Launching a Career in Sports: Advice from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference
At the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the first panel on Saturday morning was entitled “Getting in the Game: Launching a Career in Sports”. Since this site caters to just that topic, here is what was shared from the stage.
Who Was There?
Jennifer Cabalquinto is Chief Financial Officer of the Golden State Warriors. In this role, she oversees all day-to-day and long-term financial planning and accounting for the organization.
Cabalquinto comes to her current position with recent experience in the theme park industry while at Universal Studios and earlier positions that included Telemundo, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Ernst & Young.
Bobby Gallo is in his fourth season as Director of Club Business Development at the NFL. Gallo's primary responsibility is to help develop and maintain relationships with all 32 clubs and integrate analytical support to maximize local revenue streams through Corporate Partnerships, Ticket Sales, Premium Seating Sales and Marketing strategies.
Gallo moved to his current role after a 13 year run at Madison Square Garden.
John Hollinger is in his second season as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies. Anyone who has frequented ESPN.com over the years is probably thinking, "wait, haven't I heard his name before?" Yes you have.
Prior to being hired by the Grizzlies, Hollinger spent eight years at ESPN where he became best known for his analytical approach to covering basketball, through proprietary metrics he developed such as PER (player efficiency rating) Offensive Efficiency, Defensive Efficiency and Pace Factor, as well as several other tools that analyze and forecast team and player performance.
Debbie Knowlan is in her sixth season with the Atlanta Falcons as Director of Season Ticket Services for the Atlanta Falcons, after a successful stint in a similar position with the Miami Heat.
Knowlan created and manages a dedicated season ticket service team with the Falcons while developing processes and benefits that improved the overall fan experience for season ticket holders and fans attending the Georgia Dome.
As Director of Relationship & Database Marketing for the New York Jets, Russell Scibetti is responsible for creating, managing and reporting on multi-channel sales and retention campaigns. Scibetti's background in computer science helped him build a cross-departmental customer relationship management (CRM) system that connects ticketing, sales, service, marketing and finance which provides detailed insights into the team’s corporate and consumer business efforts.
Simply put, Scibetti's instrumental in understanding the data behind the business decisions of the Jets and developing a targeted plan to maximize each customer interaction.
The Facts about Launching a Career in Sports
1: Four of the five panelists did NOT start their careers in sports
During the panel discussion, the theme of “building skills” came up repeatedly. If you don’t land that first job out of school in the sports industry, look to garner experiences that translate across industries, like sales or programming.
All the panelists agreed that many skills that can be mastered and refined in other industries are transferable to the sports industry. Don't get discouraged if you have to take a job in another industry, learn everything you can, keep researching what skills are needed in the sports industry and eventually you'll be able to make the jump back into your passion position in sports.
2: If you choose to work in another industry, where to start?
Ms. Cabalquinto pointed to theme parks and casino businesses as having many characteristics that give future sports industry employees similar work environments. I’d add hospitality, tourism and convention centers as possibilities that focus on delivering “an experience” as industries to consider.
3: The ability to work with data is in demand
Each of the panelists emphasized that data and data analysis are impacting EVERY part of sports business, and more broadly business. Regardless of your role, bringing a certain comfort level and confidence in dealing with numbers, statistics and reports will be an asset to your job search. In other words, take your math and statistics classes seriously while in school.
4: In explaining their career arcs, each panelist emphasized the value of relationships.
Whether it was a referral to a new position or a recommendation from a former boss, they all mentioned this aspect of career development. Remember, the sports industry is small and word of mouth and the reputation you establish can have direct impact – positive or negative – on advancing your career.
5: Launching a career in sports is hard work, actually succeeding in it is even harder
The hours are long. The entry level pay is low (supply and demand!). The competition for jobs is fierce. But there are lots of positives, too. Two cited by the panelists were “every day is atypical” and that there is a “all hands on deck” camaraderie that is different from other fields.
If you are looking for an exciting industry that is perpetually changing, sports might be your answer.
Attending the Conference is a great experience – and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in sports business. But MIT generously has created an archive of content from over the years. Three talks, I’d watch are the “Business of Sports” panels from 2011, 2012 and 2013. Each gives a nice snapshot of the “hot topics” that year and demonstrate how sport business has evolved in the last few years.
After you have watched those, you can watch other videos on ticketing, baseball, basketball, technology and other topics, plus my talks in 2011 on ticketing and 2013 on the fan experience are also available to watch (and learn from).
And be on the lookout for the 2014 content – including the Career Panel – to be posted in the next few weeks!
Final Thought on Launching a Career in Sports
Working in sports requires hustle - no better example than NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
On Friday I was retired in my room for the night when I saw him being interviewed at Madison Square Garden, on Saturday afternoon he was at the Sloan Conference doing a one hour 1-on-1 with Malcolm Gladwell (in front of a packed house) and Saturday night he was in Philadelphia for Allen Iverson’s jersey retirement.
Everybody in sports works long hours and weekends – even the Commissioners!
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