10 candid tips on how to enter the sports industry

by chris langdon - Manager of Partnerships and Sales, Niagara River Lions
October 03, 2019

I have always been one to want to ‘figure things out on my own’, and my introduction to the sports industry was no different. Upon reflecting, I have likely broken most of the conventional unwritten rules when it comes to sports, business and career. Without divulging too far into that, I will attempt to summarize my “top 10 candid tips” for starting your career in #sportsbiz (note: these are my own opinions, unless otherwise stated, beliefs and thoughts. They do not reflect the opinions of any organization I have or currently work for).

1. Ticket sales is ok. Many top executives who I've had the pleasure of connecting with have all started their sports careers in ticket sales. Ticket sales can be some of the hardest work you will do. Personally, I feel like it gets a bad rap when it comes to new grads or individuals looking to get into the industry. If you have an opportunity to start your career in ticketing, accept it, even if it's “not what you want to do”. There isn't anything wrong with that and you never know where your career will go from there.

2. Have a ‘yes’ attitude. ‘Yes’ to everything you can, make yourself indispensable.

3. Take the internship. Even unpaid internships. The connections and learning outcomes you experience will long outweigh the wages you could have made during the internship.

4. Get out of your comfort zone. Have an opportunity to try sales? Go for it! Opportunity in marketing, operations, partnerships or social media – ‘yes’ mentality.

5. Be open to different experiences. A lesson I learned from the distinguished Dr. Jim Weese (Western University) - Diversification and loyalty tread a fine line. It looks good to show you are willing to move to different cities, different schools and accept different opportunities. You should demonstrate this and/or attempt to in your job search. You could do this by getting out of your comfort zone, working in a new city, adding experience in multiple departments (operations, ticketing, partnerships) and/ or by volunteering for different organizations (professional and amateur sport, collegiate sport and not for profits).

6. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into a specific sport. If you are a ‘hockey guy/girl’ take the offer from the soccer, football and baseball teams. Gain experience and one day you’ll be able to “pick your sport” (thanks to Ted Tieu for that one).

7. Networking is key. Michael Copeland (Former CEO of the Toronto Argonauts), taught me how to network. Networking is a term that is colloquially overused in sports. What does it actually mean and how do you do it? Here are some networking tips:

-Send the email. Once you meet someone who you would like to keep in contact with, do not hesitate to ask for their card and send them a follow up email sharing something they taught you. You will likely not get a reply and that is okay!

-Follow their career, congratulate them on an accomplishment, or share an update on your career with them. Again, you may not get a reply, which is fine!

-When you happen to be in their city next, ask if you can grab a coffee. At this point, they will either take you up on the offer or politely decline based on their schedule. Tip: offer to buy them a coffee, they will likely reject and buy it for you.

-At this point, and only after a minimum of three ‘touchpoints’ you can ask for a favor or to connect to a potential employer. Do not send the favor request in the first or even second touch point.

-Too many individuals expect meeting someone once is enough for them to vouch for them in an interview or to pull a favor for.

-There is never too much time between e-mails. If you have fallen out of touch, do not hesitate to reach back out. You don’t need to keep in constant contact.

8. You are your own brand ambassador. In an age of social media, be sure to showcase yourself in a professional manner.

9. Be a leader. Share your thoughts and opinions. Someone will notice and take a liking to them and yourself. As a former athlete, coaches used to constantly say “you only need one scout to love you”. The saying applies for starting your career.

10. Expect long hours. If you like 9-5, as much as you may enjoy sports, it is not the industry for you. Things are dynamic and constantly fluid. From meetings, to practices and games, things come up and change regularly. As the old Chinese proverb states “find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

There you have it, my “Top 10 Candid Tips” for your #SportsBizStart. If you would like to continue the conversation or have any questions about me and my journey, please don’t hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn or by sending an email to clangdon@riverlions.ca. My hope is at least one of these tips resonates with you and it assists in getting your #SportsBizStart.