The sports bug is hard to shake.
AUSTIN, Texas — If you've loved sports like it's your job since childhood, you've probably thought at least a few times about how to literally make them your job as an adult.
It's a nice idea, but there's a big catch: With so many sports fanatics looking to break into the business, the field is a notoriously competitive one that's extra hard to crack.
Some of the sports industry's rising stars and leading minds are gathered here this weekend for the second annual installment of SX Sports, part of the South by Southwest Interactive festival. Their stories show that there's no one way to crack the business, but they do give some interesting and inspiring examples of how it can be done.
Just like last year, we cornered some sports biz pros at SXSW to find out exactly how they carved out space for themselves in a hyper-competitive field. (Yours truly also shared the same thing with Bleacher Report last spring).
Read on to learn how three pros — Dan Reed of Facebook, Grace Hoy of Arizona State athletics and Kyle Bunch of the R/GA advertising agency — got where they are today. (Interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Dan Reed, head of global sports partnerships at Facebook
Reed is tasked with making Facebook a place where sports fans want to be. He works with athletes, leagues, teams and league partners to help them reach and engage fans on the world's largest social network.
His story, in his own words: I was always a passionate sports fan growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a high school athlete. But I never really thought I could successfully combine that passion for sports with an actual successful career. Coming out of college, I did what a lot people do when they don't know what they want to do: management consulting.
Intellectually, that was fascinating. I learned a lot about business and got to work in about 10 different industries. But I didn't do anything that made me really passionate. So I went to business school from 2002 to 2004. I spent a lot of time there, exploring the different career options that might really stoke my passion. I kept coming back to sports, and realized there are actual career paths there. It almost seemed too good to be true. I also spent a lot of time exploring technology while I was there.
I relentlessly reached out to all the people in my network to have informational conversation and potential opportunities.My first job in sports after business school was to work at the NBA, in their internal business-consulting practice for the league's 30 teams, as well as WNBA and D-League teams. It was a natural fit from my experience as a management consultant, so it offered a great opportunity to apply my functional expertise, and make an entry into sports.Jobs are often network- and referral-based — but that's especially true in sports, so it's important to be on people's radar screens. I quickly learned I needed to understand how media rights, sponsorships and ticket sales work — that this is a multibillion-dollar business, and you need a full understanding.
Then one day [former NBA Commissioner] David Stern called me to his office. I was terrified because I thought I did something wrong, but he offered me the role of president of the NBA Development League. I'd been a consultant all my life and wanted to be an operator, so I jumped at the chance. For seven years, I was president of the D-League, which was an incredible, amazing, transformative experience and we were able to really grow the league.
I was very happy at the NBA, but last year, my wife had a job opportunity that would have required us moving from New York City to the Bay Area. During that time, I also learned about this role at Facebook, and was blown away by its potential. The opportunity to lead the charge on how to best capitalize on Facebook's unprecedented scale in ways to benefit sports fans and our partners was too good to pass up.
Grace Hoy, social media coordinator at Sun Devil athletics
Hoy runs main accounts for Arizona State athletics across eight social media platforms. She also helps guide strategy for the individual accounts of the department's 23 sports.
Her story, in her own words: I was first interested in entertainment marketing; I did an internship for MTV in New York before interning in our athletic department when I was a student at Arizona State University. That got me interested in how marketing and social media can affect sports, and how you can convey narratives over social.
It just so happened that when I was graduating, my boss at the time, who was the social media coordinator, left. So I applied for the job. That was almost two years ago.
It wasn't my goal to have this job originally. I started out as a media relations intern, then moved to social media and just started to love it. I wrote my thesis for our honors college on entertainment marketing to millennials.I think the things that made me stand out were having a personal connection to the fan base as an alum myself, but also that I had relevant experience working in and researching entertainment marketing. A lot of the bigger ideas and themes and strategies carry over. Following industry leaders is what helped me get up to speed for the more specific aspects of the sports world.When I started at the athletic department, I found a lot of the same ideas applied. I started to really love the way you could apply those ideas to communicate with the Sun Devil fan base not only in Arizona, but also all over the world.
Kyle Bunch, managing director of social at R/GA
Bunch oversees social media accounts and relationships at a global level for a wide range of brands looking to reach sports consumers.
His story, in his own words: I actually got started as a sports blogger. I was working at a small agency, just doing digital advertising in the early 2000s after I'd gotten out of school. As your Typepads and WordPresses took off, I noticed that you could can start your own site. I started a few different sites, but the one that stuck was a USC football site because USC was dominant at the time, and there was a big audience for it. My friend and I started this blog calledTrojanWire, and picked up an audience over time.
I started the blog in 2002 or 2003 and applied to R/GA to work on Nike campaigns in 2006, so I tell anybody: If you're trying to break in to sports — or anything, really — and if you're passionate about it, there's no reason to wait for someone to give you a job. You should be proving that passion out, whether it's with a blog or even just a Twitter account. That's kind of how it worked for me, just doing it and learning it myself until the perfect opportunity came along.I'd been learning the ropes of digital agency life and moonlighting in the sports world for a few years. It made me stand out among other candidates. It was like, "Here's a guy with the digital advertising and digital agency background, but who also knows sports and knows how to build something."
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Tags: BUSINESS, COLLEGE SPORTS, English, ENTERTAINMENT, NBA, SPORTS, SXSW 2015