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Sport Management Careers: Getting Started

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Posted by Mary Beth Erskine on Nov 20, 2014 7:46:00 AM


Three members of Saint Leo’s Sport Business Advisory Council share thoughts on what it takes to have a successful career in sport management.

Saint-Leo-University-OnlineIf you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree or an MBA degree in sport business, and you could sit down with successful professionals in the business, what would you want to know?

How did you break into the industry?
How did you get where you are today?
What advice do you have for landing a job?

On a recent visit to University Campus, three members of the Sport Business Advisory Council in Saint Leo’s  Donald R. Tapia School of Business met with sport business students for a candid discussion about breaking into the industry.

Here are some highlights from that panel discussion with: Mary Milne, vice president-guest experience, Tampa Bay Lightning/Tampa Bay Storm/Amalie Arena; Tony Penna, director of Florida operations, Ted Williams Foundation; and John McDonald, president, Facility Vendor Network.


Mary Milne
Vice President of Guest Experience at Tampa Bay Lightning/Tampa Bay Storm/Amalie Arena

Her career

  • Began her sport business career as head field hockey coach at Ohio University, recruiting, managing and coaching the Division I Intercollegiate Athletic Program.
  • Has worked for the Tampa Bay Lightning for 15 years, starting in a manager-level position overseeing event staff in parking and guest services.
  • She manages the day-to-day execution of any event that takes place in the Amalie Arena, ensuring that every guest (fans, athletes and performers) has a memorable experience.
  • Her current goal is create a world-class guest experience for all guests.
  • To help do that, her job has evolved to include employee training and development to support an employee culture that can deliver a world-class experience.
  • She has the opportunity – and the responsibility – to “dream big” and create new, meaningful programs that will help transform the organization.
  • Creating a great guest experience begins with creating a better employee experience and building a strong employee team. It’s a difficult endeavor given the diverse workforce of 200 permanent staff members and 1,500 part-time employees.
  • Tendency is for front-line staff to be at the bottom of organizational pyramid because they are part time, but she is working to ‘flip’ that concept; these are the folks who deal directly with customers and are most responsible for their overall experience.
  • Teamwork is vital. She is working to improve retention so that the team can become stronger and provide a consistently high-quality experience.


Landing a job in sport management

  • Saint-Leo-University-OnlineHard work and creativity are the two critical ingredients for a successful career in sport management
  • She receives 11,000 resumes a year and recommends limiting your resume to one page with the most impactful information at the top. Be succinct; she will follow-up on details during the interview.
  • Above all else, do not look at your phone during an interview.
  • A personal note after an interview is a definite “wow” factor.
  • In an interview, “Be proud of who you are. Be yourself.” (And don’t slouch.)
  • Be willing to anything and everything. She has always worked hard and she expects the same from others.

Tony Penna ’09
Director of Florida Operations, Ted Williams Foundation

His career

  • Played baseball growing up and decided early that he wanted to work in sports – believe it was a career path that would give him the opportunity to do something different every day.
  • Completed five full-time internships as an undergraduate student at Saint Leo because he was determined to differentiate himself in what he knew would be a highly competitive field.
  • Currently work with Ted Williams Foundation focuses on outreach and education: raising funds to assist charitable organizations that benefit youth programs and scholarships for student-athletes.
  • He travels often to assist professional sports teams’ foundations to raise funds through charity auctions, dinners and 50/50 raffles during games.
  • Charity auctions are “not as easy as they look.” Auctions are a form of marketing so you need to know your audience and what they will be interested in buying at any given game.
  • The best way to get into sport management is to wear as many hats as you can and be willing to do anything that is needed – it’s all great experience.
  • Many times he has been grateful that he was exposed to a wide variety of topics in his coursework at Saint Leo. That knowledge is relevant in the reaL world.


Landing a job in sport management

  • In an interview, he wants to see passion. “Show me why you want to work with us.
  • Saint-Leo-University-OnlineWatch yourself on social media including Facebook. He Googles job candidates and recommends deleting any questionable photos.
  • He recommends changing your resume to fit the position for which you’re applying. Place the most pertinent information for the position at the top.
  • Do your homework! Research the organization to which you’re applying. If you interview with him, “You better know who Ted Williams was.”
  • He feels very fortunate to be working in sport management. “We’re very lucky to do what we do, but there is always someone who wants your job.”

John McDonald ’87
President, Facility Vendor Network

His career path

  • Was a business management-hospitality major at Saint Leo and started his career in the hotel industry. Now has more than 25 years of experience in the facility, hospitality, sports teams, event, sponsorship, promotion, advertising and marketing industries
  • He is currently an independent consultant and principal of Facility Vendor Network He partners with clients to boost their venue’s revenue streams, improve operational efficiency, expand guest services, enhance patron experiences.
  • In the late 1980s, he connected with key individuals who were bringing a professional hockey franchise to Tampa and through his hotel career was able to network and develop a professional working relationship with the team.
  • He was at the forefront of a brand new industry and revenue stream for teams and venues: luxury suite seating. He helped with premium seating and sponsorships at the Super Dome and sold similar contractually obligated revenue relationships at the New Orleans Arena. Since then, the industry has grown and accounts for 50 percent of all ticketing revenue.
  • Because he is a solo practitioner with clients across the country, he wears multiple hats as he partners with each client to meet specific goals.
  • He must be a disciplined time manager to be able to stay on track.
  • Two current trends in the luxury suite industry: bringing technology into venues and promoting engagement. He explores how fans interact with technology at events and how to add value to their experience by increasing that engagement through technology.


Landing a job in sport management

  • Send a hand written note after an interview; it sets you apart. No one will ever tell you they didn't enjoy receiving a personal, hand-written note.

  • Don’t embellish your resume for the sake of embellishing. Put actual accomplishments, numbers and descriptions in. Be specific.
  • Networking is imperative. Always have business cards with you with a professional email address and cell number. One or two bullets about you are also helpful on a business card.


Want more inside tips?

Looking for more insight on breaking into the sport industry? Check out the Saint Leo podcast, “Getting Started in Sport Business.” You’ll learn about careers, industry trends and degree programs – including Saint Leo’s online MBA program with a specialization in sport business, which has been ranked among the top online programs in the world.


Share any tips you might have on breaking into sport management in the comments below.

Image credit: justac on Shutterstock

Other posts you might be interested in reading:

SLU Online Sport Business Program One of World’s Best

Sport Business And Sport Management: What’s the Difference

4 Steps To Finding A Sport Management Internship

Your Green Flag To A Sport Management Career

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Topics: MBA, Sport Business

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