By: Travis Gorsch, @tgorsch3
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Jake Kelfer, Corporate Partnerships Assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers and Founder of Fundamental Mindset. Jake was gracious enough to offer up his time and insight about his early success in his young career. He talks about getting the most out of your time as a student, how he’s always actively working toward his overall goal, and what his day-to-day looks like with the Lakers in Kobe’s final year.
As a recent graduate from USC, with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, emphasis in Entrepreneurship, and a minor in Sports Media Studies, what role does your education have in your career?
I think education plays a huge role in your career but not in the way most people think. I think that your education is not just what your professors teach you but also the lessons you learn from books, your friends, your network, etc. Many people go into college not really knowing what they want to do and that is okay. College is about figuring out who you are and what you want to do. When I got into college, I wanted to take the sports agent route, so I positioned myself in the business school because I thought that was the best route to take. I took Sports Media Studies as my minor because that was the best way for me to break into sports and begin learning the ins and outs of the industry.
In terms of getting involved in sports or any industry for that matter, I think people are more important than the school you go to. The school helps, but it is the people that you meet and the people that you interact with that make the difference. It’s all about who you talk to and who you meet at the educational institution that you are at.
You were very involved in many activities during your time at USC, investing time in Zeta Beta Tau and the USC Sports Business Association. What advice do you have for getting involved early and how do these experiences benefit you in your current roles?
In sports, everyone is going to tell you one of the biggest things is networking. Networking effectively and efficiently is important. I joined the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity during my first semester of college and it was an incredible decision. It wasn’t necessarily a sports career move but rather a way to expand my network and have some fun doing it. The fraternity allowed me to hold positions, develop leadership skills and meet people such as alumni. You have a total of 7 years of people that you get to know. 3 years above you, your year, and 3 years below you. I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the management and front office for professional teams through my network.
Getting involved in the USC Sports Business Association was directly beneficial to my sports career. It’s a top of the line organization in sports and its located in the heart of sports and entertainment. I strongly suggest that you not only join a sports organization but take advantage of the resources that they have to offer. Once you’re in, that’s great, but when you start to network and get involved you maximize your experience and set yourself up for success in sports. Having a good balance in a lifestyle experience and an educational organization allowed me to build my sports network and knowledge.
How were you able to get your foot in the door in the sports industry at Relativity Sports?
I first heard of the agency through a good friend and fraternity brother. He told me about this company that was on the forefront of sports and entertainment and very entrepreneurial, all things that interested me. I did some research and I said, ‘That’s the agency that I want to work for!’ That’s where I wanted to work that summer so I thought to myself ‘How am I going to get that job? Who can introduce me to someone that works there? Who am I connected with on LinkedIn?’
It’s actually a funny story but I was in Michigan for a family gathering and we were all catching up. Everyone was asking me what I wanted to do and I told them that I wanted to get into the sports agency world. Long story short, I had a relative that went to the University of Michigan and happened to know the former CEO from Relativity Sports, Happy Walters, who also went to Michigan. I asked him if he could send an introductory email, not asking for a job, but just a few minutes to chat and learn more. They hadn’t talked in probably 10 years but he sent the email to help me out. That’s how I got my initial introduction to Relativity Sports and the rest is history.
You are interested in the agency side of sports. Can you talk about your experience with Relativity Sports? What goals do you have for yourself to get back in to an agency?
At Relativity, I was able to do everything from basic intern duties to sit in on player meetings and take notes. I called car dealerships to get deals for our athletes, created press releases for charity events and came up with marketing ideas for our promotions. They gave me the freedom to create and give ideas even if they didn’t use them which was something that I valued because I was able to learn a lot from those experiences. The staff was incredible and I still talk with them today
What I’m doing for the Lakers is an incredible opportunity. My entire family is die-hard Lakers fans. We have a room dedicated to the team painted purple and gold. When I graduated college and got the opportunity to work for them I said, ‘Hell yeah!’ It’s still early in the season but it’s Kobe’s [Bryant] last season. Someday I’ll be able to look back and tell my kids that I got to work Kobe’s last season. Things like that are really rewarding. Being a part of the community service events is also amazing.
