How to Break into the Sports Industry

Posted by in Career Advice, Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan is a senior consultant who has been with SRi for six years, working with major rights holders and professional clubs & teams. Below he discusses what he looks for in a candidate and how someone can go about breaking into the sports industry.

What do you look for in a candidate when you first view their CV?

It depends on the actual scope of the role. But the basics usually remain the same: educational background, longevity at previous organisations that show candidates took the time to understand and master their previous roles and the ability to demonstrate a track record of key achievements.

What typical skills and experience might they have?

Once again, it depends on the scope of the role. I focus very much on commercial roles within major rights holders and professional clubs & teams. These can include roles in sales, sponsorship, marketing and business development.

Many of the organisations I work with will be looking for candidates with classical marketing training (maybe a CIM qualification) covering the principles of brand marketing and customer relationship management (CRM), as well as a track record of tangible results.

For sales candidates it might include some professional training or qualification, as well as a proven track record of sales, showing real examples of deals that they were involved in, right through from conception to close.

Not surprisingly, having previous experience with a sports organisation or a big name brand on a CV definitely helps.

What skills are transferable to the sports industry?

The key ones I find are:

Brand marketing – especially candidates that have been involved in creating and implementing CRM, loyalty and customer engagement programmes.

Sales – especially when a candidate can demonstrate success in solution based sales, where they have packaged a bespoke solution together for their client.

What other relevant sectors are rights holders and clubs & teams looking to attract people from?

The main relevant sectors are FMCG, management consultancy and media & entertainment.

Sports organisations realise they are competing for the public’s discretionary income against other types of entertainment. Therefore they are starting to see themselves as not just a sports club but a corporate brand, and as such, candidates who know how to create strong brands are in demand.

However, while some sports organisations are pushing the boundaries here, there are still a majority that look inside the industry, as there is still a lot to be said for someone who understands the sports business landscape, its culture and how it all fits together.

What is it realistically like to work in the sports industry?

It is a hugely exciting industry to be part of. It’s fast moving and you get to interact with the most loyal customer base that you can imagine, much more than any big corporate brand.

There is a lot of money coming into the industry at the moment from TV and sponsorship rights, so there is a great opportunity to grow a business.

However, a lot of people think it’s all glitz and glamour. You don’t get to hang out with the players or the coaches. Even the biggest clubs are still SMEs in commercial terms and profit margins can be tiny.

People can find it difficult to move from a big corporate brand to a smaller sports organisation. There are not large teams working in each department, which can stunt career growth as there isn’t necessarily a structured career path. Budgets are a lot smaller, so you have to work hard and smart, sometimes on weekends, plus the pay is often not comparable to similar roles in other industries.

The first 12 months can be a shock to the system and it takes time to adjust. But having said all that, if you are passionate about sport it can be an extremely satisfying job.

What should a candidate without sports experience do if they want to get into the industry?

I would strongly recommend that they do their research first. Think about the role they want to do, what transferable skills and experiences they have and how they can be best utilised in the sector. Don’t just apply for every job out there.

Once this has been figured out, they need to go above and beyond to get exposure within the industry. They need to develop their network whether that is via LinkedIn, industry events or sports business conferences. Ask advice from someone that made a similar move, offer to buy them a coffee and pick their brains.

They need to ask themselves what their current skills will allow them to do. If they don’t currently have the relevant skills, they need go out and get them. Take six months off to intern or volunteer at a sports organisation or complete a sports related MBA.

What advice would you offer a sports management student or recent graduate?

Network while you have the chance at university and start getting work experience through an internship or volunteering over the summer at sporting organisations in roles that you would like to do in the future.

Be persistent. Most importantly don’t get hung up on money, be prepared to work for free if need be. There are so many people desperate to work for little. Once you get your foot on the ladder, it is easier to move up from there.

How would you say is best to present your CV or LinkedIn profile?

Remember your CV is the first thing people see of you. I personally think candidates should try not to over complicate it.

Sometimes a quirky CV is fine for creative design roles, but rights holders and clubs & teams can still be very traditional, so make sure your layout is neat and tidy, aligned, all in the same font and has been proof read.

Make sure you show your key accountabilities and key achievements from your career. If you are a sales person, include your achievements and sales made (you’ll be surprised how many don’t). If you are in marketing, include the campaigns you worked on and the measurable achievements accomplished.

LinkedIn has become such a great tool in recent years for recruiters, so even if you are not actively looking for a new role, make sure you keep your profile up-to-date and include a professional image of yourself.

What can they do to gain more knowledge about the sports industry?

I find many candidates think they already know a lot about the industry from reading SKY Sports or the BBC etc., but the commercial world of sport is completely different.

Candidates need to be signing up to the trade press to get the latest updates and info from the industry, such as SportsPro, Sport Business, or iSportConnect. Research sports business events and conferences in your region and make an effort to attend these if you can, as they offer great networking opportunities. Even follow organisations you want to work for on social media, in order to keep up-to-date with their latest developments.

What changes have you seen within the hiring approach of sports organisations since you started at SRi?

Six years ago not many sports organisations employed candidates from outside the industry. These days we are getting more and more requests from clients to find people from other relevant sectors. They are looking for candidates that are able to implement best practice around various commercial elements and strategy. So now is as good a time as any to make a move.