How to Get a Job in Community Relations With a Professional Sports Team

sports jobs in community relations with professional sports teams

Organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for 750 needy families is one of many events that has stood out for Detroit Pistons Director of Community Relations Heather Collart

Fans watch professional athletes and instinctively draw a conclusion on what type of person they are.

We all assume that because they appear so confident on the court, they must be that way at all times and in all situations but Heather Collart, Director of Community Relations for the Detroit Pistons, gets to see a very different side of these special athletes.

“I think one of the things that I always forget is how young some of the athletes are,” says the Pepperdine graduate. “Some of them leave college after one year, so we’re dealing with 18 and 19 year olds. In some cases they still need to grow-up or learn about their role as a professional athlete.”

To run an effective community relations program, which relies on athlete involvement, there is a great deal of learning and relationship building.

“I think the fact that these guys play a sport in front of a crowd, people assume that they love attention, which is not always the case,” says Collart. “From a community relations perspective, we try to get to know each athlete so that we can assist their personal initiatives and better understand what they do and don’t feel comfortable doing.”

Here’s more on what its like working in community relations from Heather Collart:

Sports jobs aren’t always easy to come by, especially working for a pro team – how did you get this opportunity?

Collart:  NETWORKING! I was lucky enough to build a relationship via social media with Peter Stringer of the Celtics and sought his advice. When the job with the Pistons came along, he believed in my abilities and put in a good word.

HARD WORK was next…and that was all me. I had a phone interview and an in-person interview and conveyed both my passion and dedication to my career thus far and what that would look like for them if they hired me.

Lastly, NO FEAR… I moved from Los Angeles to Michigan basically sight-unseen and without knowing anyone, but I knew it was what I needed to do to further my career.

[bctt tweet=”Networking, Hard Work and No Fear are the keys to getting hired in the #sportsbiz – @hevcollart”]

Obviously there is a lot of work that goes into creating positive programs in the community – what would you say are the three most important skills for someone to have that wants to work in community relations?


  1. Patience – not everyone sees value in social responsibility and as such sometimes budgets are lower (think of a non-profit) and resources are scarce. Projects sometimes take a bit to get off the ground.
  2. Passion – anything less than genuine care for community relations programs and missions will come across as disingenuous
  3. Organization – we’re usually running in a ton of different directions, so like anyone in sports marketing or event planning, being organized is a MUST
  4. (had to throw in two more) Creativity – finding ways to reinvent events or initiatives can be fun, but it should also be a requirement to present your work
  5. Relationship Skills – Interpersonal skills. Period. Boom. However you want to emphasize this one!

(Editors note: I think the ‘Period. Boom.’ Emphasized it quite well)


When you hire interns or entry level employees for sports jobs in the community relations department, what are the primary things you are looking for?

Collart:  A well-rounded view of the business and an ability to share those thoughts and ideas.

Very rarely can someone come in with one flashy attribute, we need someone who will look at everything through a 360-degree lens and think about everything from ticket sales to social media. No more silos and no more operating in a vacuum, we just can’t afford to have that many “specialists”.

sports jobs in community relations

The Pistons 50/50 Payday fundraiser was just one of many organized by the community relations department

Finally, a proactive and self-starting work habit is non-negotiable, all potential hires must have it.

On a day-to-day basis what are the biggest priorities, challenges and objectives of your role?

Collart: The largest priorities on a day-to-day basis are making sure that community relations not only is working towards our department’s goals but also seeing how we can assist other departments with their goals. For instance, planning a community event so that it’s more attractive to a corporate partner, either in exposure or in alignment with their community goals.

Our department is very integrated into the rest of the business, so while I prioritize achieving our goals and assisting our athlete’s with theirs, we also want to be an asset to the rest of the departments in our company.

This can also lead to challenges as community relations can easily become the middle-man in a situation, when we need to be in the driver’s seat.

If we’re able to accomplish the goals of community relations, a partner (whether that be a community partner, athlete, corporate partner, ticket purchaser, etc) and correctly promote our company and team’s brand within the greater community, then we’ve hit our goals.

