“You’re In The Front Row – How To Kick Off Your Career in Sports, Even If You’re Not a Star Athlete” is an ultimate how-to guide on breaking into the world of sports in a vast array of professional and collegiate capacities.
This book will entertain and educate. Chapters will detail working at sporting events, offer in-depth career advice from several notable sports industry experts and tell you how to go about getting your foot in the door.
It also includes a historical perspective of sports and a detailed directory of where to start looking for work in your chosen sports livelihood.
Glenn Capeloto has been covering professional and collegiate sporting events for 37 years as a TV and radio sports statistician, working at several major events, including the NBA Finals, the World Series and the NFL playoffs.
Anyone who wants to launch a career in some type of sports capacity will benefit from this how-to book. Several insightful anecdotes make this a highly entertaining read even for the casual sports fan.
A Foreword Pass
by Pedro Gomez, ESPN Reporter
There probably isn’t a day that goes by when a sports fan doesn’t wish they could work in sports. The first dream, of course, is to be hitting fastballs over the fence at Dodger Stadium, nailing down three-pointers at Madison Square Garden, or even throwing spirals down-field at Soldier Field. Of course, the great majority of us cannot come close to being the gifted few who can call themselves a professional athlete.
For the rest, there are paths that allow the dream of being associated with a sports team or somehow being linked in some form of sports that are achievable. After all, sports fans can never get enough of sports. We watch and read, trying to fill an appetite that seems endless. It’s why ratings for NFL games routinely trounce the highest-rated weekly shows.
In “You’re In the Front Row – How To Kick Off Your Career In Sports, Even If You’re Not A Star Athlete” Glenn Capeloto delivers many of the trails to the treasure map to make your sports dream come true. No matter the route you desire – whether it’s to become a radio play-by-play announcer, a sports writer, a statistician, a clubhouse attendant or any number of other jobs that can get you as close to the action as the millionaires who sit courtside or right behind home plate or in the luxury boxes – this book provides many of the necessary routes. Glenn even gives you a roadmap toward becoming a team mascot (hey, it gets you into the arena or stadium).
Many of these messages are delivered through first-hand accounts from many of us who long-ago dreamed the dream and decided to jump head-first into the deep end of the swimming pool. Many times, that’s exactly what it takes, the will to try something that seems so foreign and difficult to many of us. But if you have the desire and willingness to give it a go, you may find yourself years from now the same way I have for nearly 30 years since I first began answering phone calls at a small newspaper south of Miami, Florida.
A day hasn’t gone by in my life where I’ve woken up in the morning and dreaded going to work. It has never been a drag. The greatest joy in life is enjoying what you do for a living. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to call places like Fenway Park, Lambeau Field, Wrigley Field, the Staples Center and other great sports venues my office, if even for one night a year. But on those days and nights, there has never been a better place to be.
Don’t go in to this with the mindset of becoming financially rich. Go into it believing you will become emotionally wealthy beyond your belief. And sometimes, the money actually can come, as well.
When Sports Sneeze, the Whole World Catches a Cold
Americans have an undeniable and insatiable appetite for athletics. Some are fulfilled by being pennant-waving fans in the stands. Then there are sports nuts that dress up every Saturday or Sunday in the Fall like it’s Halloween, wearing face paint and donning a jersey of their favorite team as if they were about to take to the field and go into battle. Others break out every BBQ utensil they own while picnicking from dawn to dusk. Unless you’re about to leave the stadium, tailgating is not driving too close to the car in front of you. It’s the sports way of life and a weekend reward for millions of football crazies across the country. Where else do people so willingly spend money they don’t have to party so hard? It makes no difference what age the fans are or what socioeconomic level they come from. Their team could be zero and ten, and they’d still drop hundreds to thousands of dollars weekly to be part of the action. How many fantasy leagues are there today? Sports enthusiasts can never get enough to satisfy their addiction to their favorite team.
This book is intended to help provide the recipe to achieve your dream to work in the sports industry. Whether it’s a full-time career or a part-time situation you seek, there are a wide variety of occupations available that can present you an association with the sports world, provide an excellent living, and perhaps a paid-for travel opportunity.
As a long-time professional sports statistician, I can’t tell you how many times when I have shared with people what I’ve been fortunate enough to do over the years, they’ve said, “Wow, you’re so lucky! How can I do that? Where can I get a press credential? Can you get me into the game?” There is clearly an unparalleled lust to be somehow close to the competition.
