It’s a nice idea, but there’s a big catch: With so many sports fanatics looking to break into the business, the field is a notoriously competitive one that’s extra hard to crack. Some of the sports industry’s rising stars and leading minds are gathered here this weekend for the second annual installment of SX Sports, part of the South by Southwest Interactive festival. Their stories show that there’s no one way to crack the business, but they do give some interesting and inspiring examples of how it can be done.
Just like last year, we cornered some sports biz pros at SXSW to find out exactly how they carved out space for themselves in a hyper-competitive field. (Yours truly also shared the same thing with Bleacher Report last spring).
Read on to learn how three pros — Dan Reed of Facebook, Grace Hoy of Arizona State athletics and Kyle Bunch of the R/GA advertising agency — got where they are today. (Interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Reed is tasked with making Facebook a place where sports fans want to be. He works with athletes, leagues, teams and league partners to help them reach and engage fans on the world’s largest social network.
His story, in his own words: I was always a passionate sports fan growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a high school athlete. But I never really thought I could successfully combine that passion for sports with an actual successful career. Coming out of college, I did what a lot people do when they don’t know what they want to do: management consulting.
Intellectually, that was fascinating. I learned a lot about business and got to work in about 10 different industries. But I didn’t do anything that made me really passionate. So I went to business school from 2002 to 2004. I spent a lot of time there, exploring the different career options that might really stoke my passion. I kept coming back to sports, and realized there are actual career paths there. It almost seemed too good to be true. I also spent a lot of time exploring technology while I was there.
I relentlessly reached out to all the people in my network to have informational conversation and potential opportunities. Jobs are often network- and referral-based — but that’s especially true in sports, so it’s important to be on people’s radar screens. I quickly learned I needed to understand how media rights, sponsorships and ticket sales work — that this is a multibillion-dollar business, and you need a full understanding.
His story, in his own words: I actually got started as a sports blogger. I was working at a small agency, just doing digital advertising in the early 2000s after I’d gotten out of school. As your Typepads and WordPresses took off, I noticed that you could can start your own site. I started a few different sites, but the one that stuck was a USC football site because USC was dominant at the time, and there was a big audience for it. My friend and I started this blog called TrojanWire, and picked up an audience over time.
I started the blog in 2002 or 2003 and applied to R/GA to work on Nike campaigns in 2006, so I’d been learning the ropes of digital agency life and moonlighting in the sports world for a few years. It made me stand out among other candidates. It was like, “Here’s a guy with the digital advertising and digital agency background, but who also knows sports and knows how to build something.”
I tell anybody: If you’re trying to break in to sports — or anything, really — and if you’re passionate about it, there’s no reason to wait for someone to give you a job. You should be proving that passion out, whether it’s with a blog or even just a Twitter account. That’s kind of how it worked for me, just doing it and learning it myself until the perfect opportunity came along. Read more…