[bctt tweet=”Job candidates must have a proactive & self-starting work habit, it’s non-negotiable – @hevcollart”]

You graduated from Pepperdine with a degree in Public Relations and then went back for your MBA – why did you make the choice to pursue a career in community relations? And more specifically, why in sports?  

Collart: I have always loved sports – to me they’re something that anyone can enjoy and digest in the same way regardless of background. It’s really the great equalizer.

When I started at Pepperdine, I applied for a job within their athletics department and held a student position for my four years of undergrad. A few months before graduation, the Athletics Director offered me a job – I took it!

Pepperdine also has a great MBA program for people who don’t want to put their career on hold to go back to school, so I was able to get my MBA while continuing to work and progress my career in athletics.

After 12 amazing years in the Pepperdine Athletics Department, I decided I wanted to grow my experience and expand my knowledge. I started exploring opportunities that fit both my experience and passions and found the perfect fit with the Detroit Pistons in their community relations department. The role encompasses and works with so many areas that I’m interested in…. all while doing good. It’s a perfect fit.

A big part of your role must involve event planning – can you take us through what an event day is like for you?

sports jobs in community relations

Seeing athletes interact with the fans is one of the thrills of working in community relations

Collart: We’re lucky enough to have multiple people outside of community relations who assist with events, so we go into events well prepared with everything from public relations coverage to knowing that we have the right audio/visual equipment on hand.

In most cases, the day of an event involves everything from high-level run throughs, trouble-shooting all the way to getting your hands dirty and setting-up. I always try to keep perspective on what the audience will see and perceive and as long as we can frame that correctly, then we’re in good shape.

In the end, whether events go smoothly or not, if the audience enjoyed themselves, it was a good day! If that happened, I leave with a smile on my face (maybe just a little tired).

Have you had any specific community events that stand out in your mind as something lasting and special?

Collart: Last year we hosted over 750 deserving people for Thanksgiving dinner on our arena’s floor with a partner food bank and provided them with a first class dining experience and entertainment.

Seeing how excited everyone was and thankful to have a special meal meant a lot to personally have planned and executed that event. Just as important was seeing how much fun our athletes, their families and our staff had serving these people – which only further demonstrates how fun and inspiring volunteer work can be.

[bctt tweet=”How to Get a Job in Community Relations With a Professional Sports Team”]

I have also helped plan (going on our 3rd season) a visit of our athletes and coaching staff to St. Jude’s Children’s hospital in Memphis when we play there.

Just providing cheer to their patients and families is priceless. We’ve also been able to host current and former St. Jude patients from Michigan here at a home game, making these children smile is simply awe inspiring.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

And if you want to know where our privacy policy is before you submit your comments below, it's right here.


  1. Douglas R. Hunter says

    Dear Collart,

    Thank you very much for sharing us with your background and answering the questions. I have a Masters degree in Sports Administration and am still on the job hunt. I feel as though I would love to work in the relations department or the equipment side for a professional sport team. Do you have an advise on how I can get my foot in the door to get started. I am a very determined, motivated, and passionate person when it comes to finding a career in the sports industry. I just need someone to give me a shot and I won’t let them down, I’ll do nothing but learn and excel as quickly as possible. Thank you again for your background information sharing.


    Douglas R. Hunter

    P.S. Please email if you receive comment at

    • Douglas – thanks for writing in, and glad you enjoyed the article. I’ll make sure Heather sees your question — she’s provided some really good concepts in here, lets see what else she has up her sleeve. – Brian

  2. I agree with the matter of athletes being overrated in their ability to function through all the hype of their job. I have worked with groups for over thirty yrs and my job was to put the family together again. I simply teach each member to recognize their own strength and then share it with the team. this has done wonders.

  3. Vanessa LaPorte says

    Really enjoyed this article… As a recent college grad looking to make my big break in the sports industry, I’ve started looking at all sides of this industry that I may have previously overlooked (community relations being one of them). Definitely going to start expanding my horizons on my job hunt and hopefully land that “foot in the door opportunity”.

