"I Just Want to Work in Sports"

By Chris Valente

The famous line we all hear from people outside the industry. I have had many different opportunities to speak with individuals that range from recent college grads to adults who are tired of their monotonous jobs, to large campus classes who now want to work in sports. Regardless of whether you are in an interview setting or having a conversation with someone about cracking the industry, this line rears its head more often than not. Here’s some advice…. It never should.

I have been very fortunate to work in this one-of-a-kind industry now for 13 years. I’ve worked for or with teams, leagues, brands, and media companies. Each one having its own positives and negatives but the one thing that has remained true is that I am able to wake up every morning and not dread hearing my alarm because I love what I do.

This industry is not for everyone. Regardless of what you may think you do or don’t know about working in sports, most people don’t make it more than a season. So before you make that call or take that interview here is what you need to know.

1) Apply for the job you WANT – You more than likely applied for a ticket sales position due to the fact everyone has told you that is the quickest way into the industry. Halfway through your interview the sales manager asks you if you could have any role or job in the organization “What would it be?” Ultimately the majority of people comeback with “Marketing or PR.”

This is the number one pet peeve of people in the industry. Would you apply for a job that you clearly did not want at a financial company and then tell the interviewer that you don’t want to work in finance but want to be in Public Relations? I don’t think so.

If you follow the career path of people in different industries not too many of them start in sales and end up as Directors of Public Relations. Apply for the job you WANT. Not the job you will do to get the one you actually want. If you happen to land that sales job but want nothing to do with sales, you will fail. No one does great work in a role they aren’t passionate about regardless of the industry. Sports are no different. Be patient and target the career path you want to set out on and take the steps to achieve that.

2)  Opportunity – This leads to the next key point. This is a very small industry compared to most. There are only so many top jobs in specific roles available. Then when you break it down to geographical opportunity it gets even smaller. If you live in the Boston area and want to be a CMO of 1 of the 4 major teams you have only FOUR opportunities. You have to be willing to move. Anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Your dream of being able to work for the team or teams in your area and stay there for life is very unlikely.

Also, dismissing opportunities at the minor league level is also a key mistake people make. I’ve found the people who start in the minor leagues (no different than the players) are much more well-rounded individuals who are capable of doing more. It requires you to do so much more on a day-to-day basis which actually helps you learn what you do and don’t like in the industry for your next step. But be prepared to roll out the field tarp, jump in the mascot suit, play DJ for a game, deliver tickets to PTA Mom’s, sleepover at the stadium with 1000 boy scouts, pick up chuck-a-pucks, and all while wearing a suit. Still willing to do anything?

3) It’s a Lifestyle not a Job – Working in this industry is a different way of life compared to most. This is what I think drives the majority of people out because it’s hard to understand this before working a full season in a sport. Are you willing to give up major Holidays, Weekends, and your whole summer/winter and then make a fraction of what your friends are making on other entry level jobs? If so then this industry is 100% for you. If not, you won’t last.

I’ve spent Thanksgiving’s, Easter’s, Christmas Eves with my co-workers or boss numerous times. This is due to the nature of the schedule of games that you work. You can’t fly home and can’t be that person who skipped the game while your other co-workers are busting their butts. Which is what also makes this industry awesome. They aren’t your co-workers. They are your teammates, your family, friends for life, and people you spend every last waking hour with. There is nothing else like this industry because when you win you all win together. And when the team loses the Stanley Cup, Super Bowl, or World Series you all feel it down to your core.

4) The Power of Sports – There are three things people in this country are extremely passionate about; Religion, Politics, and Sports. And only one of those actually embodies all 3 of those things. Sports. It’s what brings us together when tragic events occur regardless of our race, gender, age. It’s the only thing that transcends generations like nothing else. You and your grandparents likely grew up with different tastes in music, clothes, etc. but you both can agree that you bleed Blue, Orange, Red or whatever color represents your team. The names on the back of the uniform may be different but the constant that remains is your undying love of the logo on the front.

Sports makes our whole country pause for a few weeks to watch people swim, jump, run, ski down a hill, and figure skate. And boy do we want to win. We take pride in our team or country being the best and when we lose we sometimes act irrational. And you will deal with that irrationality on a REGULAR basis. But at least they care.

Why do I bring this up? Because when you are in this industry you have a responsibility to give back. The power you wield by flipping a puck to a kid, getting their favorite player to sign something for them, or walking into a hospital room of a sick child with a player and seeing them immediately feel better. I can tell you there is no better feeling in the world. Most people’s best memories as a child revolve around a sports moment. You have the power to help make that moment. Don’t take it lightly or for granted.

5)  Take it all in – If you end up being one of the lucky few to work in this industry make sure enjoy every last minute of it. Take time to reflect on how fortunate you are to being paid to be doing what others only dream of. Cherish the playoff runs, the smiles you put on people’s faces, and some of the coolest moments you will ever experience in your life. Never forget the people you meet along the way and don’t burn bridges because this is a SMALL industry. Take a sneak peek at the crowd every once in a while and remind yourself there aren’t too many jobs where 40,000 people will show up nightly to cheer you, boo you, and cry with you during every walk off hit, OT goal, game winning FG, and buzzer beater 3 pointer. For all the sacrifices you make along the way these moments make it all worth it.

So next time you have the opportunity to join this crazy industry and someone asks you ‘Why?” make sure not to say “I just want to work in sports” and tell them what about sports drives your passion. When your parents question your sanity on how you are going to make a career out of this… Follow your dream. Take chances. And enjoy every minute of it. After all, this is the greatest industry in the world.

Chris Valente is the Director of NFL Sports Marketing at DraftKings, Inc. This post was originally posted on his LinkedIn page, which can be found here. Follow him on Twitter @cvalente08.