Archive for June, 2011

David Francis

As the popular saying goes, “Third time’s a charm.” After publishing my third sports industry Expert Interview with David Francis: Be Flexible in Your Approach, I am starting to feel like a real blogger. The interviews have been a ton of fun so far. If you have not picked up on it by now, I publish one sports industry expert interview per week. I will do my best to publish them on Mondays in the future. From David Francis, Coordinator with the Division of Legal and Government Affairs at the USOC, we learned the following:

1. Studying subjects in college that do not directly relate to working in sports should not impede you from breaking into the industry.

2. Pursuing advanced degrees, whether it is a JD and/or a master’s in Sports Management, will further set you apart from your competition who are trying just as hard as you to work in sports.

3. It’s perfectly normal to transform your passion for playing sports as a student-athlete into a passion to work in the business as a professional.

4. Internships are a pre-requisite for breaking into sports. Get some experience to beef up your resume.

5. Turn to mentors who have more experience than you and have likely encountered a problem that you have to deal with.

6. If you want to work in sports, a lot of the time and effort you put into your job will be behind-the-scenes. Although the public may not know your exact role in a project or event, it is very rewarding to see the end-product of your work.

7. Be flexible in your approach to breaking into sports. You do not necessarily have to land your dream job right away. Once you are in the business, it is much easier to move around to where you want to be.

David Francis

                                            

For my third sports industry expert interview, I wanted to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work in sports at the international level on a daily basis. Therefore, I reached out to David Francis, a second year employee at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). David and I met at a sports networking conference held in Washington, DC this past March, the very same event at which I met Kelty Carpenter, my second interviewee. David was very approachable and easy to talk to when I went over to introduce myself. I thank David for agreeing to do this interview.

Michael Riley (MR): What is your official job title?

David Francis (DF): I am the Coordinator with the Division of Legal and Government Affairs at the USOC.

MR: Where did you go to college as an undergraduate? What was your major(s)/minor(s)?

DF: I attended the University of Connecticut, where I doubled majored in Political Science and Journalism.

MR: Did you pursue an advanced degree(s) to further market yourself to the sports industry? If so, please elaborate.

DF: After taking a year off from college, I pursued my law degree at California Western School of Law in San Diego. Soon after, I sought my master’s degree from Georgetown University’s Sports Industry Management (SIM) Program.

MR: When did you know that you wanted to “break into sports? Was there one specific moment that you can recall when you knew you had to work in sports? Was it an industry you always saw yourself working in? Or did you just kind of fall into it?

DF: All my life, I was a student-athlete. When I arrived at UCONN, I realized that I could not play at the highest levels of competition anymore. Without sports in my life, I felt like there would be something missing. Even though I was not able to pursue a career on the field, I thought, “Why not try to work in the front office of a sports team or try to work in sports in some business capacity?” I guess I always kind of saw myself working in sports. I thought pursuing a law degree would help, but I did not know exactly how it would at the time.

MR: How many internships did you participate in before you landed your first job? Where did you intern?

DF: Right after I finished up law school, I did an internship with the National Football League Player Association (NFLPA). I also interned at the USOC, which eventually turned into the current job I now hold.

MR: How did you land your first job in sports?

While participating in Georgetown’s SIM program, I asked one of my professors if I could talk to her about her job with the USOC. I expressed my interest to her about potentially working there some day. At the time, there were no available positions to be had. Six months later, she called me to see if I was available to help out at the office with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Since I was free, I volunteered my services at the USOC. I did a good job there, and the next thing I know, it turned into a job offer.

MR: Can you comment on the importance of networking in the sports industry?

DF: Networking is probably the most important thing you can do in the sports industry. Whether you are looking for a job or just looking to make connections, it is such a key process. It is true that nothing may come immediately from newer connections. However, you might turn to someone down the road for his or her help on a project you are working on. You just never know when job opportunities will arise out of connections you turn to in a time of need. After all, I landed my first job as a result of networking.

MR: Can you comment on the importance of mentoring?

DF: Mentoring definitely helps in the sports industry. It’s important to be able to turn to people who are seasoned with experience and have seen all types of issues. When you come across problems you have never seen before in your career, mentors will be there to assist you. It’s comforting to know that I can ask my mentors if they have any thoughts on a problem I am experiencing or any career advice for the path I should take moving forward.

MR: Could you take me through a typical day at work? If no day is typical, what did you do yesterday, or what are you doing tomorrow?

DF: Every day is different. This past Tuesday, we had an event at the State Department with Hillary Clinton. It was a send-off event for the U.S. women’s soccer team as well as a celebration of Title IX for women’s sports. That took up about half of my day. On other typical days, there will be a staff meeting in the morning as well as one or two meetings throughout the rest of the day. Some of the meetings are internal, while others are external. The projects I work on vary from time to time. Currently, I am working on the visa processing for athletes, coaches, and judges who travel to the U.S. for competitions. This entails a lot of phone calls, emails, PowerPoint decks, and proposals.