  4. Amanda Laird says


    Thank you so much for all of this helpful information. Just wondering if you had any advice for recent grads looking to go in to community relations. Specifically, what experience are you looking for on a resume when hiring someone at an entry-level?

  5. Kelly Maxwell says

    Dear Brian and Heather,

    thank you for posting this interview. It was very helpful for me in deciding to pursue a career in community relations. I am a senior, marketing major at Spring Arbor University in Michigan and I am from the Metro Detroit Area (Inkster.) I have participated in community event hosted by the Pistons in the past and it has changed my life and I would love to help change the lives of others! I am currently working an internship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s community outreach department to gain experience. I graduate in May of 2015 and was wondering what is the most effective way of gaining a career in consumer relations and how can I better my chances of landing a position? I was also wondering if you would be free to network on LinkedIn seeing as we’re very close geographically and I can learn a lot from your expertise in this area.

    Thank you for your time and I hope to connect with you soon.
    Kelly Maxwell

  6. Bridget Crowley says

    Dear Brian:

    Thank you very much for posting this interview. Your questions were insightful and reading Heather’s answers made me even more excited about pursuing a career in community relations. I am a 2013 graduate of Amherst College where I played on the women’s basketball team. After interning at Madison Square Garden and helping support their non- profit organization, The Garden of Dreams Foundation, I knew that community relations was the path for me. Since the professional sports industry is so competitive, I would appreciate the opportunity to connect with you and Heather as well. Any additional advice you might have would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for your time.


    Bridget Crowley

  7. Jenna Horton says

    Thank you for the great article! I was the Community Relations intern with the MLS Portland Timbers a year ago and fell in love with the departments work. Biggest questions for me is what type of graduate degree do you pursue with this career path in mind? I am currently working at a nonprofit as a Development Associate, but want to start looking back into school. In a few years I am going to be more than willing to do what was mentioned in the article and move sight unseen to further my career – it helps I love moving and trying to new things. I would love some feedback!

  8. Hi Brian and Heather,

    Thanks so much for a great article! After working at various sport-based development non-profits for the past few years, I have been looking to make a career-move into the collegiate and/or professional sports world in order to have a larger impact. While my current non-profit can positively change the lives of 300 or so children each year, a collegiate or professional sports team can potentially reach the lives of 300,000 kids through their community relations departments.

    I was wondering if you had any sort of advice for me as far as making this transition goes? I know that there are plenty of entry-level jobs in sales and analytics and stuff of that nature, but I haven’t had all that much luck trying to find entry-level jobs involving Community Relations. As I’ve got a few years of sports-based non-profit experience under my belt (as well as playing sports at a collegiate level myself), I believe that my talents and my skill-set are extremely transferable. Any advice you or Heather have for me would be beyond appreciated (!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read this comment, and thanks again for a very enlightening article!

    Katie Carroll

  9. Ryan Gordon says

    Thanks for the article, I have worked previously for two season for the Houston Rockets in the part time marketing program. While in the program I fell in love with community relations, doing the season of giving, green initiatives and other charity work that went on throughout the season. I am currently a graduate student and I have had a hard time getting my foot in the door, if I could receive some advice as to how to get my foot back in the door for good. Feel free to email me at and if you could pass it along to Ms. Collart as well. Thanks

    Ryan Gordon

  10. Nicole Murphy says

    Thanks so much for this article, I definitely enjoyed it. I am a recent PR graduate and am back in school for my Master. I have a passion for sports and found this article very helpful.

  11. Meredith Williams says

    I just happened to stumbled upon this article and I am so happy I did. It was very helpful. I am currently a School Resource Coordinator, using the school to bring together partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. I am however looking to transition into community relations within the sports realm. I was wondering what type of training (school/ certificate programs) would help me reach my goal of working in community relations within the sports world.

    Thank you for such a great article


  1. […] relations job has the same stakes on the minor league level as the pro level, which is why a recent interview with Heather Collart, Director of Community Relations for the Detroit Pistons, really caught my […]

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