With sports now a multi-billion dollar commerce (the National Football League alone generates $9 billion dollars annually), the industry has become so vast several thousands of people are required to fill positions of all kinds. This book highlights dozens of them and features interviews with several who currently occupy these jobs.
What are your odds of landing one of these occupations? There are 92 NFL, MLB, and the NBA combined franchises alone which employ approximately 200-300 people each. That doesn’t count the significant number of (non-athletic) people getting paid by 179 minor league baseball teams, nor the many thousands of people earning a sports-related living at 343 Division I universities, 287 Division II schools, 443 Division III colleges, or 286 NAIA campuses. ESPN’s staff numbers near 6,000.
The great appeal about a sports career is it’s a job you actually look forward to doing. Instead of, “I’ve got to go to work,” it’s, “I GET to go to work.” So what job in sports do you want to call your own? Maybe you’ll be a gifted TV producer or director. Perhaps you’d enjoy the gypsy life of a scout or a referee. Numerous job opportunities exist in management, broadcasting, and dozens of other front office positions that make coming to work exciting and satisfying. Perhaps you can combine your love for athletics with business and marketing savvy and be involved in sports media sales. Marketing departments, stadium managers, IT experts, sales consultants and electricians all are necessary to bring critical elements of a sports franchise’s branding success to life. All that flashing neon signage requires someone to make it happen. That’s a far cry from sports franchises of yesteryear which operated with a staff of five.
Getting started isn’t as tough as you think. Begin your search with an academic institution and their sports information office. Maybe your try-out begins with an internship with one of the hundreds of major and minor league professional sports franchises to determine your niche. This book includes an extensive directory to make it easy. There is a multitude of freelance behind-the-scenes positions available too. So the prospects of an affiliation with sports may be much more possible than you think.
I’ve been experiencing and enjoying my dream hobby since I started college at the University of Washington in 1975. Unexpectedly, I launched my sports profession as a play-by-play announcer for a 10-watt student radio station. This led to a life-long affiliation with sports as a statistician. Rewardingly, I’ve been courtside for the NBA Finals, up in the press box during the World Series, in the broadcast booth for NFL and collegiate championship games and traveled throughout the country enjoying a number of stadiums from the broadcast booth.
Realistically, some sports careers can be financially and emotionally challenging. This industry is definitely a “who-you-know” business with job security a management change or a league lockout away. With many positions in sports, you may not make nearly enough money to achieve financial freedom. Maybe you’ll earn just enough to cover your cost of living, unless you’re one of the fortunate and talented few to reach upper management or gifted as a writer, sports agent or broadcaster. For many, the privilege of getting to sit courtside or up in the press box and get paid is reward enough.
In developing this book, I’ve spoken with a number of renowned, highly successful sports figures who were willing to share their story and offer recommendations on how you can proceed and succeed in a variety of sports-related endeavors. You will gain huge insight from some of the sports industry’s most successful at their craft. Noteworthy sports announcers and sports executives had to start somewhere. One sport executive who shared his vast expertise with me guided the Redeem Team back to Olympic glory and proudly wears a World Series ring. Another that I’ll showcase started out as a ball boy for an NBA team under Hall of Fame coach and player Lenny Wilkens. NBA Superstar Spencer Haywood refused to get in the team photo unless this ball boy was included in the team picture. Now, this former ball boy is one of the most respected sports executives in all of sports. How about someone who is a Hall-of-Fame basketball player who was the first woman to try out for an NBA team and is now the President of a women’s professional basketball team and Vice President of an NBA team? Another contributor is a former sports agent turned team executive who successfully defended President Reagan’s attempted assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., in court. Each of these flourishing individuals and many more share their perspective on the current state of sports and what you can do to make the team.
What are the evolving possibilities for women in the sports world? Do you know what the critical responsibilities of a TV Broadcast Associate are? How much does this person get paid? You’ll be shocked. This book will explore how and where to get your foot in the door, just what it’s like to be part of an sports TV broadcast, how to work side-by-side with a sportscaster while simultaneously communicating with a TV control truck, and so many more sports-associated professions.
You never know when opportunity knocks. One person I interviewed got his big break into professional sports while bidding at an auction for a pie. Bizarre but true! We’ll cover many other career paths too.
One of the great things about sports is its rich tradition, so you’ll also read how baseball, basketball, and football became so historically intertwined in our lives.
