By: Jason Stein, @JStein209
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Mark Washo, a lifelong sports business professional and Founder of Freedom Sports and Entertainment. Mr. Washo’s career in sports has been largely in ticket sales, mostly in senior management and leadership roles. His experience includes being the VP of Sales & Service at the Metrostars, EVP of the Chicago Fire and team President of the Washington Freedom. His experiences in sports business has made him an authority in ticket sales, which led him to writing the book, Break Into Sports Through Ticket Sales, and teaching at Georgetown University’s Sports Business program. Mr. Washo was more than happy to offer up his time and insight into the sports business industry, why it is important to go out and network with current industry professionals, and some general thoughts on the competitive landscape in sports business and what new opportunities may be on the horizon.
What would you first recommend to others aspiring to work in sports?
I always recommend the same thing; whatever position that you’re currently in, try to make sure that you’re the best at what you’re doing at that time. Even though it’s tempting to look down the road at career growth and the next step, you can’t do that to the detriment of not focusing on what you’re doing in the current moment.
It’s good to have goals and it’s good to know where you want to take your career, but focus on what you’re doing at the present time, be really great at what you’re doing, and master that as best you can.
What about once you get into sports business, how would you advise someone looking to progress in his or her career?
Once you know what you want to progress into, then take the chances to get exposure to other aspects of the business. If you’re in ticket sales and aspire to move into PR, be awesome at ticket sales first, but take the PR director to lunch. Ask if you can sit in a few meetings, or volunteer on game days. Do extra things that don’t take away from your current responsibilities.
The most successful people are the ones who do really well at what their currently doing and use those opportunities as building blocks to prepare themselves for that next step. I also recommend patience. Things don’t always happen in a magical time.
What helped you most while progressing throughout your career?
Developing mentors is so important. I always try to have mentors in the same roles. If I was a Director or VP of sales, I wanted mentors that were also VPs of sales. For me, I ultimately wanted to be a team president, so I developed relationships with other team presidents.
How valuable was it to have mentors guiding you and, along those same lines, how important do you feel relationship building and networking is in sports business?
The networking aspect is huge! Having mentors is probably the best thing you can do for any kind of career development or career progression.
Every opportunity I have had has come through networking and relationships. When you’re in a sports team or working with a sports property, you have exposure opportunities to meet other people from other teams and other leagues.
Building your network is huge and maintaining that network is even more important. Using social media to stay connected to people is important. Collect business cards, send holiday cards to people, or send notes if you see it’s their birthday. Do the little things that help you maintain those relationships.
How would you recommend aspiring professionals and students to develop relationships with current industry professionals?
Be persistent and stay in front people. People in sports are, most of the time, willing to help. They may only give you 15 or 20 minutes, but you can accomplish a lot in that amount of time.
If you talk to most sports executives, they are surprised at how seldom people request an informational interview. It’s amazing how few people reach out to make a connection or follow up with a simple thank you note or email. The good news is that it’s a chance to differentiate yourself; if you are somebody doing those things, you will stand out.
What characteristics and qualities in people do you see as most important for those looking to work in sports and how can one differentiate himself/herself from the next person?
First and foremost you hear the word passion a lot and the passion for sports business is extremely important. It’s fine to be a fan, but you have got to be a fan of sports business and ultimately you have to be in love with the business of sports.
Some of the other intangible things are also important. Competitive nature, the desire to win, people that want to be the best or excel in their career; those qualities are very important.
The thing with sports is that it is not a 9 to 5 job; it’s a lifestyle! The work ethic has to be there too, there are no shortcuts, there’s no magic switch to flip to get all these people to come to your stadium, and you have to work hard to get it.
I think the work ethic, dedication, passion, commitment, and competitive drive are the things that we look for and that the top producers possess.
Would you recommend professionals looking to work in sports to target a specific position or opportunity in the industry, or should people keep an open mind when looking to break into the industry?
If you’re more focused, that certainly helps you fine tune your search. If you decide, I want to be in public relations or I want to be in sponsorship sales, that determines where you’re going or internships to consider.
That stated, clearly it’s also good keeping an open mind and casting a wider net and being more open to other opportunities. Ultimately the key or trick is that you have to get your foot in the door somehow, someway.
Things change as you progress in your career; both professionally and personally. Priorities can change so it is important to keep an open mind and don’t limit yourself.
Have you noticed any trends in the sports business industry that may correlate to new and more opportunities for professionals entering the workforce?
Many opportunities are being presented in the areas of social media and digital media as we have seen an explosion of these mediums. The phone is still a primary tool, meetings are still a primary tool, but how do you get those meetings and how do you get those conversations rolling? You might have to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram; I think the whole social component will continue to grow.
I also think online ticketing companies are going to continue to do better in this space because teams control their own inventory and control their own pricing. They might ultimately be able to control their own secondary market, so I see the online ticketing platform to be an opportunity as well.
That being said, nothing will replace human connections. Ultimately sports are still a relationship-based business and computers are good to connect, but that doesn’t help establish relationships with your clients.
People are still going to have to be the driving force behind everything!
First and foremost, I think if you really want to get into this industry you can do it. If you are focused, you can get in! You do have keep a very open mind and I think you have to strongly consider sales. You’re not going to step in and be the President or the GM. You’ve got to get in on the bottom floor, you’ve got to work for next to nothing, maybe work for free for a little while, and you’ve got to get the experience.
Once you’re in, do great, master what you’re doing, do really well, be the first person in and last one to leave, and be the one that’s going to do the extra stuff. It’s the little things that executives of the team will notice and you’ll be able to differentiate yourself.
Work your network and build your relationships!
We would like to thank Mr. Washo for his time and insight! You can follow him on Twitter here!