Minor League Sports: Your Most Valuable First Job

When I was in college, there was nothing I wanted to do more than work in sports. I thought I had my whole life figured out when I was 20 years old. I was majoring in communications/journalism with an emphasis in electronic media with the hopes of one day working in the production booth of a major network. Prior to my senior year I secured a production internship with the Lancaster Barnstormers, an independent minor league baseball team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. I was doing your typical internship duties to start: running errands, setting up for promotions, shadowing other employees, etc. Two weeks into the internship, the events director had a wedding to attend and left me in charge of the entire production. Running my first live event was one of the most exhilarating experiences I had to date, and I made the decision that night that I wanted to work in live events.

I accepted the full-time director position with the Barnstormers after graduation, and I could not have been happier with my decision. There was one stipulation set forth in the interview: I had to sell in the off-season. I had been working part-time at GNC selling supplements, so I figured selling tickets and advertising can’t be that difficult. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My first day with the Barnstormers was full of orientation meetings up until about 2 PM when I sat with the owners of the team. This meeting turned into a test that would change my career. I was given a flyer with a specific ticket package on it, and I was told to go to a shopping center to sell it to the store owners. I was not supposed to come back to the office for the rest of the day. I didn’t sell any ticket packages that day, but I did learn how difficult sales actually is.

For the next four months leading up to the season, I made my way from business to business trying to sell anything I could. Most of the time I would leave a business card and a message since the managers and store owners refused to meet with me. Slowly but surely I started securing more meetings, and I even made some sales. Then April hit, and I was back into full production mode. Creating graphics, highlight videos, and templates for lineups took up all of my time. I was overwhelmed trying to balance the relationships I was building with local business owners with the production side of my job. I was miserable, and I didn’t think I could do it. With the help of some of the most talented people in minor league baseball production, I made it through the season. Not only did I make it through the season, but the Barnstormers won the Atlantic League championship that year. It was a fitting end to the most trying year of my life to date.

“I was miserable, I didn’t think I could it.”

Fast forward four years and I’m no longer with the Barnstormers. Actually, I’m not working in minor league sports at all. I spent three amazing seasons with the team, and I learned more about business in that time than I ever thought I would. I made the decision to leave the sports industry because it was weighing heavily on the rest of my life. I wasn’t fully committed like you need to be to excel in the industry. You need to eat, sleep, and breathe minor league sports, and I lost that along the way. The decision to leave was difficult, but it was something that I needed to do for myself and the family I plan on starting one day.

I now spend my days working Monday through Friday from 8-5 for an online reputation management company called BrandYourself. Our office is located a block from the Barnstormers’ stadium, and it is owned by the same four men who own the team. I always joke that I’ll never get away from them. I started with BrandYourself in December of 2016, and I was promoted to management within four months. I’ve since started new initiatives, and have been helping to shape the way our department operates. If I would have not worked for the Barnstormers, there is no way I would have been able to move up as quickly as I have.

There is something about working in minor league sports that prepares you for a job outside of the industry. It could be the 15-hour days, it could be wearing multiple hats all day every day to get the job done, or it could be the camaraderie you build with your co-workers. I haven’t been able to pinpoint what that x-factor is, but I know it is there.

Yes, I learned about minor league baseball, and I learned what goes into putting on 70 home games per year. What people don’t realize about minor league sports is that you learn tangible skills that you can apply to any other position in any other industry outside of sports.

“There is something about working in sports that prepares you for a job outside the industry.”

I cold called businesses for hours to set up in-person meetings to pitch the benefits of partnering with the Barnstormers. This taught me to be comfortable on the phone and how to deal with clients who are happy, sad, angry, frustrated, excited, or any other emotion you can think of.

I met with small business owners all the way up through C-Suite executives and discussed business proposals on how to maximize every dollar they would spend at the stadium. This taught me how to understand various business models and apply them to any industry. It also taught me business ethics and what it takes to secure new business, maintain existing business, and even repair rocky relationships due to a poor experience at the stadium.

The skills I learned also go far beyond the business to business world. I was responsible for managing a small production crew where I would deal with any personnel issue you can think of. I created schedules, filled last-second staffing holes, and built team chemistry between a team of people of all ages from all walks of life. This directly influenced my ability to move into management at BrandYourself.

I wore a number of hats throughout a typical day during the season from pulling tarp to setting up road signs to conducting sales meetings and then producing a show each and every night. This taught me to be dynamic in any workplace and be able to juggle many objectives while still staying on task.

I learned how to deal with unhappy customers on all levels. No, it may not have been my fault when someone got cold french fries and brought them to the production booth, but it was my responsibility to make sure every fan had the best experience they could during their time at the stadium. This directly affects the way I deal with unhappy customers and clients on a daily basis now.

“I learned how to deal with customers on ALL levels.”

Anyone who has worked in minor league sports also knows you spend a lot of time being someone’s shoulder to lean on when they’re having a rough day. The hours are long and the job is stressful. There are never enough hours in the day to get done what you want done. It’s important to be able to approach someone who you know needs to vent one day and give them space when they need it the next. This can also be applied to any other line of work, and it’s a great skill to have as workplaces continue to become more collaborative. A cohesive team is the cornerstone of any successful department in a business.

All in all, minor league sports is not the career for me, but that by no means should discourage anyone from entering the field. I learned more in my three years with the Barnstormers than I could have learned in twice that time in any other industry. I doubt I will ever go back to minor league sports, but I don’t regret one second that I spent in that stadium. The experienced paved the way for the rest of my career outside of sports, and I am forever grateful for that.

 

John Brennan is the Concierge Program Manager at BrandYourself and a contributor to Baseball Desk. Connect with him on Linkedin.

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