Work in Sports Advice From the Trenches

For many college students, working in sports sounds like a pretty cool idea. They think that working in the sports industry would be a sexy option for a career; they think that a career in sports would fun and exciting, that they would make a lot of money and meet a lot of athletes and celebrities.

Most come to realize that perception is not the reality in the sports industry. During my college years, I had four internships, and three of them were with sports organizations – all of which were unpaid. This is what most college students who want a career in sports have to look forward to: an internship that consists of a 40+ hour work week with little to no compensation (save for a few lines on his or her résumé).

But I worked harder than my fellow interns, took these unpaid internships and turned them into paid employment opportunities. While still in school, I was hired on for part-time positions after my internships concluded, and for more than two years I continued to put in my time with these organizations to try to get my foot in the door.

After working three sports-related internships, it came time for me to graduate. I was highly discouraged about my employment prospects; I had applied to more than 50 full-time jobs around the country and heard back from only five or six of those employers.

It seemed as though all of my work as an unpaid intern had been for naught – my résumé was better and far more complete and well-rounded than most of my friends and yet I could barely get a call back from the dozens of applications I filled out.

Besides, I was hired for part-time positions with two sports organizations after my internships concluded. With more than two years of solid sports experience, I still had trouble landing an interview. I was frustrated, to put it mildly.

Right before graduation in May I finally landed a limited-term position for the summer with a sports marketing agency. While it was not a full-time gig, it was a paycheck – and for that, I was very pleased. It also gave me a fresh perspective on sports marketing.

I had always been involved with the team aspect of sports marketing, having worked for both collegiate-level and professional-level sports organizations. Working with a high-level client brought a whole new skill set to my repertoire, and I am very thankful that I have agency experience under my belt.

When the limited-term position concluded, so did the NFL lockout. It was an ideal time to apply to the NFL team that I had spent the past two seasons interning with and working for on game days. A position in Customer Relations opened up and they called me about it. Two weeks later I was hired full time. It is a very entry-level job, but it is a salary – in this economy, I’ll take what I can get.

Some college students may be discouraged by the lack of full-time employment opportunities that follow an unpaid internship. Yet I am living proof that one need not be worried, as long as one puts in hard work. Everyone knows that an intern is a bottom rung on the proverbial ladder of employment. After three years of working my tail off in the sports industry, I am now on the second rung from the bottom – and couldn’t be happier.


Why Write About Social Media and Sports Management

I thought I’d kick-start this thing with a few thoughts about why it could be interesting to write about sports management and social media.

First, I have a feeling that sports management itself is not necessarily a topic that is widely or appropriately covered on the ‘Net. Sure, there are commercial organizations active in this field which tries to increase or maintain their visibility by touting their wares or value proposition on their website or blog. But I have yet to come across a forum for unbiased, non-commercially oriented exchanges on what are the key factors for a sports organization to be managed for success.

Second, while social media is all about encouraging self-designated membership of chosen “communities of interest”, and about offering those members a way to produce & share user-generated content (think Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, or microblogging pioneer Twitter), these functionalities of social media do not seem to me to have made sufficient strides in the field of sports management – which is puzzling, since sportspeople typically think of themselves as dedicated members of a community of interest (triathletes, inline skates, runners, you name them – they are all much more than part of a club, a Federation or a sports organization, they feel they are part of a community).

Finally, there seem to be very few attempts out there to bring these 2 fields together, at least in the open-discussion form of a blog – with a few notable exceptions. Jason Peck’s Take A Peck blog provides very valuable insights specifically on sports and social media, with a US perspective; Lewis Howe’s’ Sports Networker blog also puts social media front-and-center in his discussions on sports, giving contributors in his very wide network a chance to share their expertise; Russell Szigeti, a regular contributor to the Business of Sport blog, is also extremely knowledgeable on the topic of technology in sports.

All are excellent, and I encourage you to subscribe to their feed – as well as follow them on Twitter, at Jason peck, sports networker, and race Betty, respectively. (I will provide in a later post more Twitter handles of users I find interesting in this space).

In this blog, I will, therefore, try to start what will hopefully become a lively exchange on how social media functionalities can and should be introduced into the management of sports organizations and/or events.

Since my background is in consulting, and more specifically on financial budgeting & controlling, I will also post the occasional article on the financial management of sports organizations – from a budgeting as well as an expense-monitoring perspective.


