You know the names of the biggest executives in professional sports—the work of folks like Theo Epstein, Pat Riley, Brian Cashman, Ozzie Newsome and Bill Belichick are critiqued daily on SportsCenter, the airwaves of sports talk radio along with blogs and newspaper columns. The hefty paychecks of these faces of a franchise are the envy of others executives within the organization. There are other executives employed by teams that make a difference, strategically, financially and public relationally. As your career grows and you gain the valuable experiences that pull you higher-and-higher up the corporate ladder, you’ll see that team leaders do more than hire and fire coaches, draft collegiate talent and sign big money free agents. Here are a few executive jobs that play important roles in successful organizations.
Vice President of Technology
Games were once won on courts, fields, pitches and ice rinks by men and women that gave blood, sweat and tears for every point, run and goal. Don’t get me wrong, that statement is still true but the information age has offered up an edge to organizations that rely on data to shift the balance of power when it’s time to play the game. A team’s VP of Technology is charged with many tasks—put forth an organization-wide technology blueprint, oversee the maintenance and stability of all computer systems and lead the IT staff that keeps productivity up and frustrations low. Now more than ever, teams generate, collect, store and analyze vast amounts of data. The computer systems that store and parse it must be reliable, first-class and secure. The VP of Technology helps define a franchise’s technological ecosystem, something that’s wildly important in an era of sports that now leverages information along with weight machines, suicide drills and intuition to win rings and raise banners.
Vice President of Ticket Sales
Unless you’re in a major market or fielding one of the best teams in the league, season ticket packages and individual game tickets don’t sell themselves. A VP of Ticket Sales commands an important role within any organization because no franchise wants to find themselves in the bottom half of attendance year-after-year. The Redskins, Raiders and Rams have struggled to fill their stadiums over the last few seasons. While the Rams have likely solved their troubles by moving westward, most franchises need to improve their ticketing department to help close the attendance gap. Leaders in this role manage a team of operations staff as well as sales executives that grow season ticket and group ticket sales. Most ticket sales departments also play a major hand in offering premium fan experiences and outings. A VP in this department must collaborate with leaders in the marketing department to bring attention to the team while keeping long-time season ticket holders happy despite rising annual prices. Overseeing online and on-the-phone ticketing platforms, studying the positives and negatives of variable ticket pricing and keeping an eye out for the “next big ticketing bet” are all part of the role. It’s an ever-evolving executive job that demands someone who can couple vast amounts of experience with a desire to look toward the future.
Vice President of Marketing
LeBron James filled up Quicken Loans Arena in his first stint with the Cavaliers, even with a dismal supporting cast. But there are franchises around the nation that lack a superstar to draw a crowd. There are teams that, sans a hall of famer, can’t draft and sign enough talent to land themselves in the playoffs on a consistent basis. It’s organizations like this that need an MVP-caliber marketing executive. John McDonough spent nearly a quarter of a century with the often-lowly Chicago Cubs, eventually leading the marketing team before taking over as Cubs’ team president. McDonough helped keep the Cubs relevant—and Wrigley Field bustling—even while the team struggled because of his brilliant marketing skills. He went on to employ those skills after taking over as Blackhawks’ team president to guide the team back to relevance with the Chicago fanbase. A VP of Marketing wields enormous power within an organization because—aside from wins, playoff appearances and championship rings—that department best defines a team. You lead creative people that develop television, radio and web advertising while also hyping the public relations machine to keep your team in the news as much as possible. Major markets have several professional teams; marketing VPs are competing for fan dollars at a time when a middle-class family can’t afford more than one or two sporting events a year. Minor markets come with the challenge of less disposable income per household demanding a sales pitch for the best experience combined with the best price. A VP of Marketing must hire a creative, driven team to get a message to fans that their support will make the team better.
Vice President of Stadium Operations
A career in stadium operations is so niche that upward mobility is very possible for smart, hardworking professionals that aren’t settled in their city. Stadium operations is an umbrella term that covers myriad responsibilities and is often a solve-this-problem-right-now kind of gig. Game day parking—a notoriously painful event—falls under the head of stadium operations as does organizing a police and paramedic presence for security and safety. Looking over the grounds crew is tasked to the team led by the VP of Stadium Operations. An executive in this group must be adept at negotiating with vendors (a franchise can’t do it all themselves), hiring people—particularly a hands-in-the-dirt director—and inspiring people that will arrive long before fans walk the stadium steps and keep working after the lights in the parking lot have dimmed. Bring together several different departments to create an entertaining, safe, cohesive experience for fans on game day while finding ways to keep operations costs down so owners stay happy.