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Why the First Touch is Important on and off the Pitch

By: Jay Stein, @JStein209

Zach Galkin, Manager of Corporate partnerships for DC United

Front Office Sports is proud to have had the opportunity to speak with Zach Galkin. Currently, Mr. Galkin is in his second stint with Major League Soccer team DC United, working as the Manager of Corporate Partnerships. While enrolled in the Sports Business Program at Ohio University, Mr. Galkin worked at an internship with the Cincinnati Reds, before landing his first position with DC United upon graduation. He briefly worked with the New York City Football Club before being recruited to return to DC. Mr. Galkin was more than happy to offer up his time and insight into his journey working in sports business, some of the challenges he faced, some trends he has noticed and some suggestions to those seeking opportunities in the sports industry.

Describe your journey working in sports and how you have progressed to where you are today.

I knew at a young age that I wanted to work in sports, and I realized early on I wasn’t going to make it as a professional… I figured working in sports would be a good route for me, and sales was always the place I wanted to go… So knowing I wanted to be in sports and possibly sales, I went to Ohio University for undergrad in the sports management program.

The program [at Ohio University] was awesome because it’s a business degree and they offer business courses, but they are all sports examples…and all the professors came from the industry… I was then fortunate to get an opportunity with the Cincinnati Red’s to do an internship in operations. Knowing I didn’t want to be in operations, I took it…. to get in the door. Working with the Reds… I was able to see every aspect of the business through operations and still realized I didn’t want to be in operations, but at least I got a grasp of the industry.

After finishing school I moved back to D.C… met the President of D.C. United at a networking event; he set me up with an interview with the Director of Sales and actually got the job on the spot in an inside sales position!

What do you feel helped prepare you the most for getting into sports business and what would you recommend to aspiring professionals that are breaking into the business?

The most important thing was getting experience to supplement the education [at Ohio University]. It’s tough to get experience because you have to get the opportunity before you can get the experience; and that was a challenge for me, trying to get an internship… but just keep pushing!

Finding the right opportunity and getting that experience is the most important thing. When I was in school I was doing stats for the hockey team, I worked at the rink, and did whatever I could do to try to get a feel of what the sports industry would be like. I think that supplemental experience most prepared me in addition to the education.

Would you recommend people keep an open mind, as you did taking the position in operations just to get in the door, or should aspiring professionals take more of a focused approach?

Based on my experience, I’m all about giving anything a shot, and going for the opportunity. You want to have somewhat of a focus, but in my opinion, go in with an open mind, take what you can get and go with it, because you never know where you’re going to end up.

One thing I discovered through operations with the Reds… I worked a lot with community relations and realized this is something I would be interested in too. So when I was going out and looking at positions, I was most focused on sales, but I was looking at community relations stuff too.

You just never know, go forward and give something a shot, step out of your comfort zone and try everything.

What challenges were you faced with at first getting into the industry and then as you started developing your career?

I think initially some of the bigger challenges are just understanding the time commitment and the actual lifestyle of being in the industry… you really just don’t know how much of a commitment it really is.

The second challenge is timing and the opportunity… in moving up and getting your next spot; it has to do with timing and what’s going on with a company, who’s moving around? It’s a challenge, ultimately just being in the right place at the right time. Again, just being open minded, and willing to make a change.

What qualities, interpersonal traits or skills do you think are most important for people to possess to become successful in sports business?

I think there’s two things; first is organization. You must be really organized, meet deadlines and do what you need to do in your role. If you’re overly organized, people are going to recognize that and that’s going to help you.

The second, and more important, thing is going to be your relationship building skills and being able to meet new people and build those relationships. Every position I’ve ever gotten was through a relationship and meeting somebody and talking to them…It’s all about relationships and, yes, it’s overused and over stated, but it is so true.

In your role, what trends have you noticed in the industry that ultimately may correlate into new opportunities for those just starting out and looking to work in sports?

The digital side is obviously huge, there’s always going to be opportunity in those areas… I think the biggest trend you see right now is social media. Every single proposal I work on, every company I talk to; they all want to engage in social media.

[Companies] are less interested in the stadium signage or tweeting a picture and having a logo on it; they really want to engage the fan base and find a way to connect with people. If you can get experience in [social media] and understand it, I think you’re better off. Everything’s going in that direction, and not just in corporate partnerships, but also in ticket sales, community relations, marketing, every aspect of the business.

One other trend I’m seeing is in the way we engage with sports and the fan engagement and the experience. It’s not just watching the game on T.V. or going to a game; there are so many other aspects to viewing and watching and being a fan of sports, but it all comes back to social media and technology. If you go to a game, you’re going to tweet about in the morning, you’re going to post on Instagram during the game and you’re going to send a SnapChat after the goal. You’re going to hit every platform of social media by the time you get out of the game.

Using one word, how would you describe sports business and why?

My one word is experience, and the reason that’s my one word is because everything relates back to experience and the fan experience. Every aspect of the business is going to come down to that.

Parting Thoughts?

Get out there, meet people, build relationships and gain experience any way you can. It’s a tough industry to break into, but once you do, you’re going to meet so many different people, and get so many different opportunities… it’s just about breaking the door down, and the only way to do it is just get active and get out there and meet people.

I think it’s great to be well rounded, especially in this business, because when you’re in a role, you’re going to wear a bunch of different hats, and you’re going to need to know how different things work and it helps so much internally if you understand the different aspects of the business.

We would like to thank Zach for his time and insight! We would like to wish him the best of luck in all his future endeavors!

You can connect with him on LinkedIn here or follow him on Twitter here!