On Monday, March 26th, five panelists—including three Columbia alumni—from across the sports industry joined CCE for the Sports Business Industry Showcase, an event aimed at educating Columbia students about careers in sports.
there’s not only one way to break into the industry
Interested in marketing, business development, human resources, event production, law, data analysis, or engineering? You’re in luck. Students interested in most any business function can find a way to make it work in the sports industry.
Opportunities in the industry run the gamut across function and expertise; candidates just need to find a way to get their foot in the door and establish their niche. Panelists stressed that students should think strategically about their career choices, and find a way to gain experience through internships and volunteer experiences before and during college.
As much as possible, look for opportunities during college…all it takes is one big organization on your resume to really open things up.
Advice from the pros
Panelists offered advice for current students interested in embarking on a career in sports:
GET INDUSTRY-SPECIFIC INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE EARLY AND OFTEN
Experience matters in sports. Find a way to gain exposure through internships with sports brands, departments, or athletic events. Use the experience to prove to future employers that you’re serious and interested in the space. Internships with top teams and leagues are extremely competitive. They recommended that while many experiences may be unpaid, an internship with a minor league sports team could be a great way to start in the industry.
MOST JOBS IN SPORTS INVOLVE DATA ANALYTICS, STRATEGY, AND CREATIVITY
The panelists explained that data analysis, strategy, and creativity are key to being successful in the brand partnership and agency side of sports. They also described key differences in working with a team vs. a league front office. While both are very operations and logistics driven, working for a league is more like running a business where you manage compliance, human resources, finances, and legal. With a team you are much more attached to players and the competition.
NETWORKING IS KEY IN SPORTS
The sports industry is very competitive, and it’s almost always about who knows you. Students interested in the field should be sure to attend recruiting events, chat with alumni at events or through informational interviews, join industry-focused student groups on campus, and always follow up any professional interactions with a thank you note. They also recommended trying to continue the conversation via follow-up.
KNOW YOUR STUFF: KEEP UP ON INDUSTRY TRENDS AS PART OF YOUR ROUTINE
Do your research. In an interview, be sure to come prepared with information about the organization and current events in the field. Since many roles in sports involve branding and sponsorships, come armed with some knowledge of recent deals or campaigns, and don’t be afraid to share your opinion! One panelist suggested that keeping up with the industry and teams, leagues, and partnerships should be part of your routine. Whether it’s following a variety of leaders on Twitter or reading Sports Business Daily each day, you need to keep up on how the business is evolving.
KEEP PERSPECTIVE AND STAY POSITIVE
Panelists stressed that it can be very challenging to break into the sports industry, and applicants early in their careers can expect to face hurdles and rejection in their initial job search. With that in mind, persistence and optimism are key to making it in the space.
Don’t expect an interest in sports alone to carry much weight
Panelists were in consensus that a genuine interest in sports doesn’t carry much weight during a job interview. Everyone that applies is a sports fan, too! Rather, emphasize your experience, unique skill set, and genuine enthusiasm for the role and organization.
DO I NEED A GRADUATE DEGREE?
Most of the panelists agreed that a bachelors or master’s degree in Sports Management is not required. One panelist did pursue a Sports Management master’s degree as a way to pivot his career from finance into sports as well as for the networking opportunities. They explained that much of what you need to know is learned on the job.
Want to learn more about the sports industry? Check out CCE’s Sports Industry Page for more information on career options, the job search, and campus resources.