The European Football in Turmoil Management Lessons

Over the last couple of weeks, several pieces of news (which most commentators have termed “scandals”) have rocked what is Europe’s most popular and best-funded sports franchise: football or soccer for US readers.

On the field, France, one of world football’s historically strong nations (FIFA World Champion, runner-up), ended up qualifying in extremist for the final phase of the FIFA World Cup (to be held in South Africa in June) thanks to a last-minute equalizing goal in its last-chance qualifying match against Ireland.

That goal was only made possible by a very clever technical move by Thierry Henry, an experienced French striker, to control the ball (twice) and pass it on to one of his teammates just a couple of meters away from the net, leaving him with an easy header.

The only slight issue is that Henry’s ball-control prowess made abundant use of his left hand (see picture right) – and that the game’s referees seem to be the only ones not to have noticed it. To universal dismay, the goal was declared valid, Ireland’s pleas to replay the game fell on deaf ears, France got through, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Only that this time, the foul was so blatantly obvious that even FIFA was forced to admit its existence. But it continued to hide behind the sacra-saint irrevocability of the referee’s decisions and insisted that, unless France requested to replay the game (fat chance, since the French were all too happy to scrape through), it did not have the power to overrule the game’s result once it had been validated by the referee’s final whistle blow.

Off the field, German investigators, after a long undercover operation supported by UEFA (European football’s governing body), have uncovered what looks like a “high-level match-fixing” scheme involving more than 200 people.

Many were arrested in Germany, Switzerland, and other European countries, on suspicions of attempting to rig dozens of match results across 9 European football leagues (none of which is a top-flight league), by bribing players, coaches, referees, and officials. The criminal gang is rumored to have made millions by betting in Asian markets on those games.

Those 2 pretty extraordinary events have led FIFA President Sapp Blotter to call an Extraordinary GM of FIFA’s Executive Committee on December 2 (the EC in corpora is in South Africa anyway, to attend the draw of the football World Cup’s final phase games).

Beyond the eye-catching headlines, which lessons can be drawn from that sad and disturbing news, in terms of sports management?

FIFA, in its capacity of football’s governing body, has been bizarrely reluctant to embrace technological change, at least as far as refereeing is concerned. While video-replay assistance has been successfully rolled out in tennis long ago, allowing line judges to avoid McEnroe-style outbursts, it has been on the backburner for years in football, even though extensive video coverage of football games has now become near-ubiquitous.

Video assistance is a technology whose time has more than coming in football, as the Henry incident sadly but vividly illustrates. A sport which is so well-funded, but above all in which such large sums are at stake, just cannot afford anymore to rely exclusively on the referees’ very human (i.e. fallible) appreciation of delicate situations.

It should be ashamed not to leverage all of the technology it can (amply) afford. It is now a question of how and how quickly, rather than if. The same recommendation is made by Russell Szigeti in this excellent post (which I am only belatedly noticing) and logically extended to other sports.

There seems to be a real issue with football’s current revenue-generation and -sharing model. Attempts to rig match results in Europe (and on such a large, pervasive scale) are an indicator of a potentially destructive misallocation of available funds, and their overabundance.

Gangsters are tempted to take their stab at (illegally) grabbing a share of football’s gigantic revenues because the sports’ financial interests are tragically not aligned with its strategic objectives: who cares if teams play a good and fair game for fans, as long as equipment manufacturers, sponsors and team managers are happy (and wealthy)? FIFA ought to seize the opportunity brought about by the latest European match-fixing affair to rethink the way it manages the sport’s finances.


Social Media and the Sports Athlete in Crisis

There is no shortage of advice available regarding how brands can use social media in a crisis and a fairly consistent pattern of suggested tips are easily accessible from the online community.  But the challenges are different for individual athletes.

For athletes, who are often responsible for their reputation management and social media profiles, and are personally affected when the crisis hits, the process can be more difficult to manage. While some of the major tenets remain the same, navigating the online world can be more intricate for an individual athlete.

Living under the spotlight of professional sports means a crisis can result from the mere accusation of wrongdoing, and personal events like a messy divorce, DUI or physical injury can snowball under public scrutiny. Then, of course, there are also the big scandals we’ve all followed involving positive drug tests or non-solicited lewd photos going public.

