How to Succeed in Sports Business Without Really Graduating

sports business careers without graduating

There isn’t just one way to find success in sports business, matter of fact sometimes you just have to jump in

I often describe my resume as a “non-linear dynamic system” – if you know all the inputs, mechanics and underlying principles, it makes sense. If not, it’s chaos: psychology major, naval officer, briefly a law student, personal trainer, coach, and now, director of a professional track & field team.

It’s a far cry from many of my peers in sports management, whose LinkedIn profiles seem to open with “Media Manager of the Future Sports Executives Club, Rosewood Pre-Kindergarten,” and maintain a direct trajectory from there.

So what do you do if, like me, a combination of choice, necessity and circumstance has you knocking at the door of the sports management industry with none of the education or experience you think you need, and that the other applicants for each job have in spades?

In a competitive industry that is solidly a buyer’s market for employment, is there any hope for the self-taught, self-made individual?

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Options in Sports Business Education

An increasing number of colleges – including some business schools – are offering degrees in sports management. A degree undoubtedly provides very useful credentials and a ready-made network of professors and alumni, resources that are especially powerful when searching for your first job.

But is it worth the opportunity cost of what else you could be doing with your time and money?

To paraphrase “Good Will Hunting,” will you drop 150 grand on an education you could get for a few bucks in late charges and on Amazon Prime?

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If you are willing to go your own way, and zig when everyone else is zagging, here’s a plan you can start executing on today:

Step 1: Build Your Sports Business Syllabus

First day of school: professor gives students the syllabus. Now you’re the school, professor and student, so where do you begin?

Start with two of the most prominent names in business and sports business: Harvard University and Mark Cuban.

sports business quote mark cuban

(Photo Courtesy: Tech Cocktail)

Harvard won’t put its name on something unless it is the gold standard, so let them do the vetting for you. Harvard Business Review has made it even easier by compiling 6 books of 10 “must-read” articles from the different disciplines of business.

This would be your first semester of business school, available for well under $100.

Complement their theory and case study approach with Mark Cuban’s book “How to Win at the Sport of Business”.

With these two purchases – even before you’ve read them! – syllabus-building just got a lot easier. Your purchase and search history now knows what you’re interested in, and you’ll start receiving targeted recommendations. As you read these and other books, you’ll begin to recognize the names of the influencers in each field, which will tip you off to what to read next.

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Step 2: Move Beyond Print and Into Current Sports Business Events

Books are a great start, but obviously they are not responsive to recent events and developments. Clearly, I don’t need to tell you the importance and value of blogs. There are plenty of other tools out there that will be much easier to find now that you know the people and terminology that shape the industry.

  • Search YouTube to see if the author you just read gave a TED talk or posted a keynote address he delivered at a conference
  • Maybe an enterprising student decided to upload his video notes from a sports business class
  • Look for companies that offer webinars, Google Hangouts or other live stream events. For example, sponsorship powerhouse IEG presents (for a fee – subscription very quickly becomes worthwhile) a weekly webinar on different topics from the sponsorship industry.

Remember that products not specifically about sports business or management can almost always be transferred to this industry, especially as you become more versed in general business and management.

Step 3: Get Out of the House. No Seriously, Get Out of the House

Google Hangouts and Twitter chats can provide interaction from the comforts of home, but there still is no substitute for in-person learning.

sports business influencers

Mark Cuban (left) and ESPN’s Bill Simmons (right) on an panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

  • If you live near a university, see if their sports management department or business schools have any guest speakers, master classes or endowed lectures that are open to the public.
  • Check with your local chamber of commerce to find out if they do a monthly “lunch and learn” talk with local business people.
  • Once you have identified the specific aspects of sports business and management you intend to pursue, attend that segment’s upcoming conference or trade show.

These conferences are very practice-oriented, have a mixture of lectures, panel discussions and small group breakouts, and offer significant networking. While registration, flight and hotel to Boston for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference may seem a bit pricey, remember that we’re comparing this to a traditional education.

Step 4: Getting a Foot in the Door

As you develop your goals and the path you will take to achieve them, consider the aspect of scale as it relates to where and how you enter the industry.

Let’s say you want to work in football, with your ultimate goal being to work for an NFL team. Your self-education, professional network and self-promotion efforts have paid off with two offers on the table: an entry-level position with the New England Patriots, or the Director of Marketing for the New England Football League.

Option A: Will give you a prestigious resume bullet, a great network and exposure to sports business at the highest level. However, your daily tasks will be very similar to that of the intern staff: you will interact neither with Tom Brady nor Gillette’s Global Sponsorship Director.

With Option B: You will probably have only 1 person above you in the chain of command, will exercise a large amount of autonomy, will be able to demonstrate many of the “soft skills” you developed in your earlier jobs and will leave your mark on every project you touch.

Both offer unique on-the-job learning opportunities, but on a very different learning curve and scale.

sports business pioneer austin track club

Sometimes instead of working for the man, you discover a gap in the business world, fill it, and become the man…make sense?

Realistically, you are much more likely to be offered a job that is a combination of the two: an entry-level position with a minor league or niche property. The key point is that the sports industry is much deeper and more diverse than many people realize, and there are many entry points and career paths that are not as flooded with applicants.

A driven, innovative person at a start-up or niche property could increase revenue by 50%, or social media followers by 400%, in their first year. It’s nearly impossible that any person could effect such a dramatic change at a team from one of the Big 4 leagues.

Which would offer you the greatest personal satisfaction, and which do you think would bolster your chances of eventually getting that dream job with the Pats?

