Dear CertMag: I’m ready to go pro — how do I get a sports IT job?
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Dear CertMag: Big NBA fan and gym rat here. I’ve never been good enough to actually play sports for a living, but I’d love to get into the league (so to speak) with my tech skills. Are there sports IT jobs that are more than just hooking up the company network or loading the latest OS on everyone’s machines? Not that that’s not cool, too.
— Wes, Boise, Idaho
Interestingly, when you look at the organizations that operate professional sports teams, breaking into the corporate side of the organization can be nearly as difficult as working your way onto the sports team! OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but perhaps not as much as you might think.
One of the interesting things that happens in entertainment holding companies is that the sports team is often operated — for these kinds of “back office” functions — by elements of the owners’ other revenue generating companies. Sports IT is merely a subset of corporate IT. One of the first things to do is figure out what teams or organizations interest you. Think about what they do, and how they work. Learn as much as you can about the business. Do they operate as an independent company, or are they part of a larger holding company?
As an example, close to you in Idaho is a feeder team in the NBA Development League that is aligned to the Utah Jazz. The Idaho team is owned by the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. A quick surf through the listings at LHM’s corporate employment site would indicate that, in many areas, the jobs available for other branches of the organization (mostly car dealerships and similar concerns) are far more numerous than anything that relates to the sports team.
Given that state of affairs, you may need to work for some time to make yourself the best candidate you can be. Just as a basketball player invests hundreds of hours on the court, at the gym, and hitting the weight room, you need to identify skills to focus on and build those skills through other local businesses. Maybe it’s about integration of IT systems with A/V systems. Perhaps it’s about tech that is used as the team goes from arena to arena. There are many types of operations involved at a major sports venue and the associated professional team or teams.
Another way to identify relevant skills is to look at similar job listings for other teams in the league. Can you find any listings for what teams in other cities are looking for? What kinds of skills and technologies are listed? Are any of those roles either relevant to your existing skill set, or appealing as an opportunity for growth? Combine that with what you are seeing in your research for the local team. How can you start building your experience in those areas?
The final thought I would share is that you need to think about what you really want out of your potential job with a pro sports team. It’s probably not going to be an autograph every other day, hanging out with the star players, and hopping on the bus. Your time at the gym probably won’t be relevant in the hiring process, and it’s not very likely to help you do the job better. It could be that your motivation is knowing you are contributing to that team’s success. It could be that your motivation is working with unique needs in the sports entertainment industry.
The novelty of working for a sports organization will probably wear off in the first few months to a year: What is keeping you there the following year? And the year after that? It may be more important to your long-term happiness to work at the right place for the right reason, than to be involved with an employer just for the thrill of being there. Some situations that seem glamorous or exciting from afar may not help you build your career, or provide a working environment tailored to help you thrive.