Innovation comes from the edge of chaos. And chaos is exactly how I ended up here. Through chaos, a national networking organization of over 700+ professionals of color from all angles of the sports industry, Minorities in Sports Business (or MiS), was born.
They say if you want God to laugh, tell her/him your plans.
Most millennials (I dislike that term immensely btw) have this grand plan of what career paths are supposed to look like. Actually, most people in the sports industry have this romanticized view of what that path should look like. Truth of the matter is, this industry is fickle and the traditional trajectory to the C-Suite isn’t realistic for most people who work in sports.
To be honest, the path isn’t simple for most at all. It isn’t only about going to games, hanging out with top athletes, and getting a bunch of cool free swag. Unless you count about 40 outdated team-branded polo shirts as cool free swag.
The reality is, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s all about knowing how to hustle and finesse the industry for what you want, being open to opportunities that find their way to you and most importantly, your network. In the sports industry your network definitely equals your net worth.
Let’s take a quick step back.
My journey was anything but straightforward and traditional. In 10 years I had 8 different jobs. Sprinkled within those years I moonlighted as a freelance PR Specialist/Brand Manager. Those years were….tough. From the outside looking in, it looked like a lot of cool parties, photo shoots, and fancy outings with professional athletes.
In reality, it was a lot of babysitting, late nights, partying without actually partying, 6am call times, schedule managing and a host of other things….all while maintaining a full-time job. And to top it off, I didn’t get paid for A LOT of the work I did.
I often fell into the social media black hole of seeing what seemed to be everyone’s perfect career path. You know – the coordinator, to the manager, to the senior manager, to the director and so on. But what I didn’t realize was that most people had a crazy path too.
Like I said, this industry is fickle and ridiculously competitive. One thing I hated was when my mentor would ask “so where do you want to be in 5 years? And how do you plan to get there?”. Truth was – I didn’t know. I had an idea of what I liked, but I had no idea how to get there. ::whispers:: I still don’t know at times. Sometimes I’m just winging it – most of us in the industry do.
One thing I did was learn and take knowledge from each space I happened to be in. At the Worldwide Leader in Sports, aka ESPN, I studied and learned the advertising industry like the back of my hand.
I already knew how to sell creatively. I did Inside Sales for the ‘09/’10 Nets Basketball team (btw, that season we finished 12W and 70L). I had a quota to hit. Social media platforms like Twitter were new and cold calling resulted in people thinking they were on an episode of Punk’d. So I ran Twitter contests to sell tickets (disclaimer: we didn’t have social media contest rules back then and teams weren’t active on social). It was a haze. But through all of that, I managed to sell a 5-figure ticket package to a fan. I want to reiterate: we won 12 out of 82 games the ENTIRE season.
Back to ESPN – I learned what brands responded to. What their consumers engaged with. And more importantly, how much money they were willing to spend on a premium product. With each role, I took the keys from the last role and finessed results in the next role.
I also met and formed relationships with people. A lot of people.
Networking is a word that makes a lot of people cringe. Including me. It’s an awkward process. It’s like trying to get into a fraternity or sorority. You have to show interest without really showing interest and being too eager. You have to be creative without being crazy. It’s all about “organic” relationship building. But how do you do that?
I made so many mistakes trying to figure that out. For example, early on in my career, I sent everyone in the HR department at the NBA league office my resume. Note: this is NOT how you get a job at the NBA. That was not being creative. It was being a nuisance.
So my method became forming relationships with people I worked with every day.
My method also became being super friendly and actually talking to people at events. Most people don’t want people in their network who only want something from them – another mistake I made early on. People want to feel like you genuinely care about their work and what they’re doing. They also want to feel like they can get as much out of you as you can get out of them. It has to be a two-way street.
So circling back to the original point – innovation comes from the edge of chaos.
When looking for the next gig at some point in 2016 (which somehow happened to be a trash year for a lot of people), I created a groupchat. I was tired of having to go through years of emails to find contacts that might be able to help me in my search. Plus, I wanted to have a space to be able to connect with colleagues I liked working within the past. I also wanted a safe space for people who looked like me. A community for people of color to be able to help each other gain that competitive advantage.
As it turns out, there were a lot of people looking for the same thing. Minorities in Sports Business has never done any formal marketing or “membership drives”. The organization grew strictly through word of mouth.
For most people of color in the industry, you are oftentimes part of only a handful of people who look like you in the room. Specifically for my co-founder and I, we often noted our desire for a space for diverse professionals from all angles to collaborate in meaningful ways and grow professionally. So, we created the space we were looking for. That grew into a 700+ diverse national membership of professionals of color from all angles of the sports industry.
Did I expect this to happen? Not at all. But I was open to the opportunity and ran with it. In the last two years we’ve turned into so much more than just a groupchat – including a college division, weekly newsletters, meetups and much more.
In closing, don’t try to force opportunities. I can not tell you how many times I tried to force my way into a “dream job”, only to find that that position would be eliminated, or that team would be sold, or the company would fold.
Trust the process. Word to the Sixers.
Shaina Wiel is the Founder of Minorities in Sports Business, a digital hub for minorities in the sports industry to connect and network. In addition to her work with Minorities in Sports Business, Shaina also works in sponsorships and partnerships at CSM LeadDog. You can connect with Shaina here.