Few athletes burst onto the professional scene at a young age and immediately become the best at their sport. Players like Lebron James and Albert Pujols, who both won an MVP at age 25, are exceptions to the rule. Years of hard work and accumulated experience, not natural ability only, catapult most athletes to that level. And careers in the sports business industry are no different. Many professionals in sports marketing, front office management and the media become elite only after years of entry-level work in smaller markets. If your current qualifications don’t match an available position with a professional team, don’t be afraid to take a role with a lesser known team in a city off the beaten path. Many of these under-the-radar jobs will present you with a multitude of opportunities to get to the next level.

When an aspiring sports talk radio host pictures their career, they might see themselves hosting morning drive for a major ESPN Radio outlet. And most new-on-the-scene ticket sales executives prefer working for a large market sports team with growing attendance. But most people already in those positions have built up their resume in smaller cities across the country. The value of these small markets is the vast opportunities they present to talented individuals. If you’re a marketing professional and work for a minor league baseball team in the middle of Nebraska, chances are the staff is lean and there’s plenty of work to go around. You’ll interact with advertisers, help manage ticket sales and have input in branding and promotions. In contrast, if you work for a professional team, you’ll accept a much more niche position negating the chance to learn the department holistically and discover where your interests lie. Promotions and new challenges will come faster in a small market than they may if you take an entry-level position in a bigger city. It’s a fact that people have more chances to prove themselves to top leaders they actually have a relationship with. While an entry-level TV sports reporter in Los Angeles may not hear a word from his station’s president, beyond memos and pep talks, that same reporter in Dubuque, Iowa may have one-on-one meetings with his company’s leader. This close interaction adds pressure but also lets you prove your worth to people who can positively impact your career. When your first job is in a large organization, it’s a challenge to see the big picture view of your field. Each position is more narrowly focused and connecting the dots to all areas of the business can take years. But smaller organizations have flatter layers of management and everyone, not just department heads, interact with one another. You’ll gain valuable experience and, more importantly, walk out of the job understanding the overall structure of a sports organization. That knowledge ensures your future decision making considers the overall company direction, not just your department’s narrowly focused goals. There are numerous learnings you’ll garner from a small market job that will help you build a great resume and set you up for success at the next level.

You won’t be the first person to start their career working for a minor league team or being a small market media member. Many prominent sports industry professionals started in less-than-ideal positions in smaller cities around the country:




Bob Costas

Play-by-play announcer for the Spirits of St. Louis ABA basketball team

Top NBC Sportscaster

Tom Thibodeau

Assistant Coach for Salem State University basketball team

Chicago Bulls Head Coach

David Dombrowski

Minor league administrative assistance for the Chicago White Sox baseball team

Detroit Tigers GM

A.J. Smith

Health and P.E. teacher in the Providence (R.I.) junior high school system

San Diego Chargers GM

Suzy Kolber

Weekend sports anchor for WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach, Florida

ESPN reporter and sportscaster

There are many other examples out there but these few names prove that starting out with a major market team or media organization isn’t the only way to have a successful career. Evaluate all available opportunities considering the short and long term benefits each will provide to your career. A small market organization may not be for everyone, but it could be your quickest path to a prominent position in the big leagues.