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: D.J. Podgorny, @DJPodgorny
Bryan Bedford, director of global business development, strategy and partner ecosystems for Cisco’s Sports, Media & Entertainment division, became passionate about sports at an early age. Bedford had experienced various different sports as a player growing up, but his interest in the business side of the industry came during one of the most epic events in North America: the NCAA Final Four.
There, at just 10 years old, Bedford started asking pertinent questions. Where does the money go when you buy a ticket? How do all of the t-shirts get made so quickly? Who cleans the stadium after each game? These details both intrigued and inspired Bedford.
“I was fascinated at an early age by what really makes these games happen. I was always interested in the moving pieces and the mechanisms behind sports. From there, it was about charting a plan so that I would be able to work in this industry. I was always interested in the business behind sports.”
This rich experience helped develop a way of thinking Bedford has used for the last 30 years, one that marries his business mind with his keen interest for sports. Using this framework, Bedford enrolled at Southern Nazarene University (SNU) where he studied business administration and competed as four-year scholarship athlete for the track and field team.
To gain a better understanding of the inner workings of sports, media and entertainment, Bedford took advantage of the opportunities associated with attending a smaller school. He took on internships in sports information and management, wrote for the school paper and served as an on-air commentator for the school radio station. Bedford was the beneficiary of a diverse set of experiences, all within the sports setting.
After graduation Bedford joined the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma Redhawks, as an account executive. Like many minor league roles, Bedford wore many hats, working in sales, marketing, PR and game-day operations for the team.
“I was hooked. It was the intersection of my college experience of a being a student athlete, education from the classroom and internship experience. And I couldn’t believe I got paid to do it. I worked a bucket-load of hours and it was a blast. I knew I had picked the right thing.”
“From there it was about refining the pieces of the experience that I liked and that I thought I was good at. I then aligned those to the other opportunities I was provided.”
After almost two years at the Redhawks, Bedford’s alma mater called. They had just started a brand new football program and they wanted him to lead their operations department. Thus, as a young man, Bedford joined SNU as the director of football operations and began managing budgets, hiring coaches, signing and recruiting players, building facilities and everything in between.
Bedford spent more than three years at SNU, helping lead the team to winning records in each season. Bedford used those experiences at his alma mater as a stepping stone to become the assistant director of football operations at Texas Christian University (TCU), a role he served in for two seasons. At TCU, Bedford coordinated recruiting efforts, team logistics and professional personnel.
After a combined 21–4 record in two seasons, it was evident that the Horned Frogs were a program on the rise. Due to the nature of collegiate sports, however, Bedford saw that he had a long road ahead to climb the ranks on the administration side and lacked the pedigree to succeed at the highest ranks of the coaching world. Thus, after working for three teams over the course of seven years, Bedford elected to leave the team side of sports to pursue a role at XOS Digital, Inc. as an account representative.
In his new role, Bedford was able to leverage his experience in operations on the team side while staying local to Oklahoma City. Bedford quickly impressed his bosses at XOS, an industry leader in video editing, analysis, virtual reality and cloud-based video. He quickly climbed the ladder within the sales organization and was eventually promoted to director of sales, marketing and business development, a role where he grew sales 300 percent over the course of four years.
“We took a bunch of new products to market, incubated many new solutions and scaled the business significantly. But, in the end, I felt like I was batting .400 in Double-A. I wanted to move to the majors.”
Bedford began searching for a new position, one at a company where he could ultimately retire. At this point in his career, Bedford was looking for a spot with a blue-chip company, but wanted to stay at the intersection of technology, media and sports. Thanks to a referral from a friend, Bedford was considered for a job within Cisco’s Industry Solutions Group. After 21 interviews over the course of three months, Bedford was hired for the role he now holds.
Today, Bedford focuses on incubating new partnerships across the globe, bringing new solutions to market and scaling them as well as being a thought leader for the smart stadium space. While most of Bedford’s work focuses on sports, technology and media, his role has recently expanded to include retail and hospitality as well.
Additionally, to build off his experience in college athletics, Bedford formed his own consulting practice: The Bedford Agency. The Bedford Agency focuses on recruiting education and consultation, as well as event production, planning and education in the Oklahoma City market.
“If you look at the people who are really, really successful in the market, they have either created something or they own something. They have something that uniquely positions them. I felt like it was important to own my asset that I could mold and shape however I may want.”
In its short time of operation, the practice has already experienced significant success, helping various families navigate the often-confusing college recruiting process. The agency is even already planning its first event, the Jay Bilas Basketball Skills Camp in Oklahoma City for next summer. Bedford spends nights and weekends growing the business, but hopes to someday retire to his passion project.
Bedford attributes a great deal of his success to a keen ability to sell and build relationships. This skill is something he recommends young professions hone early on.
“You have to have a sales background. If you can master learning how to sell a product or solution or software or tickets or whatever, you have a lot flexibility to do things in the future. You can mold and flex people that have been successful in sales into a number of different things. They can flip over and do marketing, PR and operations. People with a rich understanding of sales can be flexible in doing a lot of different things.”
“Find someone that you feel has done sales really, really well and mentor under them. Based on observing them, you will determine whether you like their way of selling. I’m into relationship-based, question-based selling. Others have different ways. You have to find a mentor based on your skills and preferences.”
Similar read at: Joel Zawacki: The Anatomy of a Great Sale
As someone that has experienced sports from a plethora of different positions and organizations, Bedford encouraged those interested in a career in sports to think outside of the box and practice humility.
“When you think about sports, it’s more than just the team side. Nike, TaylorMade, Google, ESPN, etc. aren’t teams, but there are good sports-related jobs at each of those places. Think about the ecosystem of sports, where your passions lie and how they both intersect. Be open-minded and think about the diversity of the sports ecosystem.”
“Also, think about where you want to live. Sports is a small industry. Are you going to be happy if a team moves you across the country? A lot of people say they want to work in sports and want to work for the hometown team they grew up rooting for. It doesn’t always work that way. Don’t be picky. You need to just get your foot in the door and work your way up in an organization. Don’t be a snob. You’re not going to get your dream job out of the gate.”