5 tips to achieving your ideal job in sports
by Jonathan White - Director, group sales at the san jose sharks | June 04, 2019
It’s hard to believe I’ve been working in the sports industry since 2012, back when I had absolutely no idea that I would be lucky enough to make a career out of my love for the game of basketball and my desire to compete.
The journey to my current role may seem nontraditional for those outside of the sports & entertainment industry, and they might be right; but for those looking to make a career out of their passion for sports and business, I’m hoping my experience will shed some light on how an unusual path can help lead to finding your North Star in the industry. I’ve been able to parlay my Minor League Baseball dugout-dancing skills (you’ll learn more about this later) to a full-time sales career with the NBA, NFL & NHL. Below are my five biggest takeaways on finding where you belong in this crazy world of sports. Buckle Up.
Tip #1: Never be bigger than a job
We all must “pay our dues”, one way or another. For most in my position, it’s Inside Sales. You grind to make 100+ calls per day, while being fed less than desirable leads to call. For me, it was a variety of things; I started as an intern with the Texas Legends, transitioned to an Entertainment Team member (who was yelled at by a fan on my first day because I wasn’t smiling enough for their pleasure), to being a Ticket Sales Associate that sweated to get 30+ guest surveys per night for the OKC Thunder. All of this just to get noticed by the right person for a full-time role. The consistent theme throughout all my jobs? I never acted like I was too good for anything.
The best example of this is current Santa Cruz Warriors President, Chris Murphy. As one can imagine, most G League staffs are very limited. No matter what needed to be done, Chris was always the first to raise his hand to make sure a task was completed. I’ve seen Chris paint our arena’s interior, pick weeds outside of the building and empty trash cans in our office. THIS is the attitude everyone needs to have. I served as the Manager of Ticket Sales & Service under Chris, and even recall when I had to be our team’s mascot at an event for my own client. How could I refuse? After seeing Chris’ dedication to the organization, I had no excuse to not do anything for the team. Don’t cheat the game; if a President can do it, so can we.
Tip #2: Learn something from each opportunity
When I arrived at The University of Oklahoma, I began as a Supply Chain Management Major, hoping to follow in my father’s footsteps. Once I hit Calculus #2 during the tail end of my Junior year, I finally accepted this wasn’t for me. I quickly pivoted to Public Relations, thinking my passion for public speaking and writing would eventually turn into a fruitful career.
During my transition to the College of Journalism, I began working for the OKC Dodgers on their entertainment team, meaning I was that guy dancing on top of the dugouts singing “Take me out to the Ballgame” during those humid Oklahoma summer nights. To anyone that knows me well, they would acknowledge I severely lack the personality to entertain a crowd. I knew that job wasn’t for me long-term, but while doing it, I learned how to be confident in uncomfortable situations. I approached guests at games and sold them on doing something that I wanted, which directly correlated into next my job as a Ticket Sales Associate. On the surface, most may have viewed the job as a silly gig for a college kid, but I was developing into a seller and I didn’t even know it. I challenge you to take something from each opportunity in life, for better or worse.
Tip #3: Find a mentor
I’ve taken the liberty of changing the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it also takes a village to raise a successful individual in the sports industry. I can’t emphasize this enough. Find someone that has your best interests in mind, from a personal and professional standpoint. This person will not only be a resource for you but can also shoot you straight on the direction of your career. This is imperative to your success. I’d be remiss not to mention my Inside Sales Manager from the Thunder, Justin Jordan, and former Director with the 49ers, Paul Epstein, for being those individuals for me.
Tip #4: Find your WHY
Don’t rush this process, but you must find time to thoroughly think through your greater purpose of being in this industry. Why are you in marketing? What really motivates you? What really brings you joy and a sense of accomplishment? Finding your WHY is arguably the most important piece of advice I can provide, and it often takes a few years of experience to truly understand. Why did I pursue an opportunity in leadership? I wanted to spend the rest of my career coaching and training the industry’s next stars, not selling. I lost the lust for personally closing a huge sale and gained it for helping & mentoring others. I wouldn’t be where I am today without going through this discovery process.
Tip #5: Work for the job you want, not the job you have
Once you have identified your next move, start acting as if you’re in that role today; don’t wait, hoping to get noticed by your boss. Take the initiative of making your current leader aware of your desires and put an action plan in place. Go visit with leaders or top performers of the department you are interested in working within and learn about what it takes to be successful. Be mindful of staying present in your current role but try to take on additional responsibilities that reflect someone that is doing the job you want.
Jonathan White is currently the Director of Group Sales for the San Jose Sharks. Prior to his work in SJ he worked at the Oklahoma City Dodgers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, San Francisco 49ers, and the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G-League. He has more than 7 years' experience in the industry and has grown from a small minor league intern to a leader in the NHL. He's also a mentor in theClubhouse and can be contacted here.