MR: What is the most rewarding aspect about working in sports?

DF: The most rewarding aspect about working in sports is seeing your product play out either on television or on the field. Sports is a very visible industry. A lot goes on behind the scenes. The public may not see what I do prior to events, but they will get a chance to see the end product. For example, if I see the Russians at a U.S. competition, I can say to myself, “The Russians are here because I helped them get here.” The same thing goes for people who work for franchises when they see people in the stands. Everyone gets excited about seeing his or her finished product in action.

11. If you had to give advice to someone looking to break into the sports industry, what would it be?

Be flexible in your approach to working in sports. Don’t feel like you have to work in a specific area of the business right away. You can always break into the industry through one door and move on to a different department later within the same or different company.

In the meantime, talk to as many people as you can who work in sports to see if you would like to do what they do. Do not just focus on the more well-known jobs in sports. There are a lot of lesser-known jobs out there that might just be a great fit for you.

12. What do you do for fun when you are not at the office?

Outside of work, I still enjoy playing sports, whether it is basketball, tennis, bike riding, running, etc. If there’s a field and a ball, I will find others to play with.

As I promised in my previous post about mentoring, I want to help you find your first mentor in sports. You need someone to help you navigate your career as you look to break into the industry. Like I said in a prior post, going at it alone in sports is not easy and will often yield undesirable results.

There are really two ways you can latch on to a mentor in sports. You can either be assigned one, or you can actively seek out a mentor. For me, I was fortunate enough to have joined the McDonough School of Business’s Alumni Mentor Program during my sophomore year. I indicated my interest in sports, and the next thing I know I was paired up with Rachel Mech, a former Hoya who co-founded ProVentures, a sports marketing firm. I just kind of fell into this relationship and am fortunate enough to have maintained it.

The much more common way to find a mentor in sports is to ask someone. While this might seem awkward to some, you would be surprised how willing people might be to help you out. Remember, they were all once in your shoes. Below are some of my recommendations for things you can do before asking someone to be your mentor:

1. Tap into your existing network to see who has gone on to work in sports. That includes your family’s network as well as both your high school and college alumni networks. LinkedIn would be extremely helpful for this step. This is a good starting point since you know you will have at least two things in common with these people: education and a passion to work in sports. If you networks are pretty dry, choose people in the business who you admire and think would be great mentors.

2. Collect as much information about these sports professionals in your networks as you can. Depending on the strength of your schools’ alumni networks, you may or may not find a large list to work from. Regardless of how many people are on your list, be sure look for as many similarities to a particular person as you can.

3. Start to narrow down your list of potential mentors according to their specific expertise in sports. Prioritize based on what part of the industry most intrigues you.

4. Reach out to these people and see if they would be willing to meet with you. Make sure to write them a very personalized email or handwritten letter that expresses interest in what they do. At the end, ask if he or she would be willing to meet for coffee or an informational interview. Impress them with your research and make them want to get to know you.

5. Follow up with those who respond positively. Make a good first impression when you meet them. Continue to stay in touch and build a relationship. You would be surprised how many of these people will want to extend a helping hand. If you play your cards right and take a genuine interest in these people, they will practically be asking you to be their mentee. Hopefully, they take you under their wing.

If you follow these 5 steps carefully and sincerely commit yourself to finding an ideal mentor, I believe you will experience nothing but success. Good luck!

Nobody likes to be told “no.” It’s just not a good feeling. Facing rejection is something that occurs frequently in the sports industry, whether it happens to students like you who are looking to break into sports or sports professionals who are pursuing new business opportunities.

Thinking about rejection reminds me of a quote that you probably have heard before,”It’s not how many times you fall; it’s how many times you get back up.” Like a boxer who gets knocked down in a fight, you have to be willing to have the strength to get back up and give it another go. Otherwise, you will be pushed out of the industry by your competition.

I know that you are not going to like to here the following, but it is true. “You will get rejected, probably multiple times, before landing an internship and/or job in sports.” It’s happened to me and even to the most successful industry executives. Getting rejected is just a harsh reality that you have to accept to make it in sports. Very rarely in this world are things handed to you. Rather than run away from it, rejection should be a motivating factor for you to prove yourself in this industry, especially to the company who did not wish to employ your services.

