If you have been reading my “If I Was/Were Running A Company…” series, you know I write a lot of case studies and analogies about sports and HR. There is one thing I have not talked about: HR in THE sports industry. Luckily, there was a sports industry conference this past weekend in my neighborhood.
I went the Sports Industry Networking and Career Conference (SINC) at George Washington University and the first things I realize is most of the attendees are students. That reflected on the degree of difficulty on the topics the past two days as this was a learning experience about getting into the sports industry. I also realize the big names who came to SINC were George McPhee of the Washington Capitals, Kevin Payne of D.C. United, Jarvis Green of the Houston Texans, and broadcaster Lou Holder. To be frank, not a lot of big names and I wonder why until I realized on Pardon the Interruption, Michael Wilbon was in Boston for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that same weekend. That did not hinder the event as students just want to get a foot on the door.
My main quibble about SINC is actually about me and that there was no Wi-Fi or 3G signal. It was in a government building so connections are very tough, but with many conferences open it up for live-blogging or live-tweeting, this has become a must. SINC should have done better to open up that and in future events, people would want to share with their networks.
Other than that, here were the main takeaways from SINC:
Sports is a Small Business
The overall point from the conference is that if you want to go into the sports industry, you have to earn it in the beginning. I found somewhat surprising that the sports industry is like working for nonprofits and the government sector in the beginning since you think sports industry; you think a lot of revenue and a bigger pool of money. It doesn’t work that way. The executives, directors, and senior staff do make a decent wage, but entry and mid-level positions are below average. Although the sports industry makes a lot of money, most of the money goes to the professional athletes since they’re the most expensive. So if you want to be in the sports industry, you got to do the grunt work like any other rookie in sports.
10% Sales, 90% Team
This is sales-dominated industry. People in the audience want to be general managers and in order to reach that goal, they must have sales experience. Molly Mullady Arbogast of Learfield Sports mentions in the sports marketing panel discussion, “We are not looking for sports fans, we are looking salespeople.” Like in any other industry, sales bring in revenue to any organization. If you can attract people to an event, then you’re doing your job. However, there is one caveat: it’s the team’s performance that will bring people to events, not salespeople. If the team is winning, sales will boost. If not, salespeople will have a hard time selling out the place. That is why you have a sports operations department and a business department. If the two overlap, then your organization has problems. It’s great you have salespeople, but it’s better you field a winning team to make sales easier.
Sports is a subsection of the Entertainment Industry
The sports industry can be its own section, but if you talk among executives, they do collaborate a lot. A great example is scheduling for sporting events. This takes one or two years in advance to schedule these events and local teams sharing arenas like the Wizards and Capitals have to figure who uses the arena that day. Also, the sports industry does not compete among sports teams in the area, but compete with other entertainment from TV Shows, new movies, and concerts.
Hiring reflects about their brand
The most interested session I wanted to attend was the HR Directors panel. I talked to Rachel Fink, who handles HR for Ripken Baseball and said, “We hire based on Cal Ripken’s values of endurance and integrity.” An interesting note on this session as Ripken Baseball is trying to expand to other sports, so using Cal Ripken’s traits to other sports might bring people to Ripken Baseball because they know the person and what he resembles.
Have a Great Board
The best story I heard from SINC was about Ripken Baseball and how they planned the anticipated economic downturn in 2008. Jeff Eiseman, VP of Sales at Ripken Baseball, told the story of how Ripken Baseball kept their staff during the downturn. Eiseman mention Cal brought a bunch of economists and businesspeople on his advisory board and they did research on the economic trends. Seven months before the hit, the board concluded that an economic downturn is going to happen and Ripken and his staff were strategizing what to do. The last thing they want to do on making cuts was personnel. Ripken Baseball figured out to make cuts while not cutting staff and still stands strong today.
Overall, I really like SINC and would like anyone who wants to go into the sports industry to attend these conferences. However, I do feel it is a one-time event for me since I was observing there and a lot of information is given. If you missed SINC, not to worry as Georgetown has their own sports industry conference in a couple of weeks. In retrospect, the sports industry is like any other industry…they just pay a lot to the real stars of the industry: the athletes.