SportsBiz Hiring Plans for 2021 with Mark Gress Jr. Partner, Prodigy Search

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp VP of Content and Engaged learning at and this is the Work in Sports podcast. 

A few years back I was watching a pretty lame movie with Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana called The Words. It was predictable, kind of boring, not as interesting as they thought it would be on paper… but there was one moment in it that stuck out to me. 

You see, I’m that kind of guy that tries to find one piece of value in every moment. One thing you can learn, one thing that changes your perception. Despite this movie receiving, and truly earning, a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes, I still had to find some value in the experience.

In this movie, Bradley Cooper is a writer, I won’t get into the details, but in one scene he says “this is my reading day”, meaning, to be a good writer, he needs to read what else is out there. Often.

I've kind of adopted his philosophy at that time. I don’t spend an entire day reading, but I do dedicate an hour of every workday to reading what is out there -- long-form pieces relating to the sports industry, data studies, content techniques -- I like being a continuous learner and being open to knowledge. 



You never know where you’ll find incredible little nuggets of information. 

For example, I was reading this morning about how Yale is going to offer their most popular online course, titled “Psychology and the Good Life” which presents a scientific explanation of happiness, to 500 low-income high school students for free.  

A feel-good story, right? Nice way to start the morning. Well, the more you read the more interesting the gets. Near the bottom it says something very relevant to my ears:

The course -- which was developed in partnership with the University of Connecticut and the National Education Equity Lab with support from the Arthur M. Blank Foundation -- will "present students with scientifically validated strategies for living a more satisfying life and examine what psychological science shows about how to be happier, how to feel less stressed, and how to flourish more," according to the university.

The unexpected nugget -- Arthur Blank Foundation. Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, making a difference in the lives of people. Maybe that changes my perception of billionaire owners, maybe it changes yours, it’s definitely a little nugget of information wrapped up in a story where I wasn’t expecting it. Good for you Artie!

Another unexpected nugget in the past few weeks was an extremely informative survey and data report put out by our friends at Prodigy Search, leaders in sports recruiting -- and published in the Sports Business Journal. 

The team at Prodigy Search conducted a 23 question survey – comprised of chief people officers, human resources and talent acquisition executives, COOs or chief administrative officers at nearly 200 major league teams, league offices, agencies, venue and event operators to discover their feelings about how their respective organizations had handled staffing during the past year and what some of their plans are for the future.



It was fascinating and I’ll link to it in the show notes of this episode. But it also inspired me to book today’s guest, Mark Gress Jr., Partner at Prodigy Search to discuss sports hiring trends in 2021 and their survey results -- here is my friend, Mark Gress Jr.


A Few Select Clips from the Work In Sports podcast with Mark Gress Jr., Partner, Prodigy Search:


Mark shared a lot of perspective on the recent survey conducted by hand his team at Prodigy, in this clip we discuss one surprising and upsetting response:



Mark Gress Jr. Partner at Prodigy Search shares insight into sports leagues and organizations that are thriving right now despite the pandemic:



Mark Gress Jr. Partner at Prodigy Search shares his thoughts on what it will take for entry-level sports job seekers to get hired in sports:




Questions for Mark Gress Jr., Partner, Prodigy Search


1: You and I have talked about doing this for a long time – so I’m excited it’s finally happening. 

Before we get into the serious stuff – are there any habits or new hobbies you’ve picked up during the last year? I’ll tell you mine while you consider your answer – baking. I am addicted to baking now. For real. I didn’t see that coming, what about you? 

There are so many topics I want to cover, including the incredible research report you and your team at Prodigy put together from surveying top decision-makers industry-wide about where they are heading in a post-COVID reality. But let’s start with your personal experiences and dive right in.

As a significant recruiting firm partner, you always have to be thinking about what “could” happen and how you’d handle it… I’m guessing you never imagined a global pandemic and how it would affect business. Looking back now, what did you and the team at Prodigy Search experience over the last year?

2: In standard times, about 50% of the jobs on our job board relate to sales in some way, shape, or form. Prodigy Search focuses a lot of your efforts on revenue-generating roles as well – but that sector was decimated over the last year. We went from around 12,000 active jobs in sales to a couple hundred in a few weeks. 

Spinning this forward, do you think sports sales jobs have come back? Will come back? Or are things fundamentally changing?

3: As sales jobs plummeted, we did see some growth in other areas, namely content and big data. Have you noticed any positive growth sectors of the industry? 

4: I’ve spoken to many people in HR over the last month and asked about the trends that emerged in hiring through the pandemic, and every one of them said, “video interviews are here to stay.” 

What else have you noticed? Are there some other trends in hiring/recruiting that emerged during the pandemic that may change the way we operate moving forward?

5: What about from the applicant side? With so many people being furloughed or laid off, when jobs become available now, are you flooded with incredible candidates like never before, or is that just a myth in my head?

6: Let’s talk about that process a bit --  As a recruiter trying to place people in high profile roles, how do you identify candidates? How do people stand out to Mark Gress Jr.?

7: Ok, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get into the research study Prodigy released – I love it; it’s super informative and forward-thinking – what made you guys decide to take on this project?

8: Let’s get into it – 23 question survey, conducted January 5th-16th 2021 – comprised of chief people officers, human resources and talent acquisition executives, COOs or chief administrative officers at nearly 200 major league teams, league offices, agencies, venue, and event operators about how their respective organizations had handled staffing during the past year and what some of their plans are for the future.

I have so many parts that stood out to me – what stood out to you, or surprised you, the most?

9: For me, the most surprising was that 88% of respondents felt productivity either stayed the same or increased in 2020. 

I think that response is a massive testament to the people of the sports industry. 55% of companies said they had reduced staff salaries, tons of people getting laid off or furloughed, pandemic going on all around us, kids at home, we’re all scared shitless. Yet, we still were grinding it out at an incredibly effective rate. That is amazing. 

10: The work-from-home debate is a big one that you guys dove into – it feels to me like 2020 was proof of concept; it can work, people are productive at home. From the survey and your conversations with executives, do you think the sports industry can adopt a more flexible work-from-home environment? 

11:  Were you surprised at all by how many questions the dominant response was “unsure”? It seems many decision-makers still don’t know what the heck to expect in 2021 and are taking it day by day more than ever before.

12: Outside of the pandemic, the other colossal topic in 2020 was Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.  It saddened me that 67% of respondents said they did not have a senior D, E&I person on staff and didn’t plan to hire one. 

Is that a big miss in your view? 

13:  Let’s finish up with this – you and I talk to many college students and try to set them up for success in the sports industry. As the world has shifted, what advice would you give young people right now to set them up in this new reality? 

By Brian Clapp | February 24, 2021
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