One of the most important lessons I learned about embracing rejection was from former Georgetown Hoya, Bradley Cooper. I am talking about the same Bradley Cooper who starred in the box office comedy The Hangover. Last fall, he came back to school to speak to the students. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to see him impart his words of Hollywood wisdom to a packed audience. The Georgetown employee conducting the interview asked Bradley for a piece of career advice he could leave his fans with. He talked about the “willingness to fail” and how it allowed him to accomplish goals that he never thought were possible. In other words, if you are not willing to set yourself up for rejection, you are never going to get where you want to go in life. Take chances. Put yourself out there. And in the wise words of Ben Sturner, “NO is just the first two letters of “NOt yet.”

Kelty Carpenter

With my second interview under my belt, I noticed a pretty cool observation. Despite asking the same set of questions in Expert Interview with Kelty Carpenter: A Good Attitude Goes a Long Way, the responses she gave me painted a picture unique to her life experiences. Her answers differed from those of Ben Sturner because they often tackled the questions from a different angles. As long as I continue to gain meaningful insights from my standard set of questions, I will keep them in tact. From Kelty Carpenter, Programming Coordinator at ESPN, we learned the following:

1. Pursuing a graduate degree in sports management can be a great launching pad into the industry, especially if you lack contacts or studied liberal arts subjects as an undergraduate.

2. Not everyone plans to work in sports initially. Sometimes you just fall into it. Embrace opportunities when they present themselves throughout your career.

3. Blessings can come in disguise given the way Kelty landed her job at ESPN.

4. Always be prepared for whatever is thrown at you given the circumstances.

5. Protect your reputation vigorously. Be cautious today for the sake of your future.

6. People want to help you out with your career by becoming your mentor. Take advantage of this fact. Meeting for coffee might just be the first step in forming long, productive relationships.

7. Have a good attitude about everything you do. It’s one of the few things you can control that has the capability of taking your career to the next level. Don’t forget to smile!

Kelty Carpenter

                                                  

After tapping into the sports marketing side of the business with my first interviewee, Ben Sturner, I wanted to change things up a bit by going corporate. I decided to reach out to Kelty Carpenter, a first year employee at ESPN. Kelty and I met this past March at the annual Sports Events Marketing Experience (SEME) conference held in Washington, DC. She was so down-to-earth when I met her, and we have stayed in touch since. I thank Kelty for agreeing to do this interview.

Michael Riley (MR): What is your official job title? 

Kelty Carpenter (KC): I am the Programming Coordinator for Major League Baseball (MLB), Little League World Series (LLWS), and our motorsports programming, including NASCAR.

MR: Where did you go to college as an undergraduate? What was your major(s)/minor(s)?

KC: I attended Wake Forest University (Go Deacs!). I was an English major and a Journalism minor, not exactly your typical background for working in sports.

MR: Did you pursue an advanced degree(s) to further market yourself to the sports industry? If so, please elaborate.

KC: Yes, I received my master’s from Georgetown University’s Sports Industry Management (SIM) program. I pursued this degree solely for the purpose of landing a job in sports. At the time, I really did not have any industry contacts.

MR: When did you know that you wanted to “break into sports? Was there one specific moment that you can recall when you knew you had to work in sports? Was it an industry you always saw yourself working in? Or did you just kind of fall into it?

KC: To be honest, I did not see myself working in sports at all. In fact, I really was not sure of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In college, I became a much bigger sports fan then when I was a kid. Sports were always a popular topic of discussion amongst my friends. Even though I worked a perfectly good job at a design firm prior to breaking into sports, I was not happy or fulfilled. I could not see myself doing what I was doing for the rest of my life.

A real defining moment for me was when my boss at the design firm asked me what an unassisted triple play was after he witnessed one the night before. After I described it to him, he saw how passionate I was about sports. He said to me, “Why are you working here? Do what you love to do.” As a result of that conversation, I applied to Georgetown’s SIM program, where I took classes at night while still keeping my job at the design firm.

MR: How many internships did you participate in before you landed your first job? Where did you intern?

KC: I participated in two internships before landing my first job. One was at Big Lead Sports, a leading online sports property. The other was at Sirius Satellite Radio, where I interned in the Sports Programming department. Georgetown’s program helped me get my foot in the door for both of these experiences.

MR: How did you land your first job in sports?

KC: It’s actually a pretty random and long story, but I will give you the abridged version. After finishing my master’s degree, I applied to a whole bunch of sports jobs. While interviewing for a job in Atlanta, I received an email from ESPN about coming in to interview for a job. It turns out that when I sent my resume to my best friend, she passed it along to a friend of hers who worked in HR at a company in Hartford. After reviewing my resume, this friend of a friend thought I might be a good candidate for a job at ESPN. She forwarded my resume to her friend in ESPN HR, and the next thing I know I get an email from my current boss’s assistant. I got the job offer the same day that I interviewed.

