How To Effectively Network at Major Sports Events

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What do the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend, and NCAA Final Four all have in common?

The best of the best are competing on the field or court. Fans will travel from all over the world to experience these upcoming major sports events, including some of the biggest celebrities and influencers in sports business. In fact, there are an estimated 200,000 passengers arriving per day for the Super Bowl between February 1 and 4 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Clearly, there is no shortage of opportunities to network, learn, build relationships and gain access to new experiences at this tentpole. But how does one properly leverage the opportunity? Here are four tips on how to effectively maximize your next trip to a major sporting event, such as the Super Bowl.

Determine Your Goals and Desired Outcomes

Whether you are traveling across the country or staying local, outlining your goals and desired outcomes prior to attending an event will allow you to focus your time and energy.

Deciding what you want to get out of the experience, who you want to connect with, and how you want to connect with them all play a significant role in taking full advantage of the opportunity. Asking yourself questions such as, ‘why do I want to connect with this person?’ ‘What value can I bring to them?’ ‘What specifically can I learn from them?’

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

Each one will give you greater clarity on your next steps.

“Preparation is vital. Learn about the people attending and the organizations they represent. Have a business card even if you’re unemployed, as well as an elevator speech that connects with the intended audience and has a purpose,” said Mike Boykin, CEO, Bespoke Sports and Entertainment, an experiential marketing agency specializing in sponsorship consulting and activation.

Reaching out to connections beforehand through social media or email can also create space for a invitation to events or meetups. Exclusive, invite-only events are organized and planned by people. Do you know those people? Finding a way to intentionally align yourself with decision-makers are what provide access.

Identify Key Stakeholders and Events

Sports agencies like VaynerSports and pro athletes like Kenyan Drake and Champ Bailey are hosting events that open the door to additional networking opportunities. In addition, local academic institutions generally host events or have sports-management programs involved in volunteer opportunities.

For example, Georgia Tech is hosting the NFL’s 1st and Future Startup pitch competition and the University of Georgia is taking a group of 25 students to volunteer the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

But with a variety of events, it can be easy to lose sight of the goals you took the time to outline. Ben Milsom, chief ticketing officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, gave this advice: “Manage your time. So often people try to network with too many people and end up wasting time.

“Ask effective open-ended questions like, ‘How did you get your start in the business?’ ‘What steps should I take to be successful in my first year?’ ‘What mistakes did you make when you were my age and how can I avoid them?’ When you don’t make it about yourself, it’s amazing what you will learn.”

Fundraisers and community events like the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation Luncheon are also an avenue for making connections. Networking can take place in nearly any environment; it’s up to you to bring the intentionality and focus.

Be Present

“Enter conversations with the goal of learning more about the person versus sharing information about you. Everyone likes to talk, but listeners who ask insightful questions tend to come out on top.” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at George Washington University. “It’s one thing to have your business card or portfolio ready; it’s another thing to be ready to listen and add value.”

Charles Davis, a football analyst for FOX Sports, said: “As much as you ask of — and take from — others, you should be prepared to do the same for others.”

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

A mindset of abundance may sound counterintuitive, but has the ability to cultivate a strong network.

Have Intentional Follow-Up

Connections and conversations are great, but true collaboration comes through follow-up. Within 24 to 48 hours, be sure to send an email or handwritten thank-you note.

One way to stand out is to mention not only what you discussed with that person, but also what it meant to you and how you may use it as a professional. Don’t hear a response? Stay consistent by providing monthly or quarterly updates; those are a great way to stay top of mind.

Overall, major sporting events not only provide incredible experiences, but also incredible access to networking opportunities. Taking the time to outline your goals and identify key stakeholders prior to events allows you to be present when your opportunity arises.

Who knows, you may also come out as a champion at this year’s Super Bowl.