“Man, your job must be so cool.”
I’d be a rich man if I had $10 for every time someone has said that to me in the last six years. And, they’re right. My job is cool. Objectively. But, what most people forget is that it’s still a job. I have business objectives to meet, KPIs to fulfill, and people to manage. Thankfully, it’s all in a sport that I’ve grown up loving and one that still continues to teach me today.
The biggest limiting factor I see for people who want to get into sports is lacking specificity around what they actually want to do in sports. Sports organizations, just like organizations in any other industry, are made of multiple departments with people of all different skillsets. Saying you want to work in sports is just as broad as saying you want to work in business. You need to refine that.
Am I a golf fan? Of course! But, at the end of the day, I’m a fan of my job.
You don’t want to work in sports; you want to work in Sports (insert specificity) here. Maybe it’s finance, marketing, sales, communications, social media, or something else. To succeed in sports, you need to be passionate about your area in which you work, not just about sports in general.
For me, that passion comes with working with athletes. Athletes, and in my case, golfers, are what drive this entire crazy industry that we’re in. And, thankfully, the last five years have brought about an awakening of sorts as athletes realize they have more power than anyone. I get excited about writing business plans for our guys. I nerd out on figuring out how to better serve our members and get them content of themselves to build their brands.
Am I a golf fan? Of course! But, at the end of the day, I’m a fan of my job. I’m a fan of diving into social media strategy plans. I’m a fan of doing the work, and you’ll need to be a fan in the same way of your own job to be successful in sports.
So, now that you’ve decided what type of sports role you want to pursue and decided that you do in fact actually want to work in sports, how do you go about doing it?
The old adage of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” still holds true in sports.
With the exception of a few very specialized roles, most of what we do in sports isn’t rocket science. I mean, I spend a large portion of my days on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok seeing what works and trying to adapt that to what we do. In theory, a lot of people could do that.
So, how do you set yourself apart? There are a few things that have worked well for me in my career that I suggest to anyone that will listen:
If you’re still in school, take Sales and Public Speaking classes.
Learning how to be comfortable presenting yourself and your ideas in front of people is something I see a lot of current entry-level candidates lacking. I don’t care if you can write the best email or business plan ever. You need to be able to convince me of it.
My first boss at the TOUR told me that to be effective at my job, I needed to be able to interrupt people and then have them thank me for interrupting them by the time I was done with my pitch. He was right.
Shoutout to the smartest guy I’ve met in sports for that nugget - Ken Lovell.
You might see “sales” above and think “eww, I don’t want to do sales.” Well, I hate to tell you that literally every person on this earth works in sales. It’s just a matter of whether you’re selling your ideas or selling someone else’s commodities. Me? I prefer selling my own ideas and convincing people to take the chance.
Track all of your communications with industry people
(shoutout to Jim Kahler for this idea). When I was in graduate school at Ohio University, I kept a Google Sheet of the name, email, and phone number for about 45 different people in the Sports Industry that I regularly connected with. Is that a bit anal? Absolutely. Did it work? You’re damn right it did. People LOVE talking about themselves. It’s human nature. Email people and ask them for an informational interview. Then, keep track of that person via Google Alerts and keep in touch. Magically, when you’re ready to apply to jobs, you suddenly have dozens of people willing to help you.
Lastly, don’t over apply to jobs (especially at the same organization).
That will be an immediate red flag. And, don’t just apply to the job on the job board. Use that list I referenced in point #2 and reverse network your way into finding someone that knows someone where you’re applying. If you have at least 30 people on your contact sheet, odds are pretty high that one of those people will know someone (or know someone who knows someone) at the organization at which you’re applying. The sports world is incredibly small, and you can use that to your advantage.
At the end of the day, getting to work in this industry is a privilege. We work in something that provides an outlet and entertainment for millions and have jobs that thousands of people would love to have.
Anything worth having is worth waiting for. In sports, make one modification: “anything worth having is worth working for.”
So you want to work in sports? It’s time to roll up those sleeves and get to work. I’m here to help.
Preston is the Director, Player Content + Strategy at the PGA TOUR. He oversees all content featuring TOUR players and works internally across departments to develop, refine, and implement athlete social media and marketing policies. Prior to the TOUR, Preston worked with AJ Maestas at Navigate Research after graduating from Ohio University with a dual master’s degree in Sports Administration and Business Administration. Preston also spent time working with the Memphis Tigers, Memphis Grizzlies, ESPN, and others.