Finally, there is always Option C: start your own sports property. As you have been doing everything we talked about above, perhaps you noticed a glaring gap in the sports marketplace: a product, an app – maybe even a team – that people would want if only it was there for them.

This would be the ultimate chance to put your non-traditional skills and knowledge to use, considering that you would likely be a one-man show for the foreseeable future as you bring this new property to life. Running your own business is the ultimate trial-by-fire, so there is no better way to simultaneously use, test and expand your knowledge and skill base.

(Assuming this blog goes over well with the suits upstairs at WorkInSports.com, we’ll talk more about sports start-up life in an upcoming post.)

Editors note: It did go over well, very well in fact – expect to see more from George in the future. And we don’t wear suits – just jerseys.

Did you come into the sports industry from a non-traditional educational or professional background? What path did you take on your journey, and what advice would you add on top of what we talked about here? Let us know in the comments below, or share with us on social media!

 

austin track club sports businessGeorge M. Perry is the director of the Austin Track Club, a professional track & field team in Austin, TX, that develops aspiring Olympic athletes. If you’re ever bored and just want to provoke a reaction, ask George “Aren’t all track athletes amateurs?” and then tell him how money is the problem with sports.

Connect with George on LinkedIn or Twitter, and follow the club via www.AustinTrackClub.com.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this insight. I really want to get into working with a sports team. Any sports team at this point. This will help a lot. I’m currently writing for http://www.jaysjournal.com, but I want to further it.

    • Justin – there are a lot of great ideas in here you can work with to help further your career. Often working with a sports teams starts in the minors, no shame in that, so think about those opporutnities. The good news is, as George mentions in the piece, you’ll often get better work experience being with a minor league team or smaller sports league. – Brian

  2. Deborah Chube says:

    Thanks George for the insightful comments. I worked in sports but left to pursue others interests but now miss the industry I was so passionate about. I’ve relocated to Austin and looking for new opportunities. I’ve available as a volunteer or intern to rebuild my trust and network and experience.

  3. Immediately bookmarked this page. As someone who interviewed with both the Brewers and Twins in the past two months, it’s refreshing to see that opportunities outside of the professional environment can be just as, if not more rewarding. Well done George, look forward to reading more of your posts down the road.

    • Derek – we love that kind of response and are glad you liked the article. George did a great job and has already submitted his second piece to me, and it’s just as good as this one. Keep an eye open for it either next week or the week after. – Brian

  4. I,VE,ALWAYS LOVEDED SPORTS WHEN I GROWED UP I PLAYED BASEBALL AND BASKETBALL. AND,I THOUGHT ABOUT PLAYING FOOTBALL IN SCHOOL BUT I DIDN’T BUT I STILL LOVE THE GAME ANY WAY.MAYBE,ONE DAY I’LL GET INVOLVED WITH ESPN OR A SPORTS NETWORK AT A SPECIAL TIME.[I’M A TRUE AMERICAN SPORTS FAN]

  5. Great Artcile!, I chose opcion C and started my own business, and I know it is tough for you to start in the sports industry when you dont have a bachelor in a related field. I’ll check right away the Harvard must read list of books and I’ll order the Mark Cuban book on Amazon that’s for sure. Thanks!!

  6. LeeAnn Spaulding says:

    I am what I would consider the most non-traditional route to getting into the sporting industry. My ultimate goal is to work with the NBA and/or the NFL in the area of Community Relations. I’m hoping that from the suggestions of this blog, that I can possibly make my dreams a reality by getting a foot in the door! Thank you so much for the information! I will definitely be checking out all of the suggestions!

  7. Zach Brunner says:

    This was an interesting, thought-provoking article. I am currently in my second year at the smallest of universities hoping to someday land a job in the sports industry! It seems almost impossible with my current location (Northern to Midwestern Wisconsin). Is there any way to get a job working with collegiate sports? I wouldn’t even know what kind of positions would open up, or they would even offer.

    • Zach – Glad you liked the article – and there are lots and lots of jobs in college sports! Matter of fact I ran a report the other day from our database, and we posted almost 3,000 college sports jobs in 2013 alone. You’ll actually find many small schools looking for athletic department help, sports information directors, promotions and marketing…there are plenty of opportnities for you. And don’t tell yourself ‘it won’t happen because I’m at a small school’ I can’t begin to tell you how mnay great people I have worked with in my career that didn’t go to Syracuse, or USC of MIssouri…the majority went to small schools like Pomona, Goucher College…heck I went to the University of Delaware, not exactly a powerhouse 😉 – Brian

  8. Gary Boyson says:

    Great article. I did a lot of bouncing around schools as an athlete and student. Volunteering as a coach. Field of Play Marshall at World Championships and Olympics. Started an agency placing players worldwide. What was the key for me was going international. As in coaching basketball in China. I’m now in my 13th year as an NBA Scout. Cuban is right about loving what you do. My granddad told me that to.

    • Wow that’s awesome Gary – 13 years as an NBA scout! We’d love to interview you about your career for the site, if you are interested bclapp at workinsports.com – Brian

  9. John Norman says:

    Hi Brian. Loved your article. However, I currently volunteer as the Director of a Challenger League baseball team. This was my first year doing this. I was wondering if there is or could be a different conference for this league -either by themselves or against a major league team. Just a thought. Any advice or resources you can offer?

    Thanks,

    John

    • John glad you enjoyed the article – to be honest I don’t know much about getting a Challenger League Baseball team the opportunity to complete against a major league team… sorry! – Brian

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