When I first started this blog, I promised some interviews with some influncial people in the sports industry. Specifically, I said I was going to interview my former boss Jake Samo who is the Assistant Director of Staduim Operations for the Iowa Cubs.
Well I am very excited to let you all know that I just got done with the interview with Jake and wanted to put it up on the blog for all to see. I got alot of great information and advice from Jake. I hope that his advice can help many of the young people who are looking to get into sports.
Here is the interview.
1. Can you just briefly describe your schooling and prior work experience before you got this job?
At Iowa I tried to take any class they offered that I thought would relate to the sports industry. Now looking back on it, there are some classes like facility and rec management that would have applied that I missed. However, I went to school for Business studies, because I knew that I wanted to work in the sporting industry and I think that a degree in a business field makes you more qualified than a sports management major. I feel that the same principles are taught and applied in both fields, but the sports management degree limits your opportunities post graduation.
As far as work experience, I kept busy during college working various jobs to help cover the bills. I did everything from little league coaching in my hometown to working for a lawn care company to a waiter in Iowa City. Then, I realized that experience in the sports industry was something that I really wanted/needed to get, and that was the best decision I made. My internship with the ICubs helped me realize what type of position I was looking for, reassured that it was an environment that I love being in, and helped me understand what it takes to be successful in the sporting industry.
2. Why did you want to work in sports?
I was like any other kid growing up and lived sports. Whether I was playing or watching it was all sports all the time for me, so it is easily my biggest passion. When I realized that I could no longer play I still wanted to be around the game in some aspect, and it wasn’t until college when everything clicked for me and I could narrow my sight on what I was looking for. At Iowa, I became enamored with the whole gameday event that goes on for football and decided that event management in the sporting industry would be something that really interests me. Some of my favorite memories growing up and through college were going to sporting events and I really wanted to be a part of that atmosphere. That is the fun thing for me here with the Iowa Cubs because it has became a full circle of reality. I grew up coming to I-Cubