When a coach sits before the media there’s no telling what he’ll say. From Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy’s tirade to Herm Edwards’ exasperated plea: “You play to win the game!” coaches say the darndest things. And while some outbursts are warranted, owners and front office leaders quietly pray they never happen. There is no buffer in professional sports; coaches speak all the time—before, during and after games as well as throughout the offseason. While college and university coaches meet the media too, most schools hire a Sports Information Director as an extra layer between media and coach, reducing the likelihood of a coach’s emotional explosion in front of the press and freeing him up to focus on the game.
A Sports Information Director (SID) is a public relations employee hired by a college or university to work with the media. Although your official title may vary—SID, Communications Director, Media Relations Director—the goal remains the same. Provide player and team notes as well as statistics and accomplishments to local and national media members. Prepare press releases and manage the press box on game day. Statistical data collection and organization is a major part of the job description. Track official team and player statistics—systems like STAT CREW are used—for a college’s athletic programs and distribute the information to the media. Utilize that data to help writers, reporters and broadcasters produce stories about athletes and teams on campus. And use statistics, along with athletes’ upbeat stories, to develop team media guides—publishing software knowledge is preferred—and create awareness in the community. Positive media coverage creates fan interest and generates potential donation dollars to the athletic fund.
A Sports Information Director coordinates logistics with the media on game day, issuing press credentials, organizing interviews and press conferences, and providing in-game statistical data. While a SID focuses mostly on the media, some of their time is spent aiding the recruiting process. While you won’t scout athletes or sit in a parent’s living room, you’ll create materials about the school that’s given to athletes. A member of the coaching staff will close the deal but the facts you provide about the school—athletic successes, student population size, diversity, educational opportunities—forms the backdrop of the recruiting pitch.
As you can tell, a successful Sports Information Director is energetic, well-spoken and multi-talented. It’s not uncommon for you to spend Monday touching up a media guide, wake up Tuesday to give a tour of the new indoor practice area, use Wednesday for statistical organization and prepare the press box for game day with the balance of your work week. You won’t fully grasp the responsibilities until you spend time in a university’s public relations and athletic departments. But remember that communication is key and hard work overcomes inexperience in this particular field.
Use a two-fold approach to land a position as a Sports Information Director—get an education and gain experience. Journalism, Public Relations, Communications and Marketing curriculums all serve a SID well. Each incorporates certain aspects of the job—writing press releases, practicing ethical journalism, spinning negative publicity, selling a product (the athletic programs and athletes), speaking well and creating crystal clear documents. While college courses won’t teach you how to use stats collection software, you’ll learn how to take information—raw data in this case—and create colorful stories with it. You’ll gain experience with photo editing and publishing software as well as practice public speaking to prepare for a room full of reports. While still on campus as a student, land a part-time job or internship in the sports information department, an excellent way to make contacts in the field and learn about the role’s day-to-day activities. If that department has no openings, find your way into the athletic department or public relations department at your school. Working in one of these groups is the most valuable experience you’ll gather as you prepare for professional life.
With a degree and some experience in hand step into the real world with confidence. Accepting a job with your alma mater may be the path of least resistance, especially if you spent time in their sports information department. Unless it’s a small school, your first post may be as an assist handling daily statistical data collection and managing behind-the-scenes press box setup. But as your network grows and responsibilities increase you’ll eventually earn a Sports Information Director position. Making connections in the media is just as important as networking with other SIDs; schools want the press to be happy so media member references will serve you well. As your career flourishes, determine if your goals and skills fit well with a major university program or if a small college culture brings you the most satisfaction. Let happiness be your guide.
Compensation for a Sports Information Director—like so many jobs in sports—varies wildly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that Public Relations Specialists—a close fit to SID—earn anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 annually (data from May 2012). Like most positions, pay depends on your experience level, the size of the school and the success of its athletic program—winning teams tend to have more athletic fund donors.
To increase your earning potential be willing to relocate from time-to-time. Much like coaches who use small schools as stepping stones, you’ll find bigger paychecks with upper echelon programs. But it takes time. Revel in the details and be charming, witty and media savvy to win at your job. You’ll enjoy a career that’s challenging, fun and rewarding.