My Cool Sports Job

Stories from sport industry professionals

By Brett Fuller, My Cool Sports Job

Mike Bucek
Mike Bucek, Kansas City Royals

Academia gives a student the tools to succeed, but how one utilizes the tools creates the level of success for graduates. Preparing for that dream career or dream job in some cases is the easy part, and upon graduation everyone needs that first break or bit of luck to make it in the sports industry. What if successful people in the sports industry had an outlet to share their career wisdom?

Throughout my career, I have always enjoyed guest lecturing, mentoring and doing countless number of informational interviews. In some ways, I find it inspiring to know how hungry the next generation is to get into this wonderful career of sports. The genesis for the idea about a blog about cool sports jobs all started one evening last winter while guest lecturing for the Sports Adminstration program at Ohio University. I think the exact quote was, “Dude, you know everyone and have tons of contacts, you should start a blog and interview people on our behalf.” The students implored me to use my connections and access to tell the stories of successful people in the sports industry and, more importantly, how they got from point A to point Z. It is easy for students and young grads to imagine that dream job, but understanding the path and appreciating all of the zigs and zags is a whole different game. Of course, it goes without saying that any advice a young person can obtain for breaking into the industry (and maybe just as important being successful once they have caught the first break) is invaluable. My goal for the blog is to share stories from those that have succeeded and pay it forward.

I have been fortunate to be a part of the sports industry for 20+ years and in a crazy variety of roles. My career has touched many people and many industries and I have been blessed to bounce different directions. When I graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Economics, I never expected to work for the Sprint corporate sponsorship group activating major properties like the NFL, U.S. Ski Team, or the PGA of America. Somehow, that led to sports marketing jobs with the largest architecture firm in the world and an industry-leading concessionaire. Being a huge believer in giving back and karma, I have always enjoyed mentoring, guest lecturing and trying to help the next generation of sports industry experts break into the world that can be so enjoyable.

Christian Elias, green monster scoreboard operator

Some question why I find it necessary to stay in touch with every person I have ever met in life, but I find it very beneficial. Once I committed to starting a blog about “cool” sports jobs, it was critical to have a strong network of friends and colleagues scattered about the industry. I felt it was important to interview a wide variety of people within the industry to appeal to a wide audience of students with a wide spectrum of dreams. The blog is broken up into categories so it is easy to search within collegiate, professional sports and goods & service providers. Hopefully, the blog has both inspired and motivated folks to realize those dream jobs are possible; maybe it has even provided a road map on how to reach that destination. It can be tough to break into the sports industry, where every job is in extremely high demand, so hearing authentic stories from real people doing real jobs was the main focus of the blog. My hope is there is a piece of advice or a quote that makes a small difference who read the blog. As Tom Bowen, AD at the University of Memphis likes to say, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; life is about learning how to dance in the rain.”

Debate: Internships

Internships: Framing the Conversation

By Mike OdioUniversity of Cincinnati

The past few years have brought many issues surrounding internships to the forefront of the public consciousness. However, much like the controversies involving the amateur status of student-athletes in the NCAA, the prevailing conversation seems to ainternship2lways revolve around whether interns are entitled to compensation. Although important for many reasons, the topic of compensation tends to draw away from the other issues existing in each system. This often turns discussions into a frivolous debate on whether the youth have become too entitled rather than addressing the balance of power in these contexts and the vulnerability of amateur athletes or sport management students, who are advised to repeatedly work for free while networking and guarding their reputation.

In addition to an ongoing debate on compensation, amateurism and internships share several historical similarities. Internships, like amateurism, stem from a 19th century concept that has been borrowed and adapted from its original source. Also like amateurism, internships benefit the privileged and assigned inferior status to those not in power. While I am not advocating for the eradication of amateurism or internships, I believe studying the history of each of these helps to frame the conversations and bring forward the underlying issues that must be addressed. It helps us understand that many of these issues are not new and not unique to our domain. The past few years have seen momentum growing for changing the NCAA’s definition of amateurism, but we in the field of sport management have not been quite as proactive when it comes to internships.

internThe idea of a student performing closely supervised work as part of their training has been enthusiastically adopted by other fields in the 20th century. However, surveying the use of the term internship across professions makes the definition of an internship difficult to peg. This lack of standardization often leads to great opportunities for forward-thinking and creative people who can offer to become an intern for an organization that is not hiring, but it also limits progress in many ways.

Doctoral internships in psychology are rigidly structured with mandates on content and the number of hours a week a student must receive didactic supervision and much more. On the other hand, the term is used by many organizations in politics, journalism, fashion, media, and sport as a temporary or flexible position or as an extended recruitment and selection process with no consistent standards as far as university involvement, duration, number of hours per week, role of the site supervisor, or expected outcomes. Without some amount of standardization any conversation about internships, practicum, field experiences, fellowships, residencies, or any other long-term experiential learning will be inherently limited.

However, as evidenced by the reports of abuse, discrimination and harassment in the medical field, the standardization of internship criteria alone would not resolve many of the issues potentially facing interns in the sport industry. Fortunately, there have been some changes at the local level, and movement at the federal level to protect unpaid interns from some of the abuses since they do not benefit from the protections of employment law. But paid or not, all interns are still vulnerable in other ways.

We, as a field, must begin to evaluate our participation in the process, both through our offering of course credit for internships and our direct relationship with organizations that offer not-for-credit internships that keep people bouncing from organization to organization trying to “break in” to the industry. This conversation may involve the question of compensation, but it should be more comprehensive. We should question all of our practices and assumptions involving why we have internships and how they are operated. And most importantly, whether we strive for some sort of standardization or not, we should be sure to aim for an ethical system that acknowledges the position students and graduates are in when they sign up for an internship.