be one of the leaders of the huddle “The Experience Economy: Navigating Shifting Premium Sales Demands.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

German made the move to Nevada in January of 2018 ahead of the Raiders moving to and playing their first season in Las Vegas in 2020. In the months since, German and the rest of the organization have had their hands full in the best possible way.

“It has been a whirlwind to have that many people on the waitlist,” she says, “but we were all committed from the very beginning, and we are making adjustments as we go along. So it’s been a lot of learning as we go through that process of checks and balances and communicating with one another.”

Prior to arriving in Las Vegas, German graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2007 and worked in insurance and advertising sales for a number of years before completing her master’s degree through Northeastern University in 2014. German’s breakthrough, and what she describes as one of her proudest professional accomplishments, came in 2015 when she landed a Membership Development Associate role with the Miami Dolphins.

“That was the most rigorous process to get a job that I’ve ever been through,” German says, reflecting on the experience. “I did two separate phone interviews and then I had to fly myself out to Miami. But I knew that if I went down there, I was going to come back with the job. They had a hundred of us participate in a sales combine, and we competed for a job over the course of that whole weekend. They accepted nine people into that inside sales class and I was one of the nine.”

German then joined the Legends crew in 2016 as a Premium Sales Consultant with the Atlanta Falcons, where she stayed for about a year and a half before moving on to her current role in Las Vegas. With her experience on the premium side, German has learned that the ability to build strong relationships with clients go a long way.

“Ask questions and you will be able to build a relationship with someone and know why they want what they want,” she says. “Everyone wants the top-notch experience, so being able to identify potential problems early in the process is going to help alleviate any potential frustration.”

In her experience, German notices that many young sports professionals can define themselves by their work. While careers are important, she urges everyone to maintain a balance. 

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Selling A New Team With Ted Glick

“Don’t let the job take over your identity,” she says. “Sometimes people forget who they are with all their motivations and ambitions and what they want to do. Knowing you are more than what you do is a much healthier attitude to have in this business.”

Throughout her career, German has not lost sight of how sports can be a force for good. This is the primary reason she wanted to pursue a career in the industry, and why she continues down this path today.

“Sports is something that brings people together,” she says. “I always come back to that. When you’re at a game, we’re all one. We’re united.”

Meet Naimah and hear more of your thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Professional Development

Why Athlete Retirement Transitions Can Be So Devastating

Sports psychologist Scott Goldman discusses the struggles athletes can face in retirement from their professional and amateur careers.

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Ben Hartsock was thinking ahead to avoid difficulties following retirement.

Following a 10-year NFL career, the tight end jumped right into a career as an agent. For Hartsock, it was better than taking time to figure his life out after the structure and rigidity of an NFL career.

“There’s really two schools of thought, and there’s the school of thought you need something waiting when you’re done because idle time is the devil’s playground,” said Hartsock, who ended up realizing agent life wasn’t right after two years and is now pursuing broadcasting.

“Had I not jumped right into working, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I could have downward spiraled.” 

Professional athletes, no matter the sport, leave a life of structure and must transition to a life of relative normalcy. More athletes today are thinking about it, but no matter how well-prepared the transition, it can still cause hiccups, Hartsock said. After 20 years of playing football, Hartsock said it’s almost like being institutionalized.

“I don’t know what other industry or business has a similar experience,” he said. “The shelf life of an athlete is limited in a way I can’t think any other profession is. Think about going to high school getting great marks, going to college and excelling, and after five or 10 years of being the best surgeon in the world, they take it away from you. That’s hard.”

READ MORE: As Retirement Nears, Yankees Star CC Sabathia Experiments With ESPN Deal

Athlete struggles following their athletic career’s end is not an easy topic to address, said Scott Goldman, the president-elect of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. Goldman is a sports psychologist who’s worked for 20 years with collegiate and professional athletes.

Much of the conversation in post-career struggles revolve around professionals, but Goldman said it’s also a serious issue among collegiate athletes as well, as 90 percent don’t go professional. While many sports don’t have a clear path to the pros, Goldman said those that do — like basketball and football — can make inflate aspirations.

Goldman said he’s happy that leagues, like the NFL, are working intently to help create programs and guide players through their career and after to help ease the pain.

When Goldman works with an athlete struggling post-career, he said he likes to follow the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief. Leaving an all-or-nothing career, like professional athletics, can leave athletes in a similar depression as losing a loved one.

“For some of them, it’s as much a shift in identity as dealing with a tragic loss,” Goldman said. “Most of these athletes get up at 6 a.m. and their day is largely accounted for and scheduled. It can be really intense when they leave.”

Goldman said he believes more potential employers are realizing that while athletes mostly don’t have lengthy business resumes, the commitment and dedication to their careers and being successful can often easily translate to the business world.

Often times, careers ended because of injuries are worse because they’re sudden. For careers like Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, players get a goodbye tour and can ease into their retirement through a grief-like path.

Beyond the personal-identity struggle, Goldman said athletes also often struggle with their financials following retirement. The general public has a perception of multimillionaire contracts, and while some athletes are set for life, those contracts are in reality few and far between. More common are the sub-million dollar contracts with athletes averaging less than three years as a professional athlete. Add on trying to ensure that money and whatever post-retirement career the athlete ends up pursuing to obligations, and the stress can be high.

READ MORE: Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

“It’s amazing the demand of the million dollar athlete,” Goldman said.

Former athletes balancing a dwindling bank account with their lack of direction can experience a perfect storm for emotional troubles. That’s where people like Goldman and companies like Priority Sports, Hartsock’s former agency, and its Preparing for Life After the NFL, or P.L.A.N., come in. 

Leaving a professional sports career often doesn’t have a ceremonial ending like other transitions in high school to college; college to the working world; or even a long TV series finale. Goldman said he doesn’t often like to use cliches, but can’t avoid one in this situation.

“It’s more of a transition than a severance,” Goldman said. “When you exit one room, you enter another space. Sometimes we focus on what we’re leaving and other times, it’s what we’re entering.

“It’s important to accept what we leave, and see what’s coming next and find meaning.”

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