By Mark J. Burns
Published on January 05, 2015
It’s been four and a half years since I first decided to pursue a career in the sports business world. An email sent to now close friend/mentor and Forbes.com colleague, Darren Heitner, in July 2010 was my first “action” toward landing any sort of internship or job in sports. Fast forward to the present and after completing my undergraduate degree and law school this past May, I can happily say I’ve landed a full-time position with CSE, an Atlanta-based sports and entertainment agency.
With that said, I wanted to discuss 10 different ways aspiring sports business professionals can accelerate their career, elevate their business knowledge and better market themselves toward potential employers. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it provides some guidance on what millennials can do for their career over the next 365 days.
1) Figure out what you really want to do. Do you want to work in public relations? Are you good with people? Do you prefer writing and covering what’s happening both on and off the field? Are you interested in managing athletes’ careers? How about event planning and staging college football games? Maybe numbers and analytics best suits your skill set? Whatever you enjoy and are passionate about — discover that as soon as possible. Then, direct 100 percent of your energy toward it.
2) Utilize social media for your advantage. I would highly suggest creating both a professional Twitter TWTR -0.47% account and a LinkedIn LNKD -0.26% page. Twitter is a versatile platform where you can not only follow other sports business professionals and executives, but also, share information and articles you’re currently reading as well. Tweeting worthwhile facts, tidbits and articles shows others you’re plugged into the business world and informed about the area you want to hopefully work in someday. LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and people with similar areas of interest. You should update your LinkedIn page on a monthly basis.
3) This falls in line with No. 2. Participate regularly in Twitter chats. Sports Business Reporter Kristi Dosh recaps what Twitter chats are here along with their benefits. In short, they’re weekly hour-long discussions where a chat’s host poses questions to participants with a branded chat hashtag. Chats exist around social media, ticket sales, general sports business, legal and other sectors of sports. If you want to stay current about what are best practices and hot-button issues in a particular area, I would recommend engaging in one or two chats a week.
4) Attend one or two sports business conferences this year. They are perhaps the best way to connect with professionals and learn about different areas of the industry. I’d suggest two: the Michigan Sport Business Conference and the Ivy Sports Symposium. Both are outstanding conferences and take place in either October or November. Before you attend the conferences, look at the agenda/speaker’s list so can see if there is anyone you want to try and meet. Perhaps you don’t meet a few individuals in person because the line to see them was 20-people deep — that’s okay. Follow up with an email the next morning saying that you appreciated them sharing their insights at the conference. Point to 2-3 specific points they made in their discussion and what you learned.
5) Don’t be afraid to hear the word ‘No.’ You’re going to hear it a lot, either directly or indirectly. You’ll be rejected from jobs and internships time and time again — it happens. It’s the nature of sports. An entry-level public relations and communications job with the NHL’s Nashville Predators last Fall received 750 applications…for a job that paid $32,000. Sports jobs may be the most sought after jobs out there. Don’t let hearing the word ‘No’ deter you from your goals and ambitions. Instead, embrace it and decipher how you can earn more ‘Yes’ responses.
6) Over the next 50-plus weeks, try and have one phone call or in-person coffee or lunch date with someone in the sports business world each week. Typically, these are called ‘informational interviews’ where you ask questions, learn more about a person’s current job and see how they got to where they are today. These are intended for you to learn another person’s story. A 30-minute chat only means you should be talking for 7-8 minutes. You may reach out to a mid-level executive in an area you’re interested in. Maybe it is someone fresh out of school who is less than one year in his or her career. Or, it’s someone your own age who has had success at different internships and you’d like to glean from them how they have been so successful. After any informational interview, do follow up with a ‘thank you’ email along with a ‘thank you’ card. This is a must. Nine out of 10 individuals do not do this, and as a result, you will stand out when you do so. You won’t develop genuine, long-lasting relationships with all of these people, but there will certainly be a few that you should and will stay in constant communication with. Maybe 3-4 individuals will serve as mentors as you progress in your career.
7) This falls in line with No. 6. Purchase branded ‘thank you’ cards and information cards. You’ll be needing them. Vistaprint.com and Tinyprints.com are perfect and affordable. On your information cards, I’d include your name, email, cell phone, Twitter handle, LinkedIn link and your school/graduation year. They will also be useful to share at those sports business conferences you will be attending.
8) Read. Read. Read. And then, read some more. Purchase a subscription to SportsBusiness Journal, one of the industry leaders in sports business coverage. There may be a student rate, which will make it a little more affordable. In addition to reading SBJ on a weekly basis, I would suggest scanning Forbes’ SportsMoney Blog, SportsAgentBlog.com, AdAge.com, AdWeek.com and Mashable.com on a daily basis, too. Do subscribe to seasoned public relations professional, Joe Favorito’s, weekly newsletter as well.
9) Find a website to write for around an area you’re interested in. If you enjoy marketing, search online for a sports marketing website to write for. It’ll probably be for free, but that’s okay. As a 20-year-old junior in college, you’re looking for worthwhile opportunities, not a get rich quick scheme. Through writing for a respected website about a niche you want to work in, you’ll soon become a go-to resource for knowledge in that area. At the same time, having this platform allows you to strategically connect with industry professionals for Q&As. This is a game changer. Instead of just reaching out to a 15-year veteran in marketing for an informational interview, now you have this website where you can not only learn about this person, but also, share his or her story with a wider audience.
10) Let success be your noise. No one got anywhere far by constantly informing people about how hard they were working or that they were up to the wee hours of the morning. Newsflash: everyone in sports works hard and is passionate about this business and the niche they work in. Instead, quietly go about your daily business doing some of the points outlined above, and I promise that you will slowly see results in your career.