Becoming a Pro Sports Executive - Work in Sports Podcast E009

By Brian Clapp | October 18, 2017

The Soft Skill You Need for Sports Jobs and an Interview with Amber Cox VP of the Connecticut Sun

Hi I’m Brian Clapp, Director of Content for and this is the WorkinSports podcast.

I had a mentor, he was my General Manager at Fox Sports Northwest, and he was giving me advice on hiring staff. He said there are 4 types of people you interview for any job. There are those with high will and high skill, they will represent 10% of the people you interview and they are your immediate in professional sports

They have the skills, the will to succeed and the attitude you want. You will cheer when you meet them.

There are people will low will and low skill – they will represent a different 10% of the people you interview. They are your immediate no’s. They don’t have what you need and there is little to no chance to get them there.

The remaining two types make up 40% each.

There are those with high skill and low will.

And there are those with high will and low skill. The majority of the people you interview will fall into one of these categories.

He left it to me to figure out what I would gravitate towards given the choice.

So what about you – would you take the person with high skill level, but low will. Or the person with high will and low skill.

The choice is easy if you ask me.

There is a requirement for working in the sports industry that I think we underplay a great deal – enthusiasm.

Now, you can’t put that on your resume and it won’t get you the interview, but once your skills get your foot in the door, that’s where your soft skills start to come through.

So let’s role play – you get an interview because of the skills you have developed in your education – that’s what got you in the door. But when you sit across the table from the person who would be your boss, you have one word answers, you look uncomfortable, you stammer, you don’t make eye contact.

Sorry – your skills stopped mattering, because this person just lost interest.

Attitude and enthusiasm are the final barrier to entry into the sports world. It’s sports people!

You need to be enthusiastic and excited – or as this weeks guest Amber Cox Vice President of the Connecticut Sun and the New England Black Wolves says – you have to have sparkle.

This interview with Amber is awesome – she is a no BS sports executive, having been CMO of the MLS’s Houston Dynamo, Associate Commissioner of Women’s Basketball in the Big East Conference and President and COO of the Phoenix Mercury, but she is also extremely charismatic, excitable, enthusiastic and passionate.

You can tell she loves what she does. She loves working with her teams both on the business side and the on court product. And that is what all of you should embody – you should love this, and you shouldn’t be afraid to let that come through.

Remember you give off a vibe during an interview, make sure it’s the one you really want to represent you.

Alright before we get into today’s interview – two pieces of news: 1: We want your reviews! Please if you like what’s going on here review us on iTunes or wherever you listen – it will really help the popularity of the podcast and in turn lead to bigger and better guests. 2: If you have questions you want me to answer on an upcoming podcast – email me …or ping me on LinkedIn as this weeks questioner did:

Wanted to send you a quick note saying that I love the Podcast!

Side note: Your chances of having your question read greatly improve if you tell me how much you love the podcast first. No one is immune to flattery, definitely not me,

I enjoyed all of the content you provided with Mark Crepeau and Colleen Scoles, as they gave me great insight on my passion of sports marketing, and what a sports organization looks for in a hiring candidates.

I would love to hear your feedback on my current situation. Right now I am based out of Richmond, Virginia. Colleen made a great point on your podcast, saying that she wanted to hire candidates who were passionate and committed to Philadelphia. I think this is a great point and a possible weakness when I apply for jobs out of town. My main question to you is - should I move to a larger market and focus on that market for my job search or should I stay in Richmond, and keep all markets open? Thanks so much for your time in advance.

Lemuel – great question, I’m answering it not just because you flattered me.

With all of these interviews I think you have to keep in mind their perspective. So for example, you cited my interview with Colleen Scoles the Talent Acquisition Manager for the Philadelphia Eagles – if you are listening now and haven’t listened to that episode, go back and listen to it, it was awesome – but for your question I think we need to remember where she is coming from.

She represents a team and a very specific area. When you are hiring to work for a specific team, intimate knowledge and a passion for the team matters. It matters big time. If you want to work in sports sales, it sure helps if you love the Eagles and convey that enthusiasm over the phone or in meetings. If you’re a cowboys fan that excitement just may not come through.

