At the MIT Sloan Sports Conference, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was asked for advice on careers in sports management. His answer? “Don’t.” He went on to back-up his claim, citing intense competition and the fact that he gets dozens of emails a week with people pleading for a chance, a solid majority of them even confiding that they would be willing to work for free. Ok, so the competition is insane, but this is sports, isn’t it? Working for a professional sports organization isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park. The environment is competitive from the practice field to the printer, which is where many people flourish. So if you have the passion and won’t settle for anything else, this is literally your ideal career path. And the options are diverse, from entry-level positions to management opportunities. If you’ve always dreamed of being the voice behind the action, you can get an inside look into the exciting industry of sports broadcasting, for example. Let’s look at other ways to get into the business.
U.S. Olympic Internship Program
This is an awesome way to pick up some applicable experience while you’re still in college. Of course, you’ll get live at the Olympic training centers, and eat meals with the athletes, and even earn a little extra cash. It’s a sweet deal, and a great way for many aspiring sports managers to get their foot in the door. You can specialize your internship by choosing from areas such as development, sports medicine, broadcasting, journalism, marketing and human resources. As long as you’ve completed two years of undergraduate study, you’re eligible to apply. So what are you waiting for?
On the other end of the spectrum, we have perhaps the most coveted job in sports management: General Manager. The GM is responsible for everything from signing free-agents to balancing the budget. An eye for talent is essential, as the GM has a large say in which players are worth their weight in gold, and which aren’t. Speaking of gold, GMs determine the salary of everyone else, too: coaches, executives, assistants. Nobody gets a paycheck the GM didn’t authorize. But the position isn’t all power and glamor. Press conferences are incessant, and you’ll find yourself working eight days a week when the season is in progress. Poor decisions and results always find their way back to the GMs, too, so managing stress is almost as important as managing the team. To cap it all off, the road to the GMs office is long, often beginning with positions at local high schools. But the long road has a way of weeding out the unfaithful, so you’ll know soon enough if you’ve got what it takes. See if you’re a natural with this essential project management training course.
Public Relations Assistant
This is an ideal entry-level position, a solid step or two above interning for the Olympics. As a P.R. assistant, expect to wear a number of hats and lend a hand in diverse media projects. You won’t managerial power, obviously, but you will be an integral part of writing press releases, designing marketing campaigns and organizing all things media-related. You don’t have to isolated to one team, either; every league in the world needs their own P.R assistants, too.
Development Reps: Collegiate
If you’re college or university has a famous sports program (or even if they don’t), you already have a foot in the door for some careers just by being a recent alumni. Development reps focus primarily on financial issues, such as fundraising and, for lack of a better phrase, miscellaneous sales. You’ll start small and need to be highly organized and driven (I mean, that’s just the nature of sales), but this is a classic springboard for positions in athletic fundraising, and once you’ve demonstrated your abilities at the next level, you’re primed for the A.D. position.
If you want to get involved in sports management but don’t necessarily have your heart set on working for your favorite team, consider working for a sports marketing agency. There are endless management opportunities in marketing, from being the creative director to the production manager. Entry-level positions abound, as well; almost every sector needs assistants (creative assistants, production assistants, content assistants), but you can also get started in design, writing, analyses, account management, etc. Benefits include working for numerous organizations and developing long-term relationships; this isn’t a one-time thing where your agency makes a commercial and calls it a deal. Marketing agencies tend to stick with their clients through campaign after campaign, tracking and analyzing media coverage and trends as the relationship develops. Get a leg-up on the competition by learning press release marketing and distribution training.
Researcher / Broadcaster
Believe it or not, working as a researcher for a network qualifies as an entry-level position. I’m not guaranteeing the job description will live up to your expectations, but networks can never have enough researchers for special events (World Cup, Olympics, March Madness, etc.). After all, who’s going to track down all the ridiculous statistics you hear, or constantly update team stats and progress, or write the charming bios for the no-name-athlete-turned-superstar? The more fortunate might even get their hand on the mic for an interview or two. Either way, this is a position and career booster many people would be ecstatic to receive.
There isn’t much glory involved in the A.D. position. When things are going great, all the attention is focused on the success of the students and coaches. When things take a turn for the worse, suddenly it’s the A.D. who is thrust into the spotlight. But as long as you don’t have trouble claiming responsibility for your actions, this is one of the greatest jobs for people who simply love sports, period. The A.D. oversees every last detail of the athletic program: hiring, managing, promoting, budgeting, etc. You have to have a lot of love to go around, too. You can’t just be a football fanatic and expect to excel as an A.D. Compassion for every sport and the nature and benefits of athletic competition is essential. You might not experience the emotional highs and lows that coaches do, but you have the pleasure of offering advice and counsel when needed (so it probably wouldn’t hurt if you knew a little bit more about sports psychology and the balance of an athlete’s life).