Four Ways to Make Breaking into the Sports Business Industry Easier

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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.