MR: Can you comment on the importance of networking in the sports industry?

KC: Networking is not the most important thing you could do while working in sports, but it is certainly one of them. You must be prepared because you never know what is going to come your way. I had no idea that ESPN would want to interview me, but I am glad I was prepared for it when it happened. It is also important to remember how small the sports industry is. A lot of people you talk to frequently end up knowing the same executives that you do.

As a side note, it is vital to protect your reputation vigorously. Don’t do anything that you would not want repeated twenty years from now. Be careful with things as simple as your Facebook pictures. You never know when stuff in your past will get back to you. Keep private things to yourself.

You can network all day, but the bottom line is that people have to like you. Keep in touch with people to have a leg up on other students trying to break into sports.

MR: Can you comment on the importance of mentoring?

KC: Mentoring is a very overlooked element of a career in sports. In graduate school at Georgetown, there were some professors who I looked to for advice. Here at ESPN, I have also taken on a few informal mentors. I really find the whole mentor-mentee relationship interesting because people genuinely want to help you. Do not be afraid to take advantage of that. There are a lot of things in life that people will not want to help you with, but mentoring is an exception. Do everything you can to get older, more experienced professionals to assist you now and throughout your career.

I hope to join ESPN’s formal mentoring program, which I have not yet applied for in my first year here. In terms of developing mentors, it never hurts to ask people to get coffee once a month. You would be surprised by how many people enjoy doing that. The best thing about it is that people love to talk about themselves! This will make it a lot easier on you as you seek out mentors.

MR: Could you take me through a typical day at work? If no day is typical, what did you do yesterday, or what are you doing tomorrow?

KC: You are right. No day is the same, but that’s something that I really love about working in sports. Today, I arrived at 7:30 a.m., which is a lot earlier than normal. There was a department meeting from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. This is a very informal meeting in which we exchange ideas, talk about headlines, and share information. I love how candid these meetings are. For the rest of the day, I mostly worked on a deck for an upcoming negotiation. I aggregated the necessary materials from various departments including marketing, finance, ratings, and distribution. I also helped put together rating grids for motorsports properties as well as helping prepare the audio summary for the U.S. Open golf tournament.

Despite all of this activity, the best part of my day is how much fun it is to work at ESPN. I laugh every day.

MR: What is the most rewarding aspect about working in sports?

C:  For me, the most rewarding aspect is getting up every day and loving what I do. I am genuinely happy to be at ESPN all the time. I enjoy going to work-related events, even if I have to give up my weekend. Waking up every day and being happy to go to work is an irreplaceable feeling.

MR: If you had to give advice to someone looking to break into the sports industry, what would it be?

KC: Have a good attitude about everything you do. Your attitude really has so much to do with the way you do your job. The right attitude will lead to better results. People will like you more, and you will go further in your career because of it. Make sure you accompany your good attitude with a genuine smile. These are two things that you can control, so you might as well use them to your advantage.

Another piece of advice would be to try get away from any sense of entitlement you might have. Instead, focus on doing really good work. Try not to always think about what comes next in your career because your time will come.

Lastly, be nice to people both above and below you. Your boss will be more patient when you make mistakes, and your coworkers will work harder for you.

MR: What do you do for fun when you are not at the office?

KC: Outside of the office, I have a pretty simple lifestyle. I enjoy hanging out with friends, barbecuing, and going to concerts. Most importantly, I love spending time with my family.

As I alluded to in my earlier post Did You Say…..”Networking?”, just knowing someone in the sports industry is not going to cut it these days. The only exception might be a family friend who you have already established some kind of rapport with. Let’s face it. Most kids trying to break into sports do not have such a connection.

However, you might think you “know” someone in sports just because you collected their business card and sent them a generic email once. If that email had an eye-catching subject line, there is a good chance that your new contact responded to whatever your inquiry was. To you, it might seem like you “know” someone who works in sports, but to your contact, you are just some kid who they met and helped out once. This is where I like to say, “You separate the men from the boys.” Most students would stop the relationship here and revert to that contact only when they needed something from them. At the point, your contact is likely to have forgotten about you and may not even respond.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay in touch with members of your professional network, especially those fortunate enough to work in sports. To have a contact “know you,” you have to check in with them from time to time. I try to do so once a month if I can. You are probably thinking to yourself, “What is something interesting that I have to say that they would want to hear?” It might feel awkward or forced at first, but you have to take a genuine interest in that person’s life. Ask them how they are doing. Google them and their company so you have something relevant to say. Make them want to get back to you. If you can keep the conversation going and connect with the person on a level beyond sports, that is what counts. That person will remember you, and you will become an active member of their professional network. You are what author Harvey Mackay says, “digging your well before you’re thirsty.”