This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration
By: Chase Kostellic, @kostellic
From a small town in Illinois working for a local paper to New York City as a member of one of the biggest brands in sports, Dan Worthington, Senior Manager of Social Moments at Bleacher Report, has built a name for himself that doesn’t go unnoticed. Worthington, who attended Western Illinois University, has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience in various fields, thanks to a network of meaningful connections and a persevering mindset.
From a young age, Worthington knew that he wanted to work in sports. Growing up watching SportsCenter led to an early goal of wanting to be a broadcaster. As he migrated into college, he studied broadcast journalism while simultaneously working as a sports editor for the Western Illinois University campus newspaper, The Western Courier. Here, he was able to develop skills in writing, design and photography. Following that, he accepted a position with the Review Atlas in Monmouth, Illinois where he continuously pushed to get ahead and improve in all areas of his work. After three years there, it became clear that taking a risk to move forward with his journey was necessary.
“It was almost like a one man show. I had my hand in everything. That job was one where I knew I had to grind if I wanted to move on in my career. The pay was low and I was putting in 17–18 hours a day. I learned that if you want to get ahead, you have to make sacrifices.”
Worthington put this advice into action by applying for and accepting a position in South Carolina as the assistant sports editor at the Beaufort Gazette. After seven weeks, he was laid off, but was rehired at their sister paper in Bluffton. After eight months there, he was laid off again.
However, a contact made at South Carolina Press Association design conference helped him land a job as a designer at The Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ. There he spent four years as a designer and assistant sports editor, before moving to The Washington Post as the lead sports designer.
“Spend time outside of your normal workplace responsibilities and take some personal time to learn other skills. ”
Although his positions didn’t exactly line up with his original goals, Worthington was able to develop a strong skillset for design.
“At The Washington Post, my job was very much print moving into a digital space. We were trying new things on social, but while I was there, I started doing a lot of social experimenting as a hobby on the side. Living in those social moments and space is what ultimately attracted the attention of Bleacher Report. They reached out to me in October of 2015 and I started in March of 2016.”
The social team at Bleacher Report is filled with many unique positions that help the organization’s stellar social team fire on all cylinders and craft engaging content for their millions of followers. In his current role, Worthington works on the predictive side of social.
“The predictive team is tasked with ideating content three to nine months ahead of time. Our focus is very much on the big events on the social sports calendar.”
Within his predictive role, he coordinates the effort for finding creative content solutions for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine. The #FakeBrady mask and the Gridiron Heights series are two examples of content he created that have been hits for Bleacher Report.
#FakeBrady was crafted well before the NFL season. The exclusive mask that replicated the face of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was worn by both Worthington and former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker during the first weeks of the 2016 NFL season. The mask was loved by fans and generated a lot of engagement in the social sphere. It was also supported by a “Vacaytriots” jersey, adding emphasis to the four-game suspension Brady was serving, all while promoting the Bleacher Report brand.
Gridiron Heights can be seen routinely on the Bleacher Report mediums. They are short, animated sitcoms that take place every week and are built around current events taking place throughout the NFL, such as the Browns being in a quarterback crisis early on in the season. Unique, engaging, and comical are three words that perfectly describe the series. It takes what many may comically express through text, takes it to a much higher level, and displays itself in the form of a video that you can’t help but retweet and share.
Ideas like these require Worthington to be ready to take on challenges every day and work cooperatively with his counterparts.
“My days are all different. It all depends on the project I’m working on. Different concepts have to be created, talented people have to be found and cooperation with all parts of the team has to take place.”
Working in social media poses a challenge of keeping up with changes. As it grows, it’s imperative to get involved if that’s the side of sports you want to be a part of.
“Social media is a giant world now and a lot of different options exist. Being involved on the major platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is a must. You have to develop your own style and brand, but also see what other people are doing and learn from that.”
Worthington also pointed out that social media is a broadening across organizations and that you have to figure out what type of position within it fits you best.
“Social is much more involved and thought out than just sending tweets. There’s analytics, social moments, programming and much more. Every entity has different mindsets and structures, which gives you the opportunity to see what’s out there and what you may be interested in.”
“You can be hungry and humble at the same time.”
Although Worthington’s sports business journey has led him to a role in social, the influence he received during his design career was crucial to his success.
“In my design career, I learned a lot from people that I wanted to be like. My goal was to be as good as them and maybe better. You have to have people you look up to and not be hesitant to reach out to them. You can learn a lot from the right people.”
Worthington’s path shows that having a plan in place doesn’t necessarily mean it will work out as expected, but with the right mindset, things will stay in forward motion.
“You don’t always know where you’re going to end up. When I took my job at The Washington Post, I had no idea that I would end up at Bleacher Report three years later. I moved from print to digital. As long as you work hard, grind, sacrifice and then mix that with being a great team player and listener, you’ll have a solid recipe to get ahead no matter where you land.”
“The pay was low and I was putting in 17–18 hours a day. I learned that if you want to get ahead, you have to make sacrifices.”
The move from print to digital presents another part of the recipe — working away from work. Knowledge is power that you have to pursue.
“Spend time outside of your normal workplace responsibilities and take some personal time to learn other skills. Whether it’s a class or simply using the internet as a teaching resource, there’s a wealth of sources out there to help you heighten your abilities.”
“I was always trying to become a better designer. I didn’t study it in college. It was a progression of me doing so much of it in and out of work. I also had some great bosses and heroes in design that became my motivators. That ties into listening and trusting that other people can teach you things. A 20-year-old can learn from a 50-year-old and a 50-year-old can learn from a 20-year-old.”
A vital way to advance and find the right people to learn from is to seek out internships. When asked about them, Worthington noted how significant they can be and encourages aspiring sports business professionals to go after them.
“Internships are amazing. They help you build those long-term goals. Your main takeaway during an internship is the experience. It’s a crucial way to broaden yourself and make contacts. I encourage people to find them and be a jack of all trades. Do all that you can to get that experience and add to your resume.”
One final piece of career advice that we were left with is to strive for greatness every day.
“You can be hungry and humble at the same time. Look at it like an NFL game. You win a game, you get some time to celebrate and then you grind again. Take your competitiveness and balance it with being a team player and motivating others to do well, too. It’s easier to be great in your life one time than it is to be great every day.”
You can also see his portfolio here: Dan Worthington Design