Becoming a Leader in the Sports Industry - Work in Sports Podcast e46

By Brian Clapp | February 07, 2018

Fact: The Sports Industry Needs More Leaders.

So what makes a great leader? Can it be taught? Is it essential for a thriving workplace? I don't know these answers but Dr. Robert Prior, Professor in the Master's of Sports Leadership program at Northeastern University does and he's our guest this week.

Hi everybody, I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for and this is the Work in Sports podcast.

I’m not much into self-help books or even the so called inspirational business books. Just not my style. Don’t get me wrong I’ve read them before and generally think they are bloated reads that repeat the same common sense mantra 100 different ways to fill up pages. Premise, then case study, then repeat premise, then say premise in a slightly different way, accentuate with another case study.

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Color me bored.

But that’s just me, millions of people buy these books each year to help solve the problems they may already have the answer to but just haven’t activated it themselves.

If I have a slight weakness for this genre, it’s in regards to the more grandiose principles of “leadership”. I do find myself interested in what created the leader within for people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gahndi, Abraham Lincoln or even someone like Derek Jeter…and that’s coming from a Red Sox fan.

I find this fascinating because in my experience, there aren’t an overwhelming deal of leaders in your typical business environment, especially in the sports industry. People in sports tend to be creative executors, not necessarily leaders.

Of course there are the high profile zen masters and grumpy sideline ogres who have a reputation for leadership, but I’m talking more about the everyday qualities of workplace leadership.

If you do a search on using the keyword leadership, 1,673 out of the 6082 active sports jobs we currently have on our website – near 28% - include the word leadership in their job description.

Sports employers want this skill in you.sports leadership

So what makes a great leader? Can it be taught? Is it essential for a thriving workplace? Does it create a happier environment for those being led? I don’t have these answers, I don’t. I wish I did.

But I’ve brought in someone who does.

Dr. Robert Prior is a professor in the Masters in Sports Leadership program at Northeastern University in Boston, just a stones throw from Fenway Park.

He’s also a former media relations coordinator for the Atlanta Braves, Director of Media Relations for the Boston Celtics and Director of New Media and Information for the MLS – which is in a way me saying, he’s legit. Not just a professor who has been in the classroom his entire career, he knows what leadership looks like, and what it means to really be in the heat of the sports arena.

So let’s get to it – here’s Dr. Robert Prior:

Questions for Dr. Prior:

1: Let’s start out from the early days – I’m always intrigued by how people get their first job in sports -- your first job was with the Atlanta Braves as a Media Relations Coordinator – that’s a pretty great starting gig, how did you get that job?

2: When did you decide you wanted to work on the media relations side of sports?

3: In those days I’m sure it was long hours and hard work – but you’re on the field, you’re interacting with Maddux and Glavine --- it had to be pretty thrilling right? What were your days like?

4: You made the jump to the NBA after that to be the Director of Media Relations for the Boston Celtics – what were the major differences between the NBA and MLB as you saw it?

4a: What about team approaches – you came up with the Braves, did you have to learn a new process or methodology with the Celtics?

5: After that you shift sports again to the MLS and emerging league vs and established one – how different was your focus going essentially to a start-up league that was only 4 years old?

6: In the same vein, many people I have spoken to seem to find their sport and stay in it – you stayed primarily in media relations…but changed sports often – was this just following opportunity, or something else entirely?

7: I look at your resume and I see three incredibly powerful and interesting professional jobs, but it sounds like you weren’t satisfied – you went back to school to get your doctorate and started working in college athletics – why the change?

8: Now you have your Doctorate, you’ve worked in pro sports and college athletics – I’d guess you could pick your next job from anywhere and you decided on the classroom. For the last 8 years you’ve been a professor in the Masters of Sports Leadership program at Northeastern – with all the career choices you could make, why did the classroom win out?

9: I get asked a great deal whether or not someone should get their master’s to work in sports… you’ve worked in the industry and you now teach the next generation of sports employees – why do you think a Master’s is an important step?

10: Are there specific careers in sports that are a more logical fit for a Master’s?

11: What’s special about the Northeastern program – why should someone choose it over others?

12: I tell people all the time, before they choose a masters program, check out the professors, have they worked in the industry recently? Check out the curriculum, does it suit your dreams? Then I see someone like you teaching with decades of experience and think – there is the answer! Is that emphasis on an experienced faculty what makes Northeastern unique?

13: Why does your program put an emphasis on sports leadership?

Lightning Round

1: Like you I also have lived in Atlanta and Boston – born and raised in Boston, worked in Atlanta for 7 years at CNN Sports – did you have friends who were mad at you last year for the Super Bowl?

2: You’ve moved around a good deal for your career – what’s one place you’d still like to live?

3: Northeastern is in the shadow of Fenway Park – have you had a chance to see a game from the seats atop the Green Monster? It’s on my sports bucket list.

4: You were Director of Media Relations for the Celtics during the dark years – they tanked with ML Carr to get Tim Duncan, but failed. They hired Rick Pitino who was supposed to be the savior, but history will remember him differently… I mean those are some huge story lines in the city… 20 years later, has your ulcer healed yet?

5: Gimme a last plug for the Northeastern program – how can people get info and apply?

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