How to break into the sports industry: From industry leaders

On Friday, October 24, the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship and the Department of Athletics hosted Case Western Reserve’s inaugural Sports Entrepreneurship Conference. The event welcomed a schedule of impressive industry leaders who touched on topics from sports technology and marketing, to management and consulting. Speakers shared on how they’ve broken barriers while discovering new ways to shake up the sports industry and of course, sharing how they got to where they are now, providing advice to interested students, regardless of the industry they are seeking to enter. Here were the highlights: 

1. Network. 

The advice is as old as time. A phrase students hear time and time again, network! Nearly every speaker touched on the importance of making connections and using those connections to launch your career. Here are just a few. 

“Virtually every job that I’ve taken… has come through people I know.” Jennifer Rottenberg, chief marketing officer of Fan Controlled Football, said. 

“Network. Network. Network,” Bianca Smith, first African-American female, minor league coach of the Boston Red Sox, said. “Start at your university… reach out to alumni.”

2. Show how you can add value.

Mark Shapiro, president and CEO, Toronto Blue Jays, former Cleveland Indians general manager and president, told students to differentiate themselves from the massive resume pool. How to do that? He said, “add value”, suggesting that students should study and understand the characteristics and attributes of the decision makers who have the power to hire you! 

    3. Build your brand.

    Joe Nahra (LAW ‘98), SVP, Legal and Business Affairs, Oak View Group and former staff counsel, NFL Players Association and Carlos Fleming, partner and sports talent group head at Endeavor dove into the very popular topic of college athlete compensation. Their advice for student athletes looking to be sponsored? “Building your brand is huge,” Nahra said. “You can maybe not be the star athlete but your social media presence can make money.”

    4. Connect your passion with your skills.

    Jimmy Buffi, co-founder of Reboot Motion, a biomechanics company, dedicated to helping coaches improve athlete performance, shared the moment he realized he could bring all of his interests together and create his dream job through entrepreneurship. “I love sports, I love mechanics, I love biomechanics, this is how I can connect it all,” he said. 

      Matt Campagna, co-founder and CEO of Reflexion, highlighted the personal life experiences that inspired the origins of his company: “[My co-founder] suffered a very severe concussion and was sidelined for months with that. So, from that point on….we became very passionate about cognitive performance and wellness in athletics.”

      5. Form strong relationships along the way.

      Lisa Levine, president of Sports Media Consulting at ZONE gave crystal clear advice for college students looking to start their career: “Focus on two things: One, do something you’re passionate about. And two, just go about life and your work with some awareness of who you meet.”

      6. Understand how to navigate a saturated industry.

      Bianca Smith (MGT/LAW ‘17), minor league coach of the Boston Red Sox, faced the question, “Is there too much tech in sports?” And her answer provided valuable insight on how to enter a saturated industry and make waves. “A lot of people aren’t going to like this answer, but yes. It’s how you use technology that matters.”