Chelsea Zahn: Tackling Partnership Activation in Sports - Work in Sports Podcast

What is partnership activation as it applies to the sports industry? Chelsea Zahn, Pittsburgh Steelers Partnership Activation Specialist joins the show to discuss that and much more!

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

There is a hunt for fit in the sports industry. Thousands of people each year say to themselves…I want to work in sports. I love sports, I have a passion for sports, I need to make it my career. But they aren’t exactly where or how.

That’s where we so often come in, helping to bridge that gap between a job seekers want and a employers need.partnership activation pittsburgh steelers

But let’s take a deeper look on that job seeker side – it isn’t always a smooth process figuring out how to turn a passion, something that really energizes you, into a day-to-day career with earning potential, high ceiling and a dose of reality.

I was one of those lost souls through the vast majority of my college career – loved sports – had no idea what to do about that fact. I thought physical therapy for a while… I dabbled in some other ideas… and kept getting back to the big question “What should I do in sports?”

I didn’t have anyone to ask back then for advice, there was no Work in Sports podcast, there were no industry experts getting interviewed weekly, there was no LinkedIn where I could reach out and connect with experts in the field. You felt pretty alone in your journey. The vast majority of my professors cared more about how you did in their class, and their own research projects, than the bigger and more important question of “what’s next for you and how do we get you there?”

Quick side story, when I first started to consider the idea of working in the media, I had an informational interview with the News Director of a Philadelphia TV station. Couldn’t connect with him on LinkedIn, so I literally reached out with a phone call…and it worked.

I was very excited, practiced my questions, and really wanted to make a good impression for hopes it may lead to a job or internship.

I remember one of my questions was about the standards he set for their station's news coverage, were there certain things he drew the line on and wouldn’t show, or was everything fair game.

He said in no uncertain terms they won’t show body bags on the broadcast, he felt that was unethical and salacious.

No joke…that night, feeling like a convert to their station, I watched their news to see this guy and his advice in action! Their first story was a massive car accident… and had at least three body bags in it.

I felt rudderless and disheartened at this time. I really felt like nothing was pointing me in the right direction.

Obviously, I persevered, and this isn’t all about me, so I’ll wrap up my little story time soapbox with this.

I know what it’s like to feel lost, which is why I’m always trying to share my time and effort to help others find their way… in fact, I think I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find new ways into the industry.

One thing our podcast has proven is that there is no one way into the industry, for every Leigh Steinberg sports agency trailblazer, there is a Jennifer Keene, VP of Athlete and Property Marketing for Octagon…a psychology major at Cornell who started out her career at People Magazine in the sales department, or Mike Judge Cleveland Browns Director of Ticket Sales, who started out his career managing a shoe store.

Careers are never a straight line, so get that expectation out of your head.

BUT, it can be a much easier path if you get some focus and clarity early and can put your attention towards certain goals. Which again, is why we try to introduce you to options.

This weeks guest Chelsea Zahn is a part of Steelers Nation. Having worked for her hometown Pittsburgh Steelers since 2014…in…wait for it… Partnership Activation.

Some of you may have heard of this role, others not so much. Count me in the latter, I knew the role, had heard it a bunch in conversations with others, but never really knew the “what” behind it. What is it, what are the challenges, what skills do you need…do you like it?

These are the questions we handle and much more in this crazy fun interview – so let’s get to it. Here’s Chelsea Zahn, Pittsburgh Steelers Partnership Activation Specialist… AND former first team all American for defense in the Women’s Tackle Football Association …. We’ll get to that too.  


Questions for Pittsburgh Steelers Partnership Activation Specialist Chelsea Zahn:


1: You’ve been with the Steelers for a little over 4 years now, which is enough to make about 90% of our audience really jealous, but let's start at your beginning before the bright lights of the NFL… you attended Duquesne University and graduated with a degree in Business Administration/Sports Marketing – when did you figure out that you wanted to pursue a career in sports?

2: While in school at Duquesne you competed on the Track and Field team and completed an internship with the Pittsburgh Passion – the women's professional full tackle football team – what was that experience like?

3: The co-owner of the Passion, Teresa Conn said about you “I’ve been coaching for more than 30 years, and I know when someone’s going to be successful. She’ll be successful at anything she does because she’s a combination of ambitiousness and hard work.” 

That’s the ultimate compliment and a pretty damn good referral --- in your experience how important is it to be coachable?

4: The Passion internship led to an internship with the other football team in town the Steelers – so now on your plate you have school, track, working for the Passion as marketing Director…and an internship with the Steelers -- simple question… How?

5: Once you started interning with the Steelers how did you begin to envision yourself fitting into the sports industry…what did you want?

6: Turning an internship into a full-time job is the holy grail of the college experience…you did that. Why do you think the Steelers hired you on full-time as a Partnership Activation Assistant after your internship was done?

7:  OK, so most people pursue careers that are easily identifiable… I want to be a sports reporter, or work in sports sales, or be a coach or a trainer… you’re going to have to explain your role a little bit. Partnership Activation sounds like a couple of buzzwords thrown together… explain the role and how you fit in the grand scheme of Steelers Football.

8: This isn’t just an entry-level role – this is the start of a career path – after just 9 months you were promoted to Partnership Activation Specialist – and the Steelers, like any major sports organization, have a ton of partners.

How important is it to prioritize, be organized, and really focus in on the customer's needs?

9: So many marketing activations nowadays revolve around digital platforms and fan engagement… you must really have to keep up with emerging technologies and new opportunities in marketing…

10: What are the most important skill sets for someone to develop if they are now really interested in partnership activation as a career?

11: We’ll finish with this – what I didn’t mention, is that not only did you work for the Passion… you became a player for three seasons winning first-team All-American as a defensive end. Which do you prefer, a crushing tackle, or a really incredible game day activation?

Well you heard her, Chelsea said to connect with her on LinkedIn, so don’t be coy, don’t try to play it cool, do it! Connect with her, ask her follow-up questions, tell her how much you loved the interview – start to build a relationship with her and have her as a connection in your network.

This is how you build up a career, again, it’s not just who you know, you have to have the skills, but knowing people helps and you have someone right here right now saying – let’s connect.

Especially if you listened to this podcast and thought to yourself… that job sounds pretty cool!

Job searching, getting opportunities and getting hired in the sports industry isn’t a passive game- it doesn’t just happen, you have to work at it. So thanks to Chelsea for coming on the show… and all the rest of you, get back to work.

By Brian Clapp | May 01, 2019
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