Friday, March 8, 2013

I Want to Work in Sports Marketing, but...

If you are a professor or a mentor and have heard this sentence before, how does it end? The sentence ending I hear most often is both surprising and concerning. Many students end up at my office door, sent to me by colleagues who know that I am "the sports marketing guy." As I talk with students, almost all of them profess a love of sports and a desire to do something business-related in the sports industry. The "but" that is a concern is when students say "I want to work in sports marketing, but I don't want to work in sales." The concern with this statement, especially when it is coming from marketing students, is a failure to recognize that marketing and sales are hopelessly intertwined.

Too many students have a view of sales being a distinct (and undesirable) activity separate from marketing. What factors are behind this misguided perception of sales? Perhaps it is stereotypes of salespeople being pushy, self-absorbed people concerned only with making quotas and commissions. Or, maybe it is a view of salespeople intruding on buyers, trying to persuade them to buy something that they may not want or need. Whatever the source of the negative perceptions of the sales profession, aspiring sports marketing professionals seriously limit their opportunities to break into the field when they exclude sales.

I have observed this stance on sales taken by many students over the years, but I wondered if by chance it was a phenomenon limited only to my campus. Apparently it is not as I learned in a conversation with a team ticket sales executive recently. He shared with me that he had attended a networking event at which he spoke with many college students. An alarming theme in many of his conversations was that students had little interest in working in ticket sales despite their avowed desire for a career in sports marketing.

As a follow-up to his experience at the networking event, the ticket sales executive conducted an informal survey of peers in other organizations. His goal was to find out what proportion of total sports marketing jobs in an organization were in the sales area. He found that 37% of all professional positions involved sales. Many of the remaining positions were made up of non-marketing roles such as accounting, legal, and human resources. One position for which there was limited opportunity was marketing, the very field that so many college students wish to pursue.

The purpose of this post is not to discourage any student for pursuing a career in sports marketing. Rather, it is a call to those of us who mentor future sports marketing professionals to examine how we teach sales as well as understand students' perceptions about the sales profession. Do students really understand the role of sales in an organization's marketing strategy? What are their beliefs about what salespeople do? For example, do they view salespeople as problem solvers, assisting buyers in satisfying their needs and wants? Or, is their view of salespeople based on negative stereotypes? Of course, educators must depict the realities of ticket sales. But, we have the ability to mold students' attitudes about selling and equip them to compete for coveted entry-level sales positions in sports organizations.