The formula for getting a job in sports

November 14, 2018

Almost everyone will look in the mirror one day and realize that they don’t have the skillset to play hockey beside Connor McDavid, pitch for the Dodgers, or play power forward for the Lakers. It’s a painful moment but is typically followed with the realization that you ARE a Finance expert, or maybe you have a very serious skillset in sales. That’s not going to help anyone during a power play, but it is vital for the success of a team. The passion on the ice/field/court bleeds into the operations of the business and it’s easy to see this as the dream job; because for a lot of people, it is.

The major flaw with the dream job, is they always feel so hard to get…

So, okay. I get it. What a pain. If they just met you, they would love you! How do you get in the door? Here is what I have learned after filling 300+ full-time positions in sports.

Pick an area of the business that will allow you to build your foundation.

No, this isn’t as easy as you think.

You might be narrowed in on a role, but this isn’t the most effective way to start with the team. For example, you apply to a Partnership Specialist position because you are strong in sales and marketing, and this looks like the right fit. It probably is and will be the perfect job for you after a few years in the industry. If you only ever apply on the exact title you want, it’s likely that you’re missing out on about 5 other roles that are better suited for you in this moment.

To start: let’s learn the foundations of revenue, the basics of sales in sports, and the needs of our fans as they walk into the building. Start with Ticket Sales or Service, do an internship with marketing or work with the Premium Seat Holders. Establish the area and be open to any role within it, because the Business of Sports is extremely different than any other business, and to be successful you need to understand things from the bottom.

Want to get noticed? Be impressive and work harder than everyone else.

The best way to get a job in sports is to have experience in sports. Simple right? There are a lot of opportunities that you might be overlooking while you wait for that full-time job.

Internships, volunteer opportunities, information sessions, etc. These may not pay well and they might seem entry-level, but these are your interviews. Show up first, leave last and grind. This is when you prove that you’re here to learn and gain everything you can. The people that you impress in these roles are the ones that will reach out to their networks and encourage others to take a chance on you.

This is also when I’m going to tell you that you might need to move. The best advice I received during my time with the Edmonton Oilers was: always take on the most challenging projects and be open to moving to another city. Opening yourself up to even a three-month internship across the country is the best way to gain a new experience, show that you’re driven and committed to a job in the industry.

Prep for the interview and show off your brand.

I could throw a rock and hit 100 Oilers fans in Edmonton. I’m not looking for you to be a super fan or prove to me that you are passionate about the success of the team, I trust that you are (or at least that you will pretend to be).

I want the person that eats, sleeps and breathes ticket sales and knows how to get me to the next level. Don’t just know the team, know the best practices in your area and be an expert. Again, I can’t stress this enough, don’t research the stats of the players and the decisions that the GM has made within the last season. We don’t care.

Research the position.

Research the ticket packages, the branding of the team, the improvements made to the merchandise or the increase in theme nights. Dive into it and look at competitors; know what you’re talking about and start building that passion for being the best in the industry. We are looking, at every level, for people that can make us better. That’s the business of sport, being the best. So come in and explain to me how you will make me look good. Be that person.

Culture Fit. The deal-breaker.

Okay. If there is one thing you absolutely can’t prep for, research or even fake, it’s culture fit. And this is the single most important thing they will assess in you.

Working in sports is not always glamorous, you probably already know that.

When they say nights and weekends, they mean it.

If you picture it being fun, you’re right.

If you picture it being a challenge and a grind, you’re right again.

You need to know that this is for you. Bob Nicholson said to me when I first interviewed for my role, “this industry isn’t for everyone, and that’s absolutely okay. You need to KNOW it’s for you, or you won’t enjoy it and you probably won’t succeed”.

Okay…so, want to work in sports? Before you do anything else, answer these questions…

How hard are you willing to work?

How much time and effort are you willing to put in and what are you willing to miss out on (evenings, weekends, and personal events)?

Where is your passion? If you just want to go to every game, buy seasons tickets.

And who will you be when the tickets don’t sell, the team is losing and the days are long?

Working in sports is a lifestyle, not a job. There are positions posted every single day across North America; so mentally and professionally prepare yourself, and grind until you get it.


Michelle Carlson is currently a Recruitment and Immigration Consultant at Capital Power in Edmonton, AB CAN and contributor to theClubhouse. Prior to that she was a Recruiter with the Oilers Entertainment Group for 3 years, helping to hire business roles for the Oilers, Edmonton Oil Kings and Bakersfield Condors.