Good Sports

Recently, I was talking with a new client who asked about careers in sports.  He told me he played football; competitively but not professionally, while in college. But I was pretty sure he was asking about jobs behind the scenes in pro sports.  As we talked, he revealed himself to be a devoted fan of several competitive sports, and has deep knowledge, not just about the games being played, but the inner workings of the teams, their management and corporate operations.  It became fairly obvious that if he has other requisite skills, combined with his passion, he might actually be a good candidate for a behind the scenes position in the very wide world of sports.
In part, our conversation was fueled by it being autumn and we are in the midst of the baseball playoffs, a quarter of the football season is complete, the NBA is in pre-season, soccer is happening (somewhere on the planet all year long!) and hockey isn’t.   The other reason for the discussion was the guy’s interest in doing something that would connect him more closely to his passion, sports.
The typical professional sports organization isn’t that much different from many other corporate environments. You’ve got the business management and corporate executives; the legal department, the advertising, sales, marketing, branding, licensing, merchandising and promotion departments; customer relations; administrative and clerical support people; the web development staff; documentarians and archivists; artists and graphic designers; you’ve got accounting and finance specialists; performance analysts; computer, networking, technical and mechanical crews, landscape architects (groundskeepers) and, and … (apologies if I didn’t name your profession!).
In sports, you also have the atypical positions: the ticket sellers, athletic trainers and sports medicine pros and nutritionists, the coaches and uniform specialists; the announcers, broadcasters, audio and video crews.  And of course you’ve got the players/athletes. And last but not least, the customers: a.k.a. the fans.
And there are myriad other sports-related careers that are external to working for the teams themselves:  Sports representatives and agents; statisticians; jobs in the stadiums such as facilities management and operations, vendors, food and beverage franchises; sports writers, reporters and commentators, photographers and videographers; uniform outfitters, designers and suppliers; security; and of course those who referee, judge and umpire the games.  There are probably a lot more!
Typically, most people who want non-playing careers in sports would pursue these jobs in their younger years, driven by their passion for one or more of the sports they have followed closely since their youth.  Some jobs are filled by former players, professional and collegiate, whose love for their game doesn’t wane when they stop playing, and they wish to continue being around the excitement of competition. Many people get into sports careers because they want to help nurture athleticism and physical fitness/wellness in young people, helping them build the competitive spirit by getting into coaching (amateur, collegiate and professional), maybe start by overseeing a Little League or Pop Warner team.  They spend their careers encouraging young players and promoting team spirit, a positive and cooperative attitude, and a will to win.
Some combine their love for sports with their other strengths and are happy to work in the background, indirectly involved with the playing of the games, yet remaining deeply entwined in the business of sports.  A strong set of business or other professional skills is an absolute necessity for success in a sports-related industry, just like in any other career.  Good management and leadership skills, math aptitude, stellar organizational skills, the ability to retain a lot of detailed and complex information, and a deep understanding of your chosen side of the industry are some of what’s needed to be part of a winning team.
But the unfortunate reality is these jobs aren’t particularly plentiful, at least not in pro sports. There are only 32 pro teams in the National Football League, 30 teams each in Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League. The semi-pro, minor league and farm teams have much more modest organizations and budgets, but can still be a good starting point from which to build a fulfilling career. And there are also gratifying opportunities in collegiate athletic departments.
Regardless of whether you consider yourself an athlete; whether you play on a team, play an individual sport, or not, passion, skill (athletic and business) and a winning attitude will be key to your success. The world of sports and its affiliated industries is indeed wide, and there are lots of opportunities for those with the same drive and determination it takes to thrive in any industry.  So go ahead, play to win, and don’t forget to take that victory lap.
For more tips on job search, getting hired by a winning team, and other career development concerns, please search this blog and visit: