This conversation is happening in every collegiate athletics department around the country right now. My answer as to will college sports survive is yes, but…
The only way college sports will survive is if every department evaluates what is truly at the heart of what they do, recognizes what is most important and makes that a priority.
Every. Day. Of. The. Year.
What might you ask is at the heart of college sports? Community.
What is most important? Real connections with real people. Again, community.
Make that the focus and the priority and everything else will fall into place. College sports will survive if each department recognizes what really makes them great and what they really stand for. Every employee. Every day. All year. All conversations. With everyone you meet.
Is the competition aspect important? Yes. But it’s not everything. The community is everything.
College sports are unique and some legendary programs now span centuries of active existence and participation. And yet for some that legacy is in jeopardy. For others, they’re more confident now than they’ve ever been and they continue to reinvest in their communities.
I’ll say it again: College sports will survive if the executives in charge put community at the heart of everything they do and make their work about the community and nothing else.
Is money important. Yes, absolutely.
Are expenses real and growing every year, if not every month or day? Yes, absolutely.
So what do I mean by community?
I mean the collection of people who all believe in something greater than themselves. The community of alumni, employees, friends, fans and citizens that come together to celebrate the culture that exists around the competition.
This topic is somewhat controversial and may stir some people the wrong way, but over the next few months, I’ll be exploring why and how I think college sports can survive. The grand summary of how college sports will survive is community.
Community is service to others.
Community is acceptance.
Community is celebration.
Community is core values.
Community is academia and business coming together.
Community is people connecting at a higher level.
Happy 2015! I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I last posted on Bill’s Sports Business Blog and I apologize to you, my readers. Right about the time I stopped posting, was also the time things at my last sports business job got crazy. A couple people in my office ended up leaving for other opportunities and it turns out I ended up leaving a few weeks later too! Yup, Bill got a new job. As a result of all that stuff going on, I didn’t really have a lot of time to myself, which left no time for posting to the blog. I’m sorry about that readers. BUT, I do think I have some interesting advice on how to get a job in sports – or at least I hope you find this information useful, depending on where you are in your career. I figured since I am only a few months into my new job I’d offer a few tips on how to break into the industry and get a job in sports.
For the purposes of this post, I’ll target my advice to those who are looking to get a job in sports and are just getting started with their career. Certainly it helps if you are entering the early stages of your career and just getting started working in general, but some of this could apply to anyone looking to get a job in sports.
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LIKE TO DO
First, you’ve got to figure out what you like to do and what you’re personal interests are, as there are several avenues to take. Are you a creative person? Do you enjoy art, drawing, painting? Are you a technical person who enjoys data, statistics and numbers? Are you a people person who likes talking and interacting with people on a constant basis? No matter what you like to do, there’s probably an application for your skills in sports somewhere. Consider sports information/statistics, IT, analytics, marketing, sales, ticket operations, equipment, operations, coaching, counseling and legal counsel to name a few. Some of those areas have more strict application requirements, but like I said, if you’re at the beginning of your career, the world is your oyster – or playing field…haha.
DECIDE ON WHAT LEVEL OF SPORTS BUSINESS YOU LIKE THE BEST
Where do you see yourself – really? If you really want to work in sports business, it can’t be all about the money. Sure there are some jobs that pay very well in sports, but the likelihood of you ending up in a high paying job in a short amount of time isn’t likely, so take that aspect off the table and think about what’s more important. With so many people wanting to work in sports, the competition for getting most sports jobs is as tough as the competition on the playing surface.
So – where do you see yourself, really? Did you love your little league team and find yourself managing the local club while you were a student in high school? Maybe a community organization would be a great fit. There are probably several non-profit and for-profit sport organizations in your local community – go see what they’re up to and start a conversation.
Did you enjoy playing high school sports and like how everyone came together to celebrate with their friends and family? Maybe that’s where you belong. There are more high school sports programs than probably any other level of play, so opportunity at that level seems rather abundant.
How about college sports? DI, DII or DIII? You’ve got quite a variance of experience and competition to choose from and really the only way to figure out what fits best for you would be to go see a couple of games and watch everything but the game itself. By that I mean take a careful look at how many workers are there, what the setup is like and what the game presentation is like. Another thing to consider with college sports is the size of the organization you want to work for – small, medium or large. Do you prefer to be a part of a smaller team, where everyone involved is expected to contribute to the greater good by performing many different tasks? Or do you think you’d prefer to be a part of a larger organization that requires most employees to specialize in something specific?
Next, there are the pros – the top level of competition. This is usually what people think of and dream about when they think about working in sports. If your dream was to be the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks or the general manager of the San Francisco Giants, what a great dream! Never stop dreaming, but also be realistic. The relatively small number of those types of positions makes it statistically unlikely that most people will ever advance that far in their career. That’s not to say that you can’t find enjoyment and have a great career in pro sports doing something other than being the top boss.
