sports internships

A Strategic Approach to Sports Internships

By Brian Clapp | May 14, 2021

You will likely be required by your institution of higher learning to complete at least one internship as part of your curriculum.

Internships are not a “check the box” activity. You don’t want to get just any internship, fulfill the requirement and take it off your to-do list.

You need to choose the right internship and take it very seriously because:

  • You will gain hands-on experience
  • You will start to build your network of industry connections
  • You may discover what you don’t want to do in sports, which is just as important
  • Moreover, an internship is a long term interview, a chance to prove yourself in the workplace

If you only do one internship during your college experience, sorry to tell you, but that person sitting next to you in class is likely passing you by because they’ve done at least two, possibly more.

Eventually, you will get to resume building, and you’ll notice this simple fact: The classes you take while in college won’t appear on your resume, but your internships will.

Internships have a massive impact on your future!

Your internships will be the headline, feature elements of your first resume - the better and more powerful they are, the more likely you are to be noticed by employers.

Take this part of your college experience very seriously.

Your Approach to Sports Internships

Get it in your mind right now that you are going to do a minimum of two internships while in college. Minimum two. Ideally 4-6.

Why? The simple reason is having a myriad of experiences, but it goes deeper than that. You’ll start to build a network of people in the industry who will know you, and your work ethic and capabilities, first hand. Plus you may find out, once you are in the real world, you don’t want to work in a part of the industry you thought you did.

This is all powerful knowledge.

Many of you might not be able to do more than two internships; you may be working to pay for college or provide for your family - that is 100% OK. Just make sure you complete at least two internships. Find a way, it is possible.

You should do at least one internship at a large, well-known organization.

There are three primary reasons for this:

  • You will learn and observe best business practices
  • You will have a recognizable name on your resume
  • You will make high-level connections
  • Let’s break these down one by one.

Learn How Things Should Be Done

The massive sports corporations - the NIKE, ESPN, and Octagons of the world, plus any of the major professional sports teams - have best practices nailed. They know exactly how to execute and function in the best possible way.

Their human resources are streamlined, their product development is top notch, their production equipment is cutting edge, their training programs are beyond.

When you intern for a team like the Oakland A’s you are going to observe the right way to do things in sales, marketing, promotion, operations, public relations and more.

This foundation and knowledge will form you and the way you think about the sports industry for the rest of your life. Seeing the experts in action is energizing.

Having a Recognizable Name on Your Resume

As a hiring manager, I’ll admit, I was a hound for the big names. If someone interned at ESPN or Big Ten Network, it would instantly give them some credibility in my eyes.

Trust me I am not alone. Almost every significant sports employer I interview tells me they want some big experience.

When you have a power company on your resume, it helps distinguish you from the rest of the crowd and immediately gives you some gravitas.

High-Level Connections

Every internship provides you the opportunity to build relationships with influential people. At a major operation, you may not get a chance to do as much as you want, you may be relegated to some menial tasks as an intern, but you have an opportunity to build meaningful relationships.

You may be assigned tasks that don’t thrill you, or make you question, “How does this make me better?” What I would tell you is this, you are on stage every day. You are interviewing every single day.

No matter what the task, do it at 100.

People will notice you for your attitude and your performance, and when they see you, that opens up the opportunity to build a relationship and connection with them.

If you finish your internship at a major organization without forming 3-4 deep connections, you’ve missed a significant point of the internship.

Your other internship should be at a smaller business.

If you are only able to do two internships during your college career, go big...and go small. Even if you do six internships, make sure you balance in some smaller agencies, teams or organizations.

Why?

Because the smaller organizations are where you get the real experience, you get to do more.

Take a minor league baseball team (a GREAT internship opportunity) their business has the same requirements of a major league team: throw a significant event every night, sell tickets, promote, entertain, educate, manage, broadcast - but they do it with a much smaller staff.

As an intern with a minor league baseball team one day you may be working the press box, the next the box office, then dressing up as the mascot. Your role will change, your experience will be diverse, and you’ll finish your internship feeling a level of confidence that you can accomplish a wide array of tasks.

The same holds at a smaller sports agency, or marketing firm, or scouting service - smaller organizations, teams, and agencies will allow for you to acquire more skills.

If you get to do a third internship...

Sports is just another big business, wrapped in a more entertaining product. Businesses are reliant on revenue creation; that’s what makes their world go round.

In sports, without sales revenue from tickets, sponsorship, suites, merchandise and more, there are no fancy facilities, top free agents or headlining coaches.

Most jobs in sports are related to sales, and even if you don’t want this to be your long term goal, having revenue creation skills on your resume carries a great deal of weight.

Sports employers love to see someone who understands the principle and process of making money, whether that’s in sports or some other business related role.

If you can do a third internship, try to ensure it has a business and sales component, even if you have to take a role outside of sports. Having that experience on your resume will speak volumes for your ability to be a successful member of the sports industry.


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