Networking is one of those things that can be either exciting or daunting as a rising professional.
Being in a room full of people who have made it to the top of their field, with you, the person who is just trying to get their foot in the door can be a nerve-racking experience. I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous going into a networking event or before I was taking part in an informational interview.
What I have learned is that any discomfort you may feel in the process of networking will be worth it in the end. The relationships you create and maintain in the sports industry will carry you through to wherever you want to go as long as you maintain them.
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One of my biggest networking success stories (thus far) came in the summer of 2015. I was 19, and I was going into my Sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
The Milwaukee Bucks had proposed a new arena funded with a mix of private and public monies. Originally, the project was built into the state budget but would eventually be removed by Wisconsin government officials.
This left the possible threat of the team getting bought out by the NBA and being relocated to a city like Seattle or Las Vegas if approval for a new arena was not gained quickly.
Due to the dedication of Bucks executives, Milwaukee business owners, and fans, a bill was introduced to allocate the Bucks $250 million in state funds for the $500 million project.
This was my chance. I reserved my day off from my summer job for the date of the vote and was ready to be a part of Wisconsin history! As my alarm sounded off at 6 a.m. to make the drive to Madison I had no idea what to expect.
Who would be there outside of Bucks representatives? Would my effort be worth it? At around 8 a.m., I arrived in “Madtown” and walked to the capitol building. No one was there other than Madison and Milwaukee media crews so I made small talk with them to hear their thoughts on what the day would bring.
As the morning progressed, more people began to show up. Huddled around the entrance to the Senate chambers, I decided I may as well reach out to them as I had no idea if these people were for or against the proposal.
As I spoke with them and shared my ambitions, the Bucks’ President Peter Feigin and Head Coach Jason Kidd came into the area. As someone aspiring to work in the sports business, I struck up a conversation with the team executives on opportunities in the industry and the impact the Bucks organization has on the Milwaukee community.
As time would tell, those long days in Madison (The bill had to pass the House and Senate, so I was in Madison twice. The first vote took over 11 hours to pass!) would pay off tremendously.
The time spent and the conversations I had resulted in job shadows, relevant insight into a dynamic industry, and professional relationships that are useful still today.
Most of the time, networking is something that is structured. You go into a business or restaurant, go from table to table talking to people and asking questions. I have learned that if you truly want to succeed you have to set yourself apart from your peers. You have to go off the traditional path and blaze a trail.
That’s what I felt I was doing during that time in Madison-blazing my path to success in sports because I jumped at an opportunity others passed on or didn’t think to utilize. If you want to be a sports professional, that is what you have to do. Be bold. Be persistent. Be unafraid to take that chance to be a better professional.
Luke Johnson is a Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (Division III) studying Communications. Luke has developed a strong passion for sports business during college and hopes to work as a Community Relations Specialist in professional sports. You can follow Luke on Twitter @LukeJohnson2014.
Dr. Danielle Kvam, a Communications Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, contributed as an editor in this article.