The Business of Sports: Exploring Opportunities for Business Students in the Sports Industry

Seattle is becoming a major player in the professional sports industry with the recent additions of the Seattle Dragons XFL team and the Seattle Kraken NHL team. With this growth we have seen an increasing interest from Foster students about possible career paths for business students in the sports industry. To help Foster students explore this industry, Inaayat Gill (Foster student and Peer Coach at Foster Career Services) recently sat down with Mackenzie Warfield, a 2019 Foster and Professional Sales Certificate graduate, to learn more about her experience recruiting and networking within the sports industry.

Mackenzie is currently an Inside Sales Executive for the NBA’s LA Clippers and has previously had internships as a Junior Sales Representative for the Boston Red Sox, an Inside Sales Intern for UW’s Intercollegiate Athletics, and a Community Relations Intern for the San Diego Padres. Mackenzie grew up around sports in a very baseball-oriented family. Her parents were huge San Diego Padres fans who passed their love for the team and the sport on to her. “I loved sports so much and so why would I not want to be around that atmosphere every day? I feel like every department within a team and an organization has some role to play in making people happy while they’re enjoying sports and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Continue reading to learn more about Mackenzie’s time in the industry and her tips and tricks for recruiting, networking, and interviewing in the sports world…

What does networking in the sports industry look like?

Unlike more traditional industries like accounting and consulting where recruiters come to campus and host networking events for Foster students, most of the networking in the sports world has to be self driven. Mackenzie had to reach out to her personal contacts and to professionals through LinkedIn, and utilized the sports industry specific jobs platform Teamwork Online in order to maximize the number of connections she was able to build.

“It was a lot of LinkedIn and a lot of using my contacts. I grew up going to a lot of San Diego Padres games and my dad is a big talker and ended up in contact with the Assistant GM. I was able to use this relationship to get in the door with the Padres and from there it was just making connections and asking people for recommendations and advice. I met with people across multiple different departments within organizations and tried to pick their brains. Networking in the sports industry can be discouraging because you have to do a lot of the work yourself but there are so many opportunities to build relationships if you’re willing to put yourself out there.”

Additionally she noted that while “there are a lot of sports networking events and conferences, even in pre-pandemic times a lot of them are virtual because teams want to be able connect with students across the country.” Finally, she stressed that while networking in the industry can feel daunting, she thinks it’s actually easier than it would be for many other industries because at the end of the day you always have your love for sports in common to connect over. “At the end of the day you’re just talking about sports and talking about something you both really enjoy.”

While the sports industry can seem big, it’s actually incredibly small and connections are vital. Mackenzie shared her personal experience with the importance of connections in landing her current role with the LA Clippers. “I had a job lined up in sales with the LA Dodgers following graduation, and then when the pandemic hit and the teams weren’t allowed fans, there obviously wasn’t anyone to sell tickets to. However, the Dodgers actually ended up putting me in contact with the Clippers organization when they started hiring for Sales roles and that’s how I was able to get my current role.”

Where do you find job and internship opportunities in the sports industry?

The platforms for finding opportunities are similar to the ones for networking. Mackenzie pointed to three main routes she used for finding roles: 

  • Teamwork Online – Teamwork Online is a sports specific job board that posts hundreds of roles across all different sports and leagues.
  • LinkedIn – LinkedIn is another great platform for finding roles across the industry. Mackenzie gave some tips for maximizing LinkedIn’s capabilities: “I’d recommend following the MLB, NBA, and NFL, or whatever other leagues you’re interested in. Once you’re following the league, you’ll get notifications when new jobs are posted for any teams within them. From here you can get a better idea of what roles are available.”
  • Utilizing the Pipeline – “In my experience, organizations in the sports world often keep a pipeline. Some organizations will even send an email out to their pipeline notifying them of new opportunities. Using LinkedIn you can get a good idea of who might be a good person in an organization’s HR department to get in contact with and reach out and say ‘Should you have any new job opportunities posted in the future, I think I’d be a great candidate and here is my resume. Please keep me in your pipeline should you have any job openings and I’ll continue to apply as new opportunities are posted.’”

Mackenzie noted that sales, which is the department that she is in, is a common entry point for recent graduates trying to start out in the sports industry. “Straight out of college the most common entry point is definitely sales. It’s an area that has constant turnover because they want to bring you in and see what you can do and they want to promote you pretty much right away and you’re able to get your foot in the door, meet some people, learn what you like, and potentially move around from there.” She noted that in deciding to pursue sales roles, her experience in the Foster Sales Program was a big driver. “I was networking within the industry and I’d be reading about an executive and look at their prior experience and see that they had started out in a sales role at the beginning of their career.”

Another entry point that has growing interest is analytics. “While some schools offer a Sports Analytics or Sports Marketing degree, which can give candidates a leg up, the most important qualifications they are often looking for is a knowledge of languages like Python or SQL so really understanding these programming languages and different databases will make you a much stronger applicant for analytics roles. I was able to take advantage of the day long SQL training offered through the Foster Career Center and wish I had spent more time understanding these different languages.”

What does the interview process look like?

Mackenzie stressed that one thing that’s unique is that group interviews are incredibly common and that is something applicants are often surprised about and unprepared for. “There are a lot of group interviews and that’s something I think a lot of people do not expect and don’t have much experience with. Nearly every single one of my interviews for positions in the Sports Industry has been a group interview. Prepare for this and learn how you can stand out while still being respectful and personable while trying to beat out the other people in your interview group for the job.”

Any final pieces for advice for students looking to get their foot in the door in the sports industry?

“Just because you grew up loving a specific team, do not limit yourself only to that team. One of the best pieces of advice I got was that you’re not working for the team, you’re working for an organization so make sure that you like the organization even if you don’t like the team. Additionally, it’s important to understand that when you’re inside an organization it looks different than when you’re a fan and that’s okay.”

Finally, Mackenzie shared some good news for those for those hoping to break into the sports industry: “As teams are able to bring their fans back into stadiums and arenas, a lot of organizations are going to start hiring over the next couple of months so now is a perfect time to keep your eye out for opportunities.”

Post Written by: Inaayat Gill, Student Peer Coach