How to navigate career moves in sports business

by eric cole - general manager, ticket sales at Learfield IMG College ticket solutions at indy eleven | February 25, 2020

It’s common practice in the Sports Industry to move from team to team or sport to sport in order to move up the career ladder. I’ve personally added to this and have seen a lot of growth and development myself because of the decisions I’ve made to advance my career.  Over the last 10 years, and after three career moves, I’ve had the great opportunity to learn from some amazing leaders, develop many skills in multiple and very diverse markets, grow relationships with the industry’s top executives and help coach the leaders of tomorrow.  When reflecting on these experiences, it was apparent that three main keys came to mind when navigating the tricky world of career moves. The first is People, the second is Culture and the third is Opportunity.

1. People - When deciding to make a career move, the #1 attribute to look for in any company is their people. This goes for all people.  From interns to C-level executives. What do the people of that organization possess that makes it a “no-brainer” to work for and a company that you must be a part of?

The first experience I had with this was during my interview process with Jason McGuinness and Dionna Widder at the Pacers Sports & Entertainment Group. For a kid only months away from graduating college, having the opportunity to interview with an NBA team was a success in its own right. But to see what it takes to become the best and to have individuals invest in my potential was inspiring and laid the groundwork for how I view leadership today.

I can vividly remember my first interaction with Jake Reynolds and Brian Norman (from Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment) in 2014 when I made the decision to fly out to Philadelphia. Walking into that interview, you just knew that those guys had “it.” The type of individuals who would do anything to help grow their people, and failure wasn’t an option. Having that type of leadership only inspires each person to be great, or as we liked to call it, #LiveElite.

2. Culture - What kind of culture do you want to immerse yourself into and what kind of culture do you want to help grow? Those are two questions you should always ask yourself. Being surrounded by great people is fantastic but being around individuals who understand their roles in the lives of others and putting their peoples’ goals and aspirations first, is a recipe for consistent success.

Finding the right culture is tough and takes a lot of internal reflection. What environment will help you succeed and where can you have the largest impact? The cultures that help individuals find their passion, develop skills and produce the best people will always win. People, process and culture will stand the test of time and prove more pivotal in your career.

3. Opportunity - if one and two meet your criteria, then ask yourself if this opportunity is the one for you. Does this new challenge set you up for future success or start you on the path for the role you wish to have in the future?

In sales, I learned that if you can succeed in tough situations and overcome all odds to find success, well, then you can pretty much accomplish anything. You can gain the confidence, grit and drive to succeed in the toughest of times and also learn many valuable lessons to help you move your career forward.  Do you want to be a VP, C-Suite Executive, President? What will this career move do to help you achieve that? Are you putting yourself in the best position to accomplish your long-term goals?

This is the perfect time to reach out to your mentors and ask for advice. You aren’t the only one struggling with decisions like this. Many executives have been in your shoes. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance in times like these.  Most likely, they will ask you if one and two line up and if this opportunity aligns with your goals.

Although these aren’t the only three items to take into consideration when evaluating a career move, they can give you a great starting point.  If they all align with your goals, then bet on yourself and don’t second-guess. Make the move and attack your new career with everything you have.

I’ll leave you with a quote I have used every day of my career: “Good. Better. Best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best!”


Eric Cole is currently General Manager of Ticket Sales at Learfield IMG College Ticket Solutions at the Indy Eleven. Prior to this role he worked with and for some of the best leaders in our industry at the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils and Legends. Collectively, he's spent nearly 10 years in sports business and has grown from the entry level to become a team executive. One of the best people in our business, he's always willing to help others and is currently a Clubhouse Mentor. You can connect with Eric by going here or visiting him on LinkedIN here.

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