by Beth Barbee
What if your job was to entertain athletes at the All-Star Game? Or if you could finally bring your team’s mascot into the 21st Century? Or you got paid to talk sports all day? These are dream job scenarios for many. For this handful of Baylor Business alumni, it’s just another day at the ballpark. A career in professional sports is fast-paced, alluring and exciting. Sports stars are no longer just celebrity heroes, but become colleagues and friends. As these Bears soon found, there’s a lot more to it than high-fives and hot dogs.
“It is a lot of behind-the-scenes work and it’s not as glamorous as people think,” says Jason Weaver, BBA 2004 and account executive for the Dallas Mavericks. “There is a very large time commitment during the season. Depending on the sport, you can work anywhere from 60 to 90 hours per week. This can become very taxing over the course of several months.”
“The unsociable hours of many of the roles in the sports industry can be troublesome for maintaining a balance in your life,” agrees London-based Clive Russell, BBA 1990 and director, Europe, Middle East and Africa for Major League Baseball. “When you think about working for a Major League Baseball club with its 81 home dates, mostly in the evening and on the weekends – particularly in the summer, which is probably the best time for holidays for families, it can be a really difficult to maintain that balance. Working for the league, my challenge is not around home games, but international travel.”
“To be successful, I also have to work hard and put in a lot of hours, so it can be a lot of time away from my family,” echoed Colin Faulkner, BBA 1998 and vice president of ticket sales for the Dallas Stars Hockey Club. “Fortunately my wife is very understanding. She’d probably rather me be at work a few extra hours than home for those hours, but complaining about my job.”
And who can complain about a job where traveling for work isn’t another conference in Cleveland, but Stanley Cup road games; or where your event planning duties aren’t stakeholder dinners, but Opening Day promotions.
Heather Hansen, BBA 2003, dreams of someday working in her favorite sport – hockey, but for now, definitely appreciates her unique situation and says the atmosphere is the best part of her job as coordinator of nightly suite sales for the Texas Rangers.
“How many people can say they go to work everyday in a ballpark? Also, most of the people I work with are fun and laid back, which adds a lot to the work experience.”
Getting to talk sports all day is a main draw for newly appointed Vice President of Marketing for the Houston Rockets and Comets, John Dillon, BBA 1993.
“But more than that, within the sports industry we have an amazing ability to connect with the public and make a real difference in people’s lives. People use sports as a social outlet, and people love coming to games, watching games and even talking about games. They love the diversion and the entertainment – we’re an escape of sorts. We can bring a smile to people’s faces. And most importantly, we have the resources to reach out to the community here and help make a difference with our programs to help improve the quality of life for Houston residents. That’s a wonderful aspect of this job.”
Weaver agrees and feels the personal interaction with the customers and hearing about their positive experiences is the key appeal of the job, he also certainly enjoys the energy of being part of a team.
“My first job was with the Frisco Rough Riders, the Texas Rangers AA Affiliate. In my first season with the team, we won the Texas League Championship – our form of the World Series. It was very exciting to be a part of a championship organization. They are a very classy and well managed organization. I learned a great deal from my experience there.”
Faulkner also enjoys the team aspect. “To me, the most appealing part is, like our team on the ice, we have a great team off the ice. I enjoy being part of a team and I approach my job much like our coach or general manager approach their jobs. I enjoy building our team, evaluating our performance, making adjustments when necessary and always looking for ways to make us more successful. The most rewarding part of that process is seeing the results of our hard work on a day to day basis. Winning another Stanley Cup would be nice too.”
Hansen prizes the pre-game rituals that staff takes part in. On Opening Day, the sales department stands under the press box to watch the pre-game festivities.
“It was very patriotic and there was an awesome flyover. It just felt really neat to be a part of it all,” she said.
For Russell, the product – the game of baseball – is his main motivation.
“I enjoy it and believe in completely, so when I go out to sell or represent it – it’s not the latest widget or product extension that I have to get someone excited about, but something I genuinely want people to enjoy. Therefore, I get both the buzz of a sale and then the joy of knowing I will be exposing people to the greatest American sport. Finally, as the entertainment industry is at the forefront of media development, the industry is ever-changing and exciting,” he says.
That ever-changing and exciting entertainment component creates many trials for the business of professional sports.
“I’m in my second month here, so I’m still learning,” says Dillon who finds the complexity of the behind-the-scenes professional basketball fascinating. “With games played every day, we’re marketing a product that evolves every day, within an industry that changes every day.”
He draws from his ten years of ‘traditional’ marketing experience at Yum Brands/Pizza Hut when dealing with the world of sports. “In the sports industry there are so many different elements of your brand that the consumer sees. Everybody has an opinion about your brand and your product. People like to dissect your product like no other industry. They’re talking about it in the newspaper, on the radio, at work, at home. And with every win or loss, your product literally changes. Your product is incredibly visible. The challenge is developing your brand and staying consistent with where you want your brand to go while dealing with the changes around you. That’s what we’re looking to do in Houston and we’re setting a great foundation for it now.”
Not only do wins and losses change your product and marketing strategy, but so do outside influences around the league. Faulkner has faced these kinds of complex marketing dilemmas in Dallas, both relocating the Stars and their fans from Reunion Arena to American Airlines Center and experiencing last season’s lockout.
“They were both very challenging experiences, but I found that going through those challenges helped me learn, grow and develop character,” Faulkner said.
In Russell’s position of bringing baseball to other parts of the world, he must bridge numerous cultural gaps. In fact, his region covers over 75 countries with nearly as many languages and cultural differences. Although the formation of the European Union and one currency for the majority simplifies many previous issues, he explains his secret “being a European by birth and having a life-long love for the primary “sports’ currency” in Europe – football (Americans will call it soccer) helps tremendously in my industry because it allows both sides to have a reference point and always have a topic of conversation.”
One unexpected challenge is how your perception of sports changes once you are involved in the field, according to Russell.
“People generally get into the sports industry because they are fans. It changes in two specific ways. First, after attending major events regularly, the impact of going to a specific game is much less exciting, so every event is less special. The second is that once you have been a part of the background of an event and you know the operations, broadcast and sponsorship issues, you pay far more attention to how things are being executed – ticketing, crowd safety issues, where sponsorship signage is being placed and who is buying it, camera positions, etc. You rarely attend an event as just a fan anymore.”
Don’t get them wrong, it’s not all long hours and hardships, working in sports definitely has it upsides.
In fact, when the photos for this feature were shot, Dillon was readying Houston for the NBA All-Star weekend, Hansen was preparing to entertain some of her clients in Florida during Spring Training, Faulkner was lacing up his skates for a little friendly inner-company hockey tournament and Weaver was anxiously awaiting the night’s game between the Mavs and Lakers.
And the plusses for Russell? “One of my friends in banking just paid £11,000 (a little over $19,000) for World Cup Final tickets and I got mine for free and they are much better seats, so there are perks as well.”
Baylor Business Review, Spring 2006