In a post-COVID world, the tent poles of networking have not changed, but having a strategic and thoughtful approach is important now — perhaps more than ever.
Cultivate your network up and down the ladder.
According to Jessica Smith, Head of Corporate Partnerships at Angel City FC, taking a holistic approach to networking is key to success as you move up in the sports industry.
“Networking is community,” said Smith. “It’s a group of folks you work to establish around yourself that you can call on for different reasons at different times. That includes networking with specific leadership aspirations, where I look to leaders that have positions equal to or higher than myself that I really want to cultivate.”
Smith says that innovation and forward thinking also come from younger generations. According to her, the art of maintaining repertoire with both the veterans and the rookies in rounding out your network is essential.
“Some call it mentorship. I call it networking of those that are up-and-coming in the industry. Because I think, for me, learning that perspective, hearing those questions, and understanding how the market continues to adapt is incredibly important.”
Invest in your network to accelerate your career.
In 2015, Smith earned her Master of Sports Administration through Ohio University’s Professional Master of Sports Administration, a program that she says “reinforced the power of networking.”
“When we talk about networking, and the reason why someone should be a part of a program like the Ohio University PMSA, it’s about the connections. There are a lot of talented folks throughout our industry worldwide that are now one connection away from me. It gave me common ground with those people the moment I entered the program.”
Leverage your network to bring diverse viewpoints into decision-making.
According to Smith, it is equally as important to focus on networking as a vehicle to achieving diversity of thought. The only way to do this is to collect insights and feedback from people in all areas of the sports industry, but also outside the business.
“You should be talking to people that define brands and leagues and athletes themselves, but you should also be talking to people that run nonprofits and understanding their perspective…because that’s really where true inspiration comes from when you think about merging society’s needs into our industry.”
Explore virtual networking tools, like LinkedIn.
When asked about her experience networking her way up the sports industry ladder, Smith cited LinkedIn as having created tremendous opportunity to access industry leaders — more so than other platforms like Instagram and Twitter. LinkedIn offers a robust search functionality that allows people to search for new connections across industries, locations and even by alumni network.
“LinkedIn really enclosed networking much differently than ever before. Now you can access people in any market of the world. The start of that platform was a big moment for me personally. Now I’ve worked in numerous different markets and expanded my network, and the expansion of the world through digital certainly played a role in that.”
Be thoughtful in your outreach.
Sports business professionals are known to wear many hats, particularly in the team setting. When reaching out to a new connection, use your resources, and use common ground as a lead-in. Smith shared some of her advice on how to approach a sports business executive or fellow alumnus with networking outreach.
“Be direct, but be thoughtful of everyone’s time. Rather than reaching out to inquire about open positions, take the approach of ‘Hey, I’ve applied to this position and I’d love to know what else I can do to be considered.’ Make it easy for someone to take a quick action by keeping your outreach simple and straightforward.”
Expand your network through social support.
What better way to authentically express interest in connecting than by supporting the brand or business you want to become a part of? Smith offered networking advice to those interested in opportunities with Angel City FC.
“Angel City is built on the purpose to ignite higher expectations on and off the field. If you are passionate about being a part of Angel City and what we are trying to accomplish, it’s beyond simply applying to an open position. It’s following and supporting female athletes, teams and leagues. It’s supporting brands that support the women’s game. Collectively, making a difference and using your influence to push towards equity.”