After covering MLB from the press box and working for an NFL team, I can tell you this about getting sports jobs: There’s a playbook you can reference.
Here are five steps you can take — plus the Xs and Os behind them — to get your dream job in sports.
1. Study the career paths of those who came before you
As an aspiring sportswriter, I learned that I’d benefit from a sports journalism degree and some experience as a cub reporter.
If I’d been an aspiring sports agent or team general manager, a business or law degree would’ve been more beneficial.
Whatever your ideal position is, consider studying the routes others have taken to get there. You also can review the qualifications teams, leagues, and companies are seeking.
“Most of our employees were sports management majors, but that’s not why we hired them,” said Abbie Gibson, the marketing director for Bradley Sports, an agency representing high school baseball players. “We seek out individuals who have played baseball in high school and have been through the recruitment process themselves.”
Ask yourself what experience — athletic or otherwise — you can bring to the table.
“If it’s sports broadcasting, garner work experience in that while you’re in college in the form of internships,” Gibson said. “If [it’s] sports merchandising, have extensive experience and knowledge in the sports they cater to as well as in merchandising.”
2. Be the ‘rook’ and pay your dues
If you’re a fan of sports, you know rookies ride the end of the bench. As a former NFL employee, I can tell you this mentality pervades front offices of organizations too. Paying your dues is a must.
If you’re a college student or recent graduate, look at on-campus opportunities to get your foot in the door. Here are a few strategies I found to be successful:
- Walk into your college’s athletics department and ask if there’s any less glamorous work you can do.
- Offer to “string” or freelance for the sports section of the school’s newspaper or broadcast.
- Join sports-related or business-related clubs on campus.
- Say yes to any opportunity that could lead to a more meaningful one.
If you’re further on in your career and looking to transition to a job in sports, you might have to start at the bottom in similar ways.
Nikki Parsons, co-founder of sports bar app Match the Bar, worked in hospitality (on cruise ships and at luxury hotels) and consulted for about five years before taking an unpaid sports writing position.
“It’s a process,” said Parsons, who now has multiple paid sports media positions as well. “I would not recommend [leaving] your job overnight, as there is a lot of competition. I recommend starting slowly and getting some experience under your belt.”
Along the way, track your successes — and failures — so you have something to talk about in future sports job interviews.
3. Network into a league of your own
It always helps to know someone. That’s how I landed my first sports writing internship with the local newspaper. The hiring editor had been my professor in journalism school.
As you gain experience, maintain your connections. And remember — no connection is too far-flung.
You might start by emailing folks who currently hold your ideal job title and asking for career advice or offering to buy them a cup of coffee so you can pick their brain.
To network successfully, consider these other strategies:
- Join professional associations.
- Go to sports job fairs and conferences.
- Attend a sports league’s annual meetings.
- Find a mentor who has been there and done that.
- Cement connections with LinkedIn invites and personal messages.
If you want to work in the NFL, for example, add the Football Career Conference to your calendar. Just ensure you drill down into your job type too. If you’re a sports-obsessed statistician or data master, for example, don’t miss the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
4. Turn your connections into teammates
Connections are crucial because everyone and their brother wants to work in sports. Without connections, you could be lost in the shuffle of thousands of others milling around job boards such as TeamWork Online and Work In Sports.
To score my coveted position with the San Francisco 49ers, for example, I completed a TeamWork Online application — and bugged the hiring manager via email. Thankfully, he and I had been colleagues on the college newspaper a few years earlier.
The point is people with hiring power in sports first look to their professional and social networks. Maybe they post a job opening on LinkedIn, or perhaps they put out feelers via a professional association’s Listserv.
To get a leg up on everyone else, maintain relationships with your contacts. Make them your teammates.
5. Separate your profession from your fandom
At some point, you might be sitting across from someone you don’t know and interviewing for a sports position you want badly.
Keep in mind that your love of a sport or team could be the cherry on top of your application, but it won’t be enough to seal the deal.
In fact, your ability to get hired might not have a single thing to do with sports. If you’re a web developer looking to work on a league’s websites, for example, you’ll be judged on your coding skills. If you’re an athletic trainer, you’ll be measured by your clinical experience, not how many NBA All-Stars you can name.
Similarly, your love of a sport or team won’t be enough to keep you interested in the work itself. It’s more important that you love to code or provide health care, for example.
Having a sports job can be awesome, but you’d better be in it for more than the perks. Otherwise, you won’t last long.
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