Best of all, this book will even provide you with an actual list of where to look for work and whom to contact, including web sites and phone numbers.
I wish there had been a book like this when I was a budding college student. The following chapters just might ignite your sports passion and create your lifetime ticket to future sporting events. Then your friends will be pestering you to get them a press pass.
The Price of Admission
True sports fans possess a distinctive DNA. They just can’t seem to get their fill of their favorite team(s). What if you could combine that insatiable passion with a paying career? Imagine being able to awaken in the morning and say: “I GET to go to work!” You’d no longer have to pay for those pricey season tickets. Parking at the stadium would be free. Not only would you cheer your favorite athletes up close, you might even meet them. At some stadiums, you’d even get fed for free, in the press box yet. A sports career might not be as farfetched as you think. This book will give you an overview of several job possibilities with practical advice from the experts. Just maybe You’re In The Front Row might provide the elixir that re-directs your occupational aspirations.
A career in sports doesn’t require that you run a 4.3 40, stand six-foot-ten, or can drill a 98-mile-per-hour fastball 425 feet. So how do you go from being one of millions who live for sports to employment in sports? If you’re a committed individual with a lot of perseverance, the possibilities are nearly endless.
The Wide World of Sports is getting wider and wider, so much so it’s become a vast ocean of career opportunities. The sports industry now requires a variety of skills and talents to accommodate the athletes, the teams, media, sponsors, the fans and so many more related industries. Whereas the front office of a sports franchise used to be five people wearing a host of hats, it now takes a small army to produce a sporting event.
Everything has become totally specialized. Marketing and salespeople, coaches, referees, event coordinators, web content experts, announcers, statistical experts, photographers, medical professionals; the list goes on and on. As most in the industry discovered for themselves, the career ladder to success requires getting your foot in the door and not being opposed to paying your dues. The exact order of your career’s progression could take many different paths. This book will profile several.
Once upon a time, sport was mostly innocent and pure, a diversion for participants to channel their excess vitality. Sports used to be a hobby, something for recreation, not a career. It meant going to a ballgame with your dad, mitt in hand, and ordering peanuts or cracker jacks. Team logos proudly defined a city.
In today’s sports industry, now it’s mostly about the dash for cash, with several entities grabbing for the loot. Professional and collegiate teams, players and their representative unions, broadcast entities and advertisers have all contributed toward refining sports into one of the largest industries in the United States. Whereas players were once civic treasures, now they’re a commodity. The gridiron has been overshadowed by greed-lock. Strike is no longer a term automatically associated with a baseball thrown over the plate. If you happen to be a sports team owner, your unborn great-great-great grandchildren are already multi-millionaires. Sports have become so over-commercialized, you can’t even use the restroom without being pitched by some sponsoring plumbing company.
This racing engine called sports isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, not with multi-billion dollar industries sitting behind the driver’s seat. Oversaturated sports coverage through cable TV the world-wide web won’t allow it.
Front office administrators, broadcast executives, and advertisers know the world of sports is an absolute religion to some, an insatiable obsession that is constantly recycled by the hope that “this is the year” for their home team. Sports have always been a hand-me-down generational affliction and now it’s a year-round mania. From the draft to free agent signings to pre-season to the regular season and hopefully the playoffs, there is no longer a downtime.
Success in sports used to be quantified by wins and losses and tabulation at the turnstiles. Today, that’s just one contributing piece of the proceeds pie. Entertainment value has been superseded by corporate success. The measuring stick for accomplishment nowadays is gauged by the amount of generated revenue, state-of-the-art stadiums (generally at the tax-payer’s expense), and the magnitude of broadcast and advertiser agreements. The new gladiators in sports are the marketers. In the first half of the 20th century, publicizing meant listing who the home team was playing that night on the stadium’s exterior signs. Promotions meant bat or ball nights. Cross-pollinating every possible marketing dimension of your franchise now is essential to the survival of your city’s team. Corporate suites have become vital profit centers for pro sports.
Many of today’s athletes are overpaid and overhyped and no longer worthy of being deified. Many are no longer role models like our sports heroes of the past. Whereas Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were solid gold, today’s steroid abusers are gold-plated. Players themselves are measured more by lengths and amounts of contracts than performance, with hefty multi-million dollar agreements the norm. Where athletes used to give their all, now they want all they can get.
Some referees are even paid more than the President of the United States. How did it come to all this?