CONSIDER OTHER OPTIONS
Depending on what your skills are, you should also consider other ways to be involved in sports business. There are many different industries that directly support sports business or are tangential to sports business organizations. By that I mean, consider working for a venue, stadium or arena. Working for a building or building management organization is a great way to see all sides of what it takes to make events happen on a regular basis. You get to see sporting events, entertainment events, community events and a whole array of different people that make things happen. This is the type of organization I work for now and am learning new things everyday.
Another way to look at getting a job in sports is to consider being a referee. I was a referee in graduate school and absolutely loved every minute of it. It was a ton of fun being involved in the action in a very important role, plus its an excuse to stay active and in shape year round. The other thing that’s nice about being a ref is that it’s not a full time job; that way you can stay involved in sports, stay in shape, and do something else you love.
On the other hand, do forget about non-mainstream sports and endurance sports – think bowling, biking, obstacle races, running – basically sports other than football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Those areas are growing rapidly and are great options to be involved in sport in a different way. Again – it comes down to who are you, what do you like to do and where do you see yourself?
The last option I want to mention is working for an organization that supports the business of sports. There are apparel and equipment manufacturers, media organizations, consultant groups, food and beverage organizations, specialized video and game presentation organizations and numerous other ways to get a job in sports without actually being “in” sports. Think about all the different pieces that make TV games happen – well…maybe that’s difficult because you don’t know what’s out there yet, which brings me to my next point:
NETWORK AND GET TO KNOW PEOPLE
The best way, in my opinion, to get to know if a job in sports is for you is to actually go talk to someone who works in sports. Go find someone who does something related to whatever it is that you think you’re interested in and find out what they do on a day to day basis. Also find out what it took them to get where they are and how long it took. Find out what kind of education and training they have. Find out what kind of work-life balance they have. Many people say that work life balance doesn’t exist in sports, but I say those people are bitter. Of course there’s balance, there has to be or you burn out and quit. Do we work a ton of hours in sports? Yes. Do we love it? Oh yes, absolutely (most of the time). But, it does take a supportive family and a strong personal character to make it work with a family.
Long story short, go meet people and talk to them about where you are in life and where your interests lie. If you’re honestly just looking for advice, I’m sure most people would entertain your questions or at least be able to direct you to someone who can help. I would. Send me an email and signup for updates in the side column.
There’s no easy way to get a job in sports. It takes a lot of hard work, thoughtful action and due diligence to get what you want. So figure out your passion, apply your skills and talents and show up everyday with a positive attitude, ready to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. If you do that, regardless of whether you end up with a job in sports, you’ll find happiness. The world needs more people who are alive with their passions and do the work they love. Don’t focus so much on “I want to work in sports” but instead on “I want to find a career (not a job) that I love.” Do that and the rest will work itself out.
Thanks for reading Bill’s Sports Business Blog. For further reading on this subject, check out one of these Sports Business Books (affiliate). I hope you find something you like – I appreciate your support of my blog.
Both professional and university athletics teams can benefit greatly from marketing to their former athletes. To do so, create a culture of service and gratitude by nurturing your athletes from the start of their recruitment all the way through their graduation or retirement. In professional athletics, this may be more difficult, but the challenge can be overcome by collaborating with the players’ associations and alumni groups of your respective leagues. Most universities and colleges already have alumni associations built into the fabric of university life, so that might be a good place to start if you work at one of those institutions and don’t already have an athletics alumni group.
Most of what I’ll discuss here forward will pertain to college athletics programs, but many of the principles could also apply to professional sports as well. Read on and leave your comments below!
Start with your current students and your own department as it exists now and review the policies of your letter-winners club. Considering what it takes to earn a varsity letter at a university, my suggestion would be to make that group the focal point of what it means to serve your organization. By making the “letter” award a big deal and being a “part of the club” something to admire and strive for, you are creating an affinity group within an affinity group. The inner circle if you will. If being an alumnus fan of university athletics is an affinity group, to be a part of an even more selective group is something special.
Encourage your development staff to interact with your athletes on a regular basis – showing up at practice, being there before and after games, showing up to send them off on road trips and welcoming them home upon return, and congratulating them at end-of-the-year banquets are all things you can do that carry great meaning and don’t cost anything but time.
If your department is in a greater financial position to support your athletes with other items (laptops to check out for road travel, bookbags at the beginning of the year with your letterwinners club logo, sponsorship of post-season awards), you can use those items to further emphasize the importance of alumni giving and involvement. Encourage former athletes to be a part of their former teams’ programs by buying season tickets, signing up for mentoring sessions, and providing financial gifts when able to do so, while at the same time pointing out to your athletes that these people are doing those things.
