As part of the Career Help 101 Series, I wanted to stress the importance of internships and getting work experience before graduating from college. Unless you’re the child of a team owner, you will not get a job in sports PR unless you have previous experience. I’ve talked to plenty of people in the sports industry (PR and other departments) and every single one has emphasized the need for internships in order to have a shot at getting a full-time position in the industry.
- An internship allows you to observe professionals on a daily or weekly basis in your interested field. I have learned so much by simply watching my bosses. How do they handle a difficult situation? What is their work ethic like? How do they interact with reporters or the players? What are their day-to-day responsibilities and how does it change on game days?
- An internship provides you with hands-on experience. Not only do you get to see firsthand what people working in the industry do, but you get to try it yourself. A hiring manager will want to see that you have experience doing the responsibilities (or something similar) that the open position requires. Internships give you experience to explain on a resume and materials/samples to place in a portfolio.
- An internship lets you determine if you actually like the industry. As “cool” as the sports business industry may sound like for many people, it is not a career suited for everyone who loves sports. Do you mind working weekends, long days, and holidays for not a ton of money (at least entry-level)? I’ve interned with some who absolutely love hockey, but didn’t enjoy the long hours and working on holidays that came with the internship. They would rather get a normal 9-to-5 job and get season tickets to watch hockey. And that’s fine. But it’s important to figure this out before you graduate, particularly if it means you need to switch your major.
- An internship is perfect for networking. You make connections with the people you work with whether it’s at the office every day or the beat reporters who cover the team. A sizable chunk of the people I’m connected with on LinkedIn are reporters I know from my two years interning with the Wings. When it’s time for you to try to find a job, it may be one of the people in your network who informs you about an open position and/or helps you land an interview.
Where can you intern if you want to go into sports PR?
- Your university’s athletic department (media relations). You will get a tons of hands-on experience in a variety of sports (if you want) and can give you plenty of writing samples for your portfolio. I highly recommend going this avenue, especially starting off as a freshman.
- Local minor league team. If you want to work in baseball or hockey, working for the local minor league team can really give you some valuable experience in your ideal sport. Since it’s a smaller organization, you will likely have more hands-on responsibilities than you would working in the big leagues.
- Professional team or league. An internship with a pro team or league will help your resume because it will grab the attention of the hiring manager. Networking is a huge benefit of interning with a professional team. Plus, many teams opt to hire from within and an internship will get your foot in the door should an opening come up later.
- PR agency. Last summer, I was trying to decide between two internship offers. One was with USA Swimming in media relations in Colorado Springs and the other was with a PR agency (Burson-Marsteller) in Chicago. I asked my boss which one would help me more in landing a sports PR job. She recommended the PR agency because it shows you are well-rounded and read more than just the sports section. If you can’t find a sports PR job, I would suggest getting a job in a PR agency so that you are still developing your PR skills plus some agencies even have sport departments. The only thing is if you want to work in a PR agency, you must have had agency experience so it wouldn’t hurt to do that one summer. Plus, the internship will tell you if you like the corporate world or even prefer it. I learned that while I enjoyed my work, sports PR was where I really wanted to be and I’m glad I had that experience.
- National governing bodies. Get a media relations internship with the national governing body of your favorite sport — USA Hockey, USA Basketball, USA Swimming, etc.
- Sport magazines or radio stations. Magazines like Sports Illustrated have a PR staff to raise publicity for the upcoming issue or event. You could also look into a promotional/publicity internship with a local sports radio station. A PR internship with a sport media outlet may provide you with a better view from the media perspective and let you know if you would rather work for a sports team or a media outlet.
- Newspapers. PR professionals must excel in communication — both written and verbal. An internship with a newspaper or magazine may not help your PR skills, but it will give you a chance to work on your writing. You’ll better understand what a reporter wants when writing a story once you’ve become one.
The earlier you start interning, the better off you will be.
My single biggest regret (career-wise) is that I did not get an internship my freshman year of college. I wanted to work in sports PR since junior year of high school, but my parents did not believe it was the right career path for me. Not enough pay, too much travel, long hours, etc. Not a parent’s idea of a perfect job for their only daughter. I fought a lot with my parents over the last two years and it boiled down to this: They wouldn’t pay for my tuition if I majored in sport management.
As a result, I was pre-med and going to be a movement science major. I think medicine is interesting and I love watching surgeries on TV (yes, I’m a nerd), but it wasn’t my passion. I absolutely hated my classes and I watched my grades get worse and worse each semester. I have never studied so much for a test just to get below average. I had never worked so hard to get a C+ in Organic Chemistry, which was my lowest grade ever (high school or college).
Anyways in spite of my parents’ wishes, I went ahead and got a game night internship with the Plymouth Whalers, a local team in the Ontario Hockey League. The joy I got from working for free there far surpassed my moments as a pre-med student. My parents saw how much I enjoyed that, how much I hated being pre-med, and realized that my grades weren’t going to get me into med school anyways. After doing a lot of research about the field to show my dad, I finally convinced my parents that this was the right career path for me. They agreed as long as I double majored in sport management and communication studies. Once I started interning with the Red Wings, they were beyond thrilled and now realize that there is no other job I could be better suited for.
I spent the first year and a half of college preparing for a different career. While other college students that I will be competing against for jobs were interning in the sports field, I was spending countless hours studying organic chemistry and starting the Michigan chapter for Students for Organ Donation. I don’t regret co-founding SOD, but I missed out on getting a year of valuable experience. I wish I had started interning with the U-M athletic department my freshman year. I have learned so much from that internship in one year, but I imagine where I’d be if I had done it for the past four years.
And please please please don’t wait until your senior year to get your first internship or even worse until after you graduate. You won’t have enough experience to get a full-time job and most internships either require you to still be a college student or have previous experience. Start early in college and intern as much as possible to give you the best shot at a job upon graduation.