Jul 30, 2009 at 01:45 PM
written by Jim Loria

Careers: Getting Your Foot in the Door

It's tough to get a job in any industry right now, let alone the sports and sponsorship industry. One of the many questions I’ve constantly received over the years is “what advice would you give me to get a job in the sports business?” Have you thought about how you can backdoor your way in?

If you are one of those currently looking for a job, don’t discount the impact that you can have by working with a charitable organization. I would venture to say that if you research the top ranked non-profit groups in your city, each more than likely has a working relationship with a pro (or minor league) sports team as a fundraising anchor!

Here’s the secret: Many of those sports team organizations are also paying close attention to the management and staffs of those non-profit groups. As pro sports team scouts scour the country uncovering prospects for their employers, the same happens from the business operations side of things. We all constantly keep our eyes open for that next “sales star” or “front office executive”. Who is that next revenue generator? I can tell you that from my experience, I’ve always looked to my top local charitable groups first when hiring before exploring out of town contacts.

In each new city I’ve moved into, I will spend considerable time researching the charities and their board of directors to see who are the fundraising players in my market. I’ll look to see who’s connected to what corporations and top businesses. In order for my team’s fundraising efforts to work, I’ll also need to have strong working relationships with the charity group’s management and staff. These relationships will become as close to me as the one’s I’ve developed over time with my corporate team partners. Again, by you joining a reputable charity organization, what better way to network and showcase your skills to all of the sports clubs in your market area! Depending on your position, you can double and triple your opportunities to meet key business leaders in your community. Like an athlete that puts his/her skills on display before the pro scouts, you are doing the same to the sports team decision makers, who, each year are keeping an eye on desirable candidates to fill front office positions when vacancies arise!

From an executive team position, my philosophy is “why go through an ad search to find your next front office star” when there’s a solid talent pool waiting to be recruited from a top flight charitable organization right in your own local market! Every day these unknown business stars work the phones better than most, set up meetings with CEO’S and top city executives frequently, have the unique ability to motivate thousands of supporters, they create and execute special events, possess phenomenal people skills and contain outstanding leadership skills! Why wouldn’t I scout out these prospects and bring them onto my management team!!

On the flip side, I have experienced the same process - as stated above - in which a charitable group reached in and recruited away one of my young staffers! Here in Sioux Falls, SD; this person first came to me as an intern from a local college. She was a sophomore and a Fitness Management major at the time. My intern volunteered 5-hours a day for the club in the beginning, doing basic office duties like answering the phones, handling all mailings and answered charity donation requests until we gained confidence in her work skills. Her talents were obvious and we hired this person full time upon graduating from college. Soon her responsibilities grew and she was taking on all forms of sales, working our community programs, handling special events and organizing the game operations. As my staffer grew into the job, I could see that her biggest strengths were “ability to organize events”, “people skills”, “follow through” and a love for “special projects”. What I didn’t know was that our city’s two leading charitable organizations were both recruiting my staffer. Four years after she first joined our hockey club, she accepted the position as Special Events Director for a major corporate healthcare organization in Sioux Falls and handled fundraising projects for the hospital’s foundation. It was a job she was perfect for. Played to her strengths and she doubled her salary as a result. Today, she has become a huge success in her job. I couldn’t be more proud of my baby.

Gang, it works. If you seem frustrated because you cannot open doors into the sports business, do explore options to connect with one of your local charitable organizations. Besides, this path will also make you feel great by helping such a worthwhile cause and bringing smiles to thousands of people that need the support of your potential employer!

Jim Loria has over 30 years of sports management experience and for the past 10 years as served as President of the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede. Jim can be reached at loria@sfstampede.com.