By bridging the gap between past and present, you are effectively building the bonds that last a lifetime. The more connections you establish early on and the more regularly you promote the idea to your current athletes that alumni involvement is important, the more likely these things will eventually take hold and carry on once they graduate and become alumni themselves. Invest in your athletes today for greater future returns and with no expectation for how or when.
I cannot stress that last point enough – don’t expect that anyone do anything. Similar to the idea of great customer service being about providing your customers with a product they value and always putting forth your best work, serving your athletes in this way must also have the same sincere sense of caring for their overall well-being and development as future global citizens. By taking a sincere interest in who your athletes are as human beings while they are with you, the more likely they will cherish their time as students as something more than just a 4-year transaction.
This is a subject I feel strongly about and will be writing about more in the future. If there is anything you are interested in reading, please leave me a note in the comments below and sign up for email alerts to the right.
One of the focal points of this blog is to give sport marketers and administrators ideas on how to develop more streams of revenue. One way of diversifying could be selling merchandise and other commemorative items through official online auctions. As the photo above depicts, the University of Louisville must have some success in selling team-used apparel and gear in this way, as these are the items they chose to include in an email I received a few weeks ago. Given their recent on-field and on-court successes, they are riding an exciting time and doing everything they can to effectively market and promote being a Louisville Cardinals fan, and good for them for doing so! There will likely always be a market for sports memorabilia in general and depending on program history and success, the demand may ebb and flow.
Something to consider when deciding whether or not an online auction might be a good idea for your organization is how to actually get your items online. There are several companies whose business revolves around selling game-used and player-worn items and could assist you in developing some revenue out of these items. Depending on the agreement, this is probably the easiest way of handling this process, as you, the team administrator, don’t have to worry about much except for delivering the goods to the company to sell. On the other hand, you would be missing out on a defined amount of revenue due to fees charged by the third-party business.
Of course with any auction there is always a risk factor that must be considered. Certainly you could end up selling an item for a significant amount more than if you just set a pre-determined price and sold the goods at your bookstore or team shop. However, on the flip side, you could end up selling your posted goods at significantly below your desired price or perhaps not at all! With that in mind though, consider how you procured the goods and what might otherwise happen to whatever it is that you are selling – is this item to be used ever again? Is it of any value to the team or organization or might a fan find it valuable or worth buying for their bookshelf or mantle?
As with any new business venture, one must weigh the risks with the rewards. Do, however, consider an auction of used goods as a potential way to diversify your revenue portfolio and to develop fans with deeper connections.
Are you looking for ways to increase corporate sponsorship revenue? Well take a look at this example from Oregon State University with their Baseball “Diamond” Giveaway. I thought this particular promotion was worth noting for three reasons:
– Social Media integration. In order to view and sign-up for the promotion, you’d have to be a fan or “Like” their page. This means more engagement with fans in the social space that rewards encouraged behavior.
– Sponsorship activation other than football. This piece works particularly well for OSU because of how well their baseball games are attended in addition to giving one of their sponsors a unique engagement opportunity in a diversified list of offerings. With a moderate capacity stadium and a team that performs well on an annual basis, their attendance figures are some of the highest in the Pac-12 Conference; this translates to a high likelihood of impact, especially with exposure during a time of year that sponsor might not otherwise be in front of OSU’s fans.
– Long-term buzz and game day excitement – Assuming OSU has a game day integration plan, this could turn into one of those season long promotions where the winner is announced at the end of the season and makes for a big splash. If the media gets involved and if you happen to have a really excited winner, this could make for a great celebration. Diving further into this particular element, the team could interview the winner in the Omaha Room and perhaps get some video of them shopping in the store. The sponsor could probably use this more than the team, but the team ought to be able to leverage their connection to encourage renewal of the deal.
I am a big fan of clever “play on words” games as it pertains to special events and giveaways and this sponsorship element really hits it out of the park. It’s a seamless correlation between what the company offers and the sport being profiled that really caught my attention on Facebook. Something I tend to talk about a lot with our staff is the imaginary “tool box” of options we have at our disposal to help us do our jobs. This promotion is one of those “tools” that can help us as sport administrators meet some of our financials goals while at the same time creating a buzz in the community. Keep this idea in your “tool box” and consider how you could apply the same principles to perhaps another team of yours that does well in terms of attendance.
Please leave a comment below – I’d love to have your feedback on whether or not you thought this post was useful to you. Or, if there is something else you’d like me to write about, I’m always taking suggestions. Click “Follow” in the lower right corner to get updates in your email inbox.