A note to my younger self - how do I break into sports?
by Joel albers - director, Global sports, entertainment & brand sales - Calreply | November 27, 2018
Hey pal - sent your resume to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and ESPN and didn't get a response? I know, it's a bummer. You did all the right things - had great internships, refined the resume, Googled 'best cover letters to work in sports", phoned in all of your contacts, and still couldn't your foot in the door. Tough break, but here's the deal - you know who wants these jobs.... everybody! And, to be blunt, we didn't exactly get into the Ivy League. I know, that shouldn't matter, and you know, it may not, but the reality is that there are LOTS of qualified, hungry, smart soon the be college grads who are going through the same thing right now. Good news - the sports industry is multi-dimensional, and it's only expanding! As the future you, I can tell you that everything is going to work out - we just need to think outside the box. Here's the new game plan:
Step 1 - Look beyond the obvious - there's a lot out there!
No question, working for the major leagues is super prestigious and a great start to your career. However, there's nothing wrong with trying to be where others aren't. Don't limit yourself - from media to tech to niche sports, there are so many interesting corners of the sports world. Here is a list to get you started:
- New media and OTT platforms, Niche sports leagues, Start up sports leagues, Minor league sports, Ticketing technology, Marketing technology, Ad tech, CRM, Data analytics, Hardware and wearables, Gambling and gaming, Marketing agencies
There are dozens of tech companies, sports focused digital media, and sports leagues that are just getting started or have a smaller audience (but are no less creative) that provide opportunities for really smart, young people to get in on the ground floor and gain invaluable experience. The 'brand name' may not be as sexy, but who cares? You're 22 years old - go get your hands dirty, and while others are stuck in the mail room, you are making things happen.
Now, how do we get there?
Step 2 - Be entrepreneurial
Opportunities won't come to you - you have to go get them. What does that mean? Research and read - a lot. Block out at least an hour or two every day for discovery. There are several excellent industry newsletters and other digital resources that enable you to stay up to date. The more you read, the better you will be at identifying actionable information. Build a prospect list - a personal database of potential employers and key contacts within each org.
Which sports tech companies just received a new funding round?
That new sports league - which network did they just cut a linear distribution deal with?
That CMO you follow on LinkedIn - which company just hired them?
Use these nuggets of information for STRATEGIC outreach. I get it, we want a job yesterday - it's tempting to blast the resume to everyone you find. However, have the patience to demonstrate that you have done your homework on the company itself AND the right contact. Which department is most interesting to you? Find the head of that department and recruiting/people operations, and reach out to them directly with well crafted, relevant communication - and be persistent. Not everyone is going to get back to you (and almost certainly not after the first try), but it's not personal - people are busy, so the burden is on you to make the extra effort.
Now you have your list of companies, target contacts within each company and a department you want to work within. One extra step to take - look at each company's job board and identify roles that could be a fit, either now or in the future. And not to necessarily apply - as talented as Mom and Dad think you are, your're not getting a Director role out of the gate. What skills are required for the role? Do you have those skills, and if not, can they be accrued on your own? There are a number of awesome online courses and continuing education classes that are FREE. For example, social media marketing seems like a great field to get into, right? And as good as you are at posting photos to Instagram, there is a whole business behind it. Do the research and familiarize yourself - 'learning the language' is critical.
Step 3 - Take strategic swings
The days of working for a company right out of school for 40 years and being sent off with a gold watch are long gone - there is no forever job. The market is as dynamic as it's ever been. Don't look at your first (and for that matter your second, or even third) job as the end all be all - rather, it is a first of many rungs up a 20,30, even 40 year ladder. Look at your career in 2-3 year blocks - to be clear, I'm not suggesting that we're all just hired guns. Meaningful relationships and reputation are absolutely paramount. There is no hard and fast rule - however, focus less on money, title, and company brand name. Focus more on the actual content of the role - what skills can you accrue and develop? Are are you able to interact with senior leadership? Are you exposed to broader, macro level initiatives? Your first job in all likelihood won't put you in the CEO's chair, but it should get you to the next level.
Sports is a big tent. Broaden your focus and you improve your odds of both breaking in and setting yourself up for sustained success. Meet people, ask questions, take constructive feedback and criticism, and check your ego at the door. The job hunt has its anxieties, but embrace it - working in sports is fun, so put in the work and start enjoying the ride.
Joel Albers is a ten-year veteran of the sports industry, having worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks, IMG, and sports tech firms IOMEDIA Technologies and CalReply. He's a New York City resident by way of Northern California and Boulder, CO and is passionate about the intersection of sports, entertainment and technology. As a seasoned business development professional he has a lot of sales experience, specifically negotiating platform and SaaS technology partnerships with senior marketers in the sports and entertainment space (teams, leagues, media entities...) You can learn more about Joel by accessing his LinkedIN profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joel-albers-5a227013/