By: Chase McCaskil, @itsmechase
Front Office Sportsis proud to have the opportunity to launch our student series by sitting down with R.P. Kirtland, a senior Sports Management major at Ohio University. R.P. has worked as an intern for the Richmond Kickers, a United Soccer League (USL) team located in Richmond, Virginia. R.P. also spends his time as a contributor for TheCup.us. He was able to give us some fantastic insight into the perks of interning with a smaller sports organization and the benefit of diversifying your skill set through that opportunity. R.P. will graduate from Ohio U in December and desires to work for a USL or NASL team.
Tell me about yourself and you current role in the sports industry?
“I currently attend Ohio University, they have one of the best Sports Management programs. Since I got out here, I’ve had two summer internships, which gave me a ton of great experience. My current goal is to be the General Manager of a USL or NASL team trying to make a move into the MLS.”
What are you currently doing and what have you done to pursue jobs/internships in sports?
“I’ve been using Teamwork Online as well as using our faculty resources and the career management office at Ohio U, trying to find good opportunities to start my career.”
Richmond Kickers is a smaller soccer team, what are the benefits of doing internships with smaller organizations such as the Kickers? Did you get more hands on activity?
“The Kickers are USL team and the first year I interned was the year they really tried to revamp how they did things. The GM, Shelley Sowers, has done an amazing amount of work the past three years to turn that team into a more modern, up to date, well-attended, team. Working with a team going through those type of changes was a phenomenal experience because I was allowed to go above and beyond what interns would do at other organizations. I dabbled in fan relations with the Red Army to sometimes doing ticket sales initiatives. I did some grass-roots marketing, helped out our street team, helped set up youth fields, and registered players for the academy. Working with a smaller team was so great because they value the help greatly and allowed me to get my hands in every aspect of the organization.“
What were the benefits of grassroots marketing and did you see a large spike in viewership/attendance from it?
“During the 2013–2014 season, we saw about a 6% increase in attendance. Up until that time, the Kickers were known to draw a large amount of families to their matches. The team appealed to families, but had never really targeted the soccer fan. The GM and coach tasked me with devising the framework for the Red Army initiative as well as getting the word out. I held a few introductory meetings, ultimately collaborating on how to make this work from a ticketing standpoint.“
Talk a little bit about supporter engagement, what did you find that was key to engaging with your fans at the local level?
“Richmond is a market that is a 90-minute drive from DC United and we had a large contingent making that drive to DC United matches. The trick was to get passionate soccer fans and folks who loved the city of Richmond to turn their love of the game into a home-field advantage for our players and increase ticket sales. I held an introductory meeting at a sports bar downtown, which had a decent turnout. The word spread that the Kickers wanted to reach out to more die-hard soccer fans. The trick to getting them in the door was to offer free attendance to the remaining home games and playoff matches. Honestly, I don’t believe [the Red Army] would be as big as it is now if people didn’t have this initial free attendance. This initiative encouraged people to come out, bring their friends, and have a good time. The next year, when the season ticket package was introduced for that section, the numbers were great. People had enjoyed their time the season before, and were ready to come out and make City Stadium a rocking place!”
What benefit and skills have you learned through writing for TheCup.us?
“It is interesting to write for The Cup because it allowed me to travel to different teams around the country. I’d go to matches here and there to write about the game but also pay attention to the match day stats (i.e. attendance, supporter initiatives). [This opportunity] allowed me to see more than just one team’s way of doing different things. Getting all of this different experience across has allowed me to diversify my skillset, giving me confidence I could do these things at a larger team.”
Parting Wisdom: What advice would you give fellow students and young professionals currently pursuing jobs and/or internships in sports management?
“I can only speak to my experience in my internships, however, if the opportunity is there to work for an emerging team like the Richmond Kickers, [as an intern] you will be able to do so much for that organization. Although specialization might be important down the road, what I’ve learned from being at a smaller team is that you can juggle multiple initiatives and gain a lot of different experience, ultimately making you a more well-rounded candidate.”
We would like to thank R.P. for taking time out of his day to offer up some great advice for our readers!