I have been in the sports business since 1987, and longer, if you also take into consideration my internship with NESN during my senior year at Boston College. That means I am either full of great knowledge and experience due to longevity and accomplishments, or that I am a dinosaur in the industry; I’ll let you make that decision. Over my past 25 years of working in the sports business, I have found there are a few aspects that remain true, and whether you are a rookie or a seasoned vet, these constants should always serve as a compass to your success. Here are three tips I would recommend paying attention to:
1) Evolving: The sports business is an ever-evolving industry. What worked to make money today is not good enough to make money tomorrow. You cannot depend on the traditional streams of revenue to continue growing; you have to use your creativity and experience to develop new ways to generate revenue and wow the fans. I don’t care what you have been responsible for innovating and capitalizing on in the past; if you are not constantly evolving and looking for new ways to do business, you will become irrelevant. Change is not only good, it’s necessary. However, evolving doesn’t mean just copying what other organizations are doing. It is understanding how your fan base and business partners have altered their consumption of your sport and giving them new ways to fuel their passion and goals.
2) Foundation: Even though both the world and the industry are evolving, there are some fundamental principles that must be held sacred. The fan is the Holy Grail in the sports business. You have to maintain an unbreakable relationship with the fan and continue to propel their passion for your organization. This can’t always come with wins, so you have to mimic winning and always show the fan respect in every move you make. If you DELIVER* to your fans, they will stick with you through thick and thin.
You must also continually build relationships on a business-to-business basis. You can’t cop the attitude that, “Coke is my sponsor, so why would I spend time with Pepsi?” That is the wrong direction to take and will hurt you in the long run. Yes, your commitment and loyalty should be to your partners, however that doesn’t mean you should not also have a relationship and a respect for their competitors. Life and your career are long; you can’t predict when Coke will depart and Pepsi will become an option. Also, people are shuffled around the industry more than cards at a Vegas blackjack table, and you never know where folks will pop up. Building many different relationships and being all-inclusive is the smart route to take. You need to manage and juggle the largest variety of connections possible, because relationships equal revenue.
3. Mentors and Resources: Because there are so many different aspects of the business of sports, and so many different types of experts with varying agendas in the industry, it’s important to recognize the difference between what (and who) is real and what is only “smoke and mirrors.” This piece of advice may suit rookies more than veterans, but I believe everyone can benefit from this assessment. Don’t listen to what people are saying until you have checked out what they have done. Track record trumps all statements and social media swagger. Folks have either made a positive impact in the industry or they pretend to have done so. The longer you are in the industry, the easier it is to spot the pretenders, but even then you need to pay close attention and not assume that statements equal reality. Someone’s duration in the industry is not an indicator of success, just of survival. Track record typically speaks for itself, so before you subscribe to an agenda or philosophy, make sure you do so with a logical approach and with your eyes wide open. Additionally, just because someone has played a sport at some level doesn’t make them knowledgeable on the business side. Being an athlete, in and of itself, does not anoint a person to sports business expert.
These are just three tips to help you wade through the murkiness of the sports industry. As much as the business and times may evolve, consistently paying attention to these three areas will help you not only perform at the highest level, but also avoid pitfalls that could slow you down or derail you. Always remember, there are many more mediocre than exceptional people in the industry (which is true of all sectors), so adopt solid principles and philosophies that will propel and guide you through the clutter of people, opinions and agendas.
*DELIVER: A Relationship Architecture TM discipline presented and defined in Winning the Customer.