Sports aren’t just season-long now. It’s an exaggerated 12-month industry. The economics of contemporary pro sports dictate that wherever there is a dollar to be made is a career opportunity for the whiz that can make it happen. If a sponsor name can be attached to something, anything, there’s money to be made. Stadiums no longer adorn the name of some proud civic connection of a city. Because of naming rights, now its moniker is the name of a major corporation. Even uniforms are a moving advertisement now. Watch baseball on TV and behind the batter, you’ll see a computer-generated ad on the backstop area. Even priority tail-gating has become a revenue source. Home Run derby and the Slam Dunk competition have taken on a life of their own. An All-Star Game has become a weekend of celebration and corporate opportunity. Old-Timers’ days have evolved into retro uniform games, with old merchandise being repackaged as collectible throw-backs. Thankfully, sports still has some semblance of nostalgia.
Since athletic competition creates considerable hoopla and is such a significant player for the entertainment dollar (both professionally and collegiately), out of necessity, the current commerce of sports has become extremely departmentalized and requires specialists at many levels. As the essential needs for revenues to increase have grown, so have opportunities in sports careers. The more the money involved, the larger the number of positions required in the business. This is good news for career seekers who would love to combine their professional livelihood with their appetite for sports. This creates a multitude of employment prospects that just might put YOU in the front row.
Before you say: “That’s the career for me,” let’s further illuminate this addictive industry that seems to attract job applicants like ants to a picnic.
Outsiders mostly see the glamour of sports careers – the massive salaries of athletes, the limelight and the glorified lifestyle. The reality is this is an industry typically renowned for compensating its employees quite poorly. You can expect to be overworked and underpaid with a lot of grunt work your daily duty. On game-days, you’ll work from sun-up to sun-down and ‘overtime pay’ does not exist. It’s truly the school of hard knocks. Upward mobility is slow and challenging with supply and demand retarding your chances. Quickly, the magic becomes mundane and wears off for some who can’t stick it out or afford it. A sports-related occupation can provide lots of nirvana, but it also delivers lots of challenges.
It’s understandable why many people want to make the career sacrifice and have a burning passion to be an integral part of the action. For some, being just a paying fan isn’t enough. To fans, the stadium is their sanctuary, a place to escape the challenges of the work week. Almost like a drug, it allows them to park the stresses of their lives and be carefree, if only for an afternoon. Now sports are like group therapy. Somewhere along the line, the tradition of faithfully cheering your city’s team became tethered with a party hearty mentality and a corporate association. ‘Game Days’ are now an electric experience and viewed as significant social events. Attending a Super Bowl would be a sign of elite status. Wholesome family picnics have been replaced by tailgate parties at the stadium. TiVo must have been invented with sports addicts in mind. Sports are even a component of divorce settlements. “I get the season tickets,” or “I own the Los Angeles Dodgers.” “No, I do.”
Even the athletes that fans admire eventually succumb to the one opponent they can’t defeat – Father Time. Then even players themselves long for some kind of extension with sports, anything that will continue their connection with an athletic organization.
Sports teams are like a religion and the playing surface is the altar where fans gather to worship. Football has become an insatiable obsession in American society. Basketball and baseball have gone global. Soccer remains number one if you factor in international appeal. Sports have even created their own language to describe the action with expressions like “Web Gem” and “Getting Posterized.”
Team employment opportunities come in many shapes throughout professional and collegiate levels. This book will explore many of them. Besides the 134 teams that exist in the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NHL, there are hundreds of minor leagues needing positions filled. In baseball alone, there are 175 minor league franchises. The Canadian Football League has eight franchises. Major League Soccer provides 15 more teams to consider for employment. For those in college, it’s imperative to get an internship. It will give you a reference point of what other jobs entail. Know that the wages are meager if not non-existent. You’ll need to be dedicated, determined, persistent, patient, hungry, driven and enthusiastic. Liken it to the Kentucky Derby. You’ll start out of the gate in last place, but if you run the race hard, you’ll find the finish line. An internship will allow you to learn skills, gain hands-on practical experience, and develop valuable networking contacts. It places you in actual work situations.
Once you gain entry into this coveted industry, go the extra step, prepare and learn. Experience and attitude will carry you far. Make your mark because many companies will promote from within. Learn as you earn. Don’t just count on sports executives to boost your network. Alumni provide key contacts, too. Paper resumes aren’t nearly as valuable as a handshake and introduction. Make yourself memorable. Go to trade shows and job fairs. Attend events. When opportunity knocks, answer the door.
