I get an innumerable amount of requests these days about job advice and about how I broke into the sports industry. Many recent graduates and folks looking to switch careers are searching for an answer to get an edge on the competition in order to land a job, and I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to get them the perfect job with the perfect salary. That’s just not real, and although I wish I had that specific answer for them, I do not. In fact, no one can say, “Here’s the secret formula to breaking into the sports industry.” If someone does tell you that, they are being less then genuine.
Have you seen the Dreamworks animated movie, Kung Fu Panda? I watched it with the kids last weekend. There was one scene where the Panda was chosen to be the “Dragon Warrior” which gave him privilege to view the “secret scroll” that supposedly provided all the answers to life. When he opened the scroll, the only thing in it was his reflection. He was puzzled. It didn’t click until later while he was chatting with his father, when he realized that the secret to his life was himself. No secret ingredients, no secret sauce, just himself.
It’s absolutely true in the real world as well, and even more so in the sports industry. If you are going to be a doctor or a lawyer, there is definitely a path to lead you to your destination. But in the sports business, that path hasn’t truly been paved yet. Sure, many have experienced great success in the industry, but it has been based more on individual efforts and achievements than on a deliberate course of action. Sports Business programs have been popping up all over the country, but there is no degree program on which teams or leagues rely yet to provide complete certification that displays you are qualified to be in the sports business. On the flip side, if you currently do not attend one of these schools, that doesn’t mean you will not get into the sports industry. Unlike a law or medical degree, it’s still very murky in this field of study. So I completely empathize with the concern and panic most of the folks possess when trying to break into the industry.
Let me help a little. You don’t have to be in total despair. Even though there is no magic wand to get you into the sports industry, just like in Kung Fu Panda, the secret ingredient is you. It’s up to you to work hard, be a sponge, have an insatiable appetite for the industry, and learn as much about it as possible. Also, check your fandom at the door because that’s not a prerequisite for the job and it could, in fact, hinder your efforts. Begin with an unpaid internship. Get into an organization and prove to the folks you work for that you are dependable and dedicated to the job and tasks you are given. By the way, this isn’t any different from how doctors and lawyers should operate once they get their degrees. The secret sauce to your success is you. It’s how you approach it. Don’t worry about who is getting this promotion or that raise; that only applies to their existence, and has nothing to do with yours. Only you can make things happen for you.
So don’t focus on becoming a president of a team, or a CMO of a sports marketing organization. Your image of what a president or CMO should be does not necessarily include all the skills that are actually essential for these positions. And let’s just say that, today, you have a good fix on what it takes to become the person with these titles. The way things change and evolve over time, those characteristics are probably not enough for success in the same positions in the future. Focus on you and your efforts, and if you perform as I described above, those titles will come your way. Don’t aspire to be what others who possess those titles are now, acquire the experience and redefine what the characteristics should be for the person running a team, a sports marketing group, or whatever it is you think you want to be. Own the position and make it yours through your efforts and diligence. There are a bunch of hacks out there with lofty titles; you do not want to be like them, do you? Get into an organization, learn everything about the field you are in, understand every job in the organization and how everything works together, and work your ass off to make sure you do it better than anyone else. And always remember, whatever career you embark on, or in anything you do, you are the special sauce.