But that isn’t the case for all sports employers, most if not all have no affinity to a particular team or brand.

My niche was the sports media, and I was hired to work in Seattle covering an area I had never even visited before. I took me a while to ramp up my local knowledge, but I got there.

In sports marketing, agencies rarely if ever care about your team affinities – they want your creative ideas. Look at the other interview you referenced, Mark Crepeau with the Basketball Hall of Fame – he said he didn’t care about anything other than creative ideas and an ability to build relationships.

That said – most if not all employers start with local candidates first, not because of their affinity for the area, but because it is cheaper and faster.

Many employers look local first because they don’t want to pay for flying in candidates and eventually paying for relocation. Plus if you hire someone local they can usually start fast…if they are out of state, you’ll have a longer lag time before they start,

Here’s where the pressure is on you. You have to decide, are there enough local options in sports marketing in Richmond? If not, I think you need to consider a move. But it isn’t that simple, now you need to decide where. It can’t be as simple as ‘I have family in Washington DC let’s try there!” Do some research, find out where your target jobs are, where are the organizations you’d really like to work for located, where is the real potential market for you.

I would personally avoid New York City, even if a huge amount of organizations are there – too expensive for starting out positions, lots of competition for jobs. I’d look to a city like Dallas, Seattle, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Miami, Denver – top 5-15 cities. I think there are opportunities there.

I hope that answers your questions Lemuel – if you want to ask a question for an upcoming podcast hit me up on LinkedIn or email me bclapp@ now on to my intervidw with Amber Cox VP of the Connecticut Sun:

Questions for Amber Cox, VP of the Connecticut Sun and New England Black Wolves

I want to start off by learning a little more about how you evaluate and form a staff – you’ve had high ranking positions with the Phoenix Mercury, Houston Dynamo, Big East Conference and now the Connecticut Sun – when you come to a new position, how do you evaluate the staff you are inheriting, how do you determine if they are the right match for what you need to be successful? i.e. what are you looking for?

It seems every person in charge of hiring has a different view on what is important – some value cultural fit over skill, some just the opposite – how would you characterize your approach to hiring staff?

If a young person came up to you today and said ‘I want to work in sports so badly, what should I focus on learning in my college curriculum’ – what advice would you give them?

You’ve worked with hundreds of people over your career – would you say there is a pattern of what makes some people successful and others fail in this industry?

On a personal note -- How much has earning your MBA helped you ascend in your sports career?

Let’s talk about your daily responsibilities a bit – you have a huge role as VP of two professional sports teams the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA and the New England Black Wolves of the National Lacrosse League – can you break down what your day to day looks like?

I had a business professor once who gave me some investing advice – she said always invest in the #2 business in any sector, because they are always working their tail off to become #1 – do you feel in the WNBA, MLS, or NLL as you try to compete for audience amongst other huge sports leagues that you have to work just that much harder?

Sometimes we talk about uncomfortable subjects, because they are real, and we are honest about them. A few weeks back Cam Newton made sexists remarks towards a female reporter – as a woman who has ascended to the top of her profession in sports, what was your initial emotional reaction when you heard what he said?

I asked you earlier about advice you would give to someone who wanted to work in the sports industry in regards to what classes they should take – now pretend that is a young girl, in fact let’s pretend it’s my 10 year old daughter  and she asks you advice for surviving as a woman in the sports industry – what would you tell her?

Lightning Round

1: Which sport has the greater upside in the US – soccer or lacrosse? Why?

2: Uncasville CT isn’t exactly a major city, but the Mohegan Sun is a wildly entertaining casino and entertainment facility – what is the best show you have seen there?

3: If I come up to visit Mohegan Sun to see a black wolves game are there other fun things to do with my kids?

4: So I have this friend in Houston who says I have to go there and try Kolache – some sort of doughy pastry stuffed with jalapeño sausage and eggs, roast beef and cheese, and sweet cream cheese – which sounds like perfect hangover food. Have you had one and did it hurt the next day?

5: Final Question – Outside of the SUN roster who is the WNBA player you most love to watch play?


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