Regardless of the situation, once it becomes public, the social media wildfire begins. If you’re an athlete with a Twitter account, you’re exposed and not only can fans talk about you, they can talk TO you. What do you do? What do you say? When do you say it? How should you respond? Should you respond?

There is no one size fits all solution as every situation and individual is unique, but here are a few of our guiding principles when it comes to advising athletes in crisis.

Loyal fans are your best defense

Athletes who engage regularly with their fans on social media and have built strong followings will see these relationships pay off when they’re going through a tough time. Specifically, loyal fans are much more likely to give their favorite athlete the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately believing a rumor.

They will rally other followers in the athlete’s defense and combat negative comments on the front line. They are also more likely to help spread information that supports the athlete’s position.  A legion of loyal fans often gives athletes a voice when circumstances prevent them from communicating directly.

Let your advisors do the monitoring

When a crisis hits, the negative comments start flying. They can often be critical, vicious, and even idiotic. And they can number in the hundreds.  An individual in crisis, already dealing with something personal and emotionally damaging, should steer clear of added stress and not get consumed with the inevitable onslaught of negativity.

Letting someone else do the monitoring is a must. A crisis communications advisor will sort out the good, the bad and the ugly and will keep the athlete apprised as needed. If a response is needed, the advisor will let the athlete know when and where to interject.  Remember to show restraint and let the communications team you know and trust monitors the feedback for you.

Keep fans Informed

Keep fans informed as much as the situation allows via social media, but not with formal legal statements. In this age of transparency, the athlete can lose credibility instantly if someone else’s voice suddenly takes over their social media channels at a time when fans desperately want to hear their side of the story. If athletes can’t comment due to legal ramifications, they should simply let followers know that and pledge to provide updates as soon as they’re able to do so.

Thank fans for their support

The guarantee there will be fans that will stand by the athlete no matter what the situation, especially if they are doing their best to take responsibility and learn from their mistakes. People believe in second chances, especially in sports, so athletes should reward these loyal fans by thanking them and responding personally to as many of their supporters as they can. This is an opportunity to show grace and humility, two character traits that can result in even more fans coming to the table.

Know when to move on

Sometimes less is more, especially in a crisis. Once the athlete has acknowledged the crisis, taken responsibility for his or her actions, and thanked fans for their support, it’s time to move on. Although in an ongoing crisis the athlete may need to repeat the process, it’s important not to dwell on the subject and get back to talking about what’s important to their fans – the game, their family, their charitable initiatives or an upcoming event. Move on and the fans will too.


The Plastic Commercial Playgrounds and Other Sports for Toddlers

A regular playground can often be challenging for a toddler or a smaller kid.  Going down to the neighborhood park for an afternoon of fun isn’t always easy.  All children always enjoyed playing on the ground.

Typically the playground equipment is just too big for them.  Play gyms and other youngsters can both be dangerous.  Bigger kids don’t normally look out for the smaller ones.  Your area should offer several playground choices for your toddler.

Many places are offering indoor playgrounds and equipment for younger kids.  Businesses like Gymboree offer afternoons of supervised playing time and games.  This can give your toddler a way to still have an afternoon of fun with other youngsters similar in age.

You should also check out the town mall for small indoor play areas.  These types of indoor play spots are often made with a small child in mind.  You won’t typically have to worry about older kids playing here.  The mall can be an ideal place for both children and their parents.

Finding playgrounds is your best bet.  Plastic sets are typically safer for a toddler.  They are developed with a smaller child in mind.  These playsets can be found in businesses and also at nearby community centers.  Every child enjoys playing with others.

If you have a YMCA or city recreation center, you should make your way over and see what they have to offer.  Most of them offer something great for a smaller kid.  With some research, you will find the best place.

You should also visit elementary schools and pre-schools.  Sometimes, a school playground can be your best choice.  These sets are usually made with strict guidelines for child safety.  Preschools offer equipment made specifically for a small toddler.

Find out who stays open after school hours.  This can be the best place for your small child to play safely.  Some schools have an after school play program.  This means your young ones might be able to play under adult supervision.

Before you head out the door, find out all your choices.  It can be tough for a smaller toddler to have fun at the playground.  Your small kids can be intimidated by large equipment and older kids.  In the right place, a small child can fully have fun and excel.  They will get some good exercise and make new friends.  It will help them grow into happy, confident grown-ups.