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.