So how do you go about getting your foot in the door? What skills do you have or need to develop to join a sports organization? Sports management courses and journalism curriculum are being offered more and more throughout the country. The majority of tomorrow’s sports administrators will benefit from a degree in sports management. You’ll need to be well-rounded when facilitating the business office, the media sector, the coaches, the stadium supervisor, and so many more departments. More than 260 colleges and universities now offer sports administration courses.
With the ongoing labor disputes and lockouts that are so commonplace now in sports, you might want to strongly consider getting a legal degree or training in accounting. It isn’t a coincidence that two of the major sports league’s commissioners have legal backgrounds. In this day and age of collective bargaining agreements, lockouts and anti-trust lawsuits, we might see a day where a lawyer might win the MVP (most valuable performer). There’s so much money at stake, an accountant might be voted the Sixth Man award. X’s and O’s have been replaced by $$$.
Your best launch-pad into the world of sports is through participation at the collegiate level. Interning with your Sports Information Office will provide invaluable hands-on experience.
Sport is an exciting industry that begs for creativity and talent. Create your own checklist and see if you excel at the following traits. Are you:
- Willing to pay your dues!
Hunger for sports won’t distinguish you. Are reduced wages and the long hours worthwhile? You may need to be flexible with the position you accept, geographically flexible too. Now that you’ve had a splash of sports reality, put down the foam finger, set aside the face paint; let’s examine dozens of livelihoods that could become your future.
Pitcher Randy Johnson once got a birdie, but he wasn’t golfing at the time. During a 2001 Spring Training game against the Giants, Johnson uncorked a 95 MPH fastball toward the plate. A dove chose an inopportune time to do a fly-by, and the Big Unit’s pitch exploded the bird into a cloud of feathers. I’m guessing Johnson didn’t yell FORE, so the bird didn’t have time to duck. The umpire ruled the pitch a “fowl” ball.
Arizona Wrangler (p.12):
Lack of pro ranking doesn’t have to stop pursuit of sports
Metro US: (published Feb 13, 2012 in New York, Boston and Philadelphia)
Sports Jobs for the Rest of Us
“There’s more than playing the game for those who love sports. ‘You’re in the Front Row: How to Kick Off Your Career in Sports – Even If You’re Not a Star Athlete’ is a guide to the many non-athletic careers in the world of sports, from broadcasting to management to medicine, and much more. With experts from many sports coming together to add in extra advice for careers in these fields, ‘You’re in the Front Row’ is a strong pick for those who love sports who think being an all-star player isn’t in the cards.”
James A Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
Susan Bethany – Reviewer
“This book has great value in vocational guidance. The subtitle of this nicely-written, fascinating book is “How to Kick Off Your Career in Sports, Even if You’re Not a Star Athlete,” and the book truly delivers on that: on one page I randomly selected, you can find out about being a ballpark usher or vendor. On the previous page is dope about becoming a cheerleader or Team Mascot—candid dope, for author Glenn Capeloto warns you that earnings are low for the former, opportunities limited for the latter. This book should be a must-have as a high school vocational guide. But it is much more than that. For instance, in the section on being a vendor, Capeloto doesn’t just give you details about the work involved but entertains you with anecdotes about a Seattle beer vendor named Bill Scott whose famous shout-out to the fans was, “Freeze your teeth and give your tongue a sleigh ride!” and Rick Kaminski, the Peanut Man, famed for his (highly-accurate) delivery of peanuts, his repertoire including the over-the-head heave, the long hook shot, the football pass, and the behind-the-back line-drive.
There’s a historic timeline on umpiring, too; background information on Capeloto’s college broadcasting prior to his career as a statistician, and vignettes about sports figures like Ann Meyers Drysdale and Spencer Haywood. Much, much else.
Did I recommend this for a high school library? Well, it’s just as much for an everyday sports fan. In fact, I’m sending my copy to my brother. “
Bob Grumman – Small Press Review
“You’re in the Front Row, written by Glenn Capeloto, is a great first step toward achieving your goal to be part of the sports industry. It’s a fabulous and fresh introduction to dozens of occupations in sports, with constructive and candid advice from a variety of experts. We have chosen ‘You’re in the Front Row’ as our required book for our Online Introduction to Sports Jobs Course. It’s a must read.”
Dr. G Lynn Lashbrook
President – Sports Management Worldwide