Pay To Play — The Future Of Sports Networking?

Originally published October 21st, 2012

I think we all saw the story back in August.  After applying for scores of sports jobs, Taylor Grey Meyer finally reached her breaking point after getting an invitation to pay for a chance to network with team executives.  She sent the team a letter that hit the headlines, and it exploded from there.  I had 6 people forward me the links the day the story hit — Why, you ask?  This must be your first time to my website!  Ha-ha.

I’m in the same boat as hundreds, and likely thousands, of prospective candidates.  I want nothing more than to work for a Major League Baseball franchise.  I’ve dreamed of the opportunity for years, but finding that “in” is a never ending battle.  It would be easy to get frustrated, but I look at the opportunity differently.  It’s finding that thing that separates me, or you, or anyone that’s out there trying to find that dream job.  But is it right for teams to ask you to pay for it?  The answer may surprise you.

I’ve been on Teamwork Online for years.  I’m on the mailing list and have applied for a number of jobs, but it wasn’t until about 3 months ago that the emails started filing in.  I’ve had offers from 6 different teams that were holding “Networking Events” — For $25-$60 I could network with team executives and watch the game.  How do I feel about that?  Absolutely fine

I haven’t been able to attend any of the events due to timing or location, but if I’d been around I would have.  If you’re looking for a job in any sport, you have to get in front of people and differentiate yourself from the rest of the field.  I don’t have an issue with teams charging for it — The events include the game too!  Realize that this is your opportunity to get in front of hiring managers and decision makers.  These teams are getting thousands of applications and resumes for any profile job.  That brief 2-3 minutes with someone at a networking event could be the difference in making it to that first round of interviews.

Networking events are hardly a new concept.  You’ll find them in college, at local job fairs, or industry events.  The key is in how you’re using them!  Some things to consider:

  • Less is more.  If I can talk to 10 people for 3 minutes, or 3 people for 10 minutes, I’ll take the 3 people every time!
  • Add value.  If you’re lucky enough to get the 10 minutes, use it right!  Have an idea of the things you want to talk about and the questions you’re going to ask.  Be prepared with questions that add value or that you truly want to know or talk about — If it’s generic, I assure you, it’s already been asked by the 10 people in front of you.
  • Be prepared to listen!  When I ask someone how their day is at the grocery store, I pause so they can tell me!  Don’t be in a hurry to get a response in or affirm what the person across from you is saying.  Network away and you might learn something too!
  • Show some personality.  It’s OK to laugh, it’s OK to smile!  At the end of the day, people hire people they like.  I don’t mean laughing at lame jokes or trying too hard, what I mean is remember where you are.  A networking event is not an interview.  By design, networking events are designed to be more casual.  A little personality could separate you from the crowd!
  • Network.  Wait, network at a network event?  Great call, genius…  No, what I mean is network with other candidates!  Remember that you’re in a room with a hundred other people that probably want do the same thing you do!  Get to know some of them, you never know when one of them may be in a position to help you down the road. 
  • Follow up.  Be sure to email, tweet, text, (or whatever) people you had a chance to meet.  If I meet 100 people in a day, I might remember 20 by face and maybe 15 by name.  BUT, if you send me an email or a LinkedIn invite, etc., your odds just got better.

At this point you might be thinking “What makes you the expert?”  Well, I have a day job!  I’ve spent the last 16 years managing and hiring people.  I’ve been a recruiter at UW and WSU.  I’ve done these things before and figured I’d share the wealth.

“But what if I can’t afford to go?”  I understand, but don’t give up hope!  There are so many ways to network.  Go on LinkedIn — There are groups dedicated to sports networking.  Use Twitter to network with “change leaders”.  Network does not mean spam!  Reach out to executives online, through Twitter, or even through the mail.  Be passionate about what you want without being pushy, aggressive, or aggravating! 

There are a lot of creative ways to let people know you want a job!  Things like this website started when I was trying to get noticed by the Seattle Mariners.  It didn’t net me a job, but it did get me energized and even more excited about opportunities down the road.  I realized really quickly that running this site could be (almost) as much fun as that job I’ve been fighting for.  Good luck! 

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