Getting back into a sports agency is pretty interesting for me right now. On one hand, I have the job with the Lakers and that is my number one priority. On the other hand, I’m still continuing to develop my network on my off days and weekends. I am consistently staying in touch with people in college that may be going to play professionally as well as sports agents who I’ve developed relationships with.
You’ve held a couple short internships with Wasserman Media Group, Samsung NBA Summer League, and HallPass Media. How have these helped catapult you along your career path? How do you take full advantage of an internship?
One thing I’ve really tried to do is get experience in all aspects of the sports industry. I wanted to get experience in all the different avenues of sports business because I wanted to learn as much as I can and see where they all overlap and what area I enjoyed the most. At each of these jobs I’ve been able to focus on something different.
With all of these experiences I always try to be fun and enjoyable to be around. I’m always developing relationships with my colleagues and the higher ups and then staying in touch and following up with people. Each position has taught me different skills such as leadership, event management, and marketing products, people and events. The Lakers has taught me to pay more attention to detail and how to implement contractual obligations with our brand partners. My main goal in every experience I have is to have fun and provide value to the organization that I’m working for and the people I’m with.
Talking a little bit about your entrepreneurial side you started a company called Straight Curve Marketing when you were a freshman at USC. Does the experience of owning your own company give you an advantage over other candidates when applying for jobs?
When I was a second semester freshman in college I started Straight Curve Marketing. Starting my own company has been an incredible help to my sports and life journey. When I started my company I had to learn the details of everything. I had to do everything from generating clients, marketing campaigns, customer service, customer retention, and sales. All of these things are needed to be successful in whatever I do. I’ve been able to apply these same principles to every job. This taught me that there isn’t one way to do things and to think outside the box. I’ve had to start from the bottom and go through the whole process. I’ve been able to see everything from micro to macro. What’s the end goal and how can we get there? You have to vision yourself six months and one year away. Achieve those goals on a deadline.
Can you talk about some of your responsibilities in your current position as a Corporate Partnerships Assistant with the Lakers? What’s your day-to-day look like?
Every day when I go to work, I aim to be as productive as I can to improve myself and the company. For my day-to-day responsibilities I work under the activation staff. As a part time employee, my main roles are to monitor in-game signage and help with on court promotions and in game experiences. When I am in the office, I assist the activation team with preparing for games and making sure that everything is ready to go. No day is exactly the same and that is what I love about working with the Lakers.
Finally, talk to me about the importance of your network? There’s a quote on your website that says “Your network is your net worth”.
It’s interesting because I think that everybody in sports is going to say network, network, network. The key to networking is to build real relationships with people. Unfortunately, many people I’ve worked with think that networking is just connecting with people on LinkedIn so they can reach 500+ connections. In reality, that is just the first step. The next step is to reach out to people and ask for an informational interview, so you learn more about the different jobs and people in the industry. Once you do that and have more information that you can use to obtain your dream job you move on to the third step, which is to follow up and build real relationships. This step is what’s going to help propel your future and your career. When you complete the full process, that’s when you’ll start to see results of your hard work and genuineness. Networking is not just reaching out to people but actually developing meaningful relationships. You’re more likely to do a favor or help someone out if you have a relationship with them.
The best part about life is you can do anything you want to do. If your heart is telling you to do something then go for it. Follow your heart and do what you love because the money will come with that. Life’s a journey and when you define success on your own terms, you’ll live a much happier lifestyle.
I’m in the beginning of my journey right now, but I know my definition of success and where I want to go. I’ll finish with a quote my dad made, “The only shortcut in life is to start now.” You can talk about pursuing your passion and dreams for years but if you don’t actually start now you’ll never be able to achieve them. When you start early, now that’s when you’re going to see results!
We would like to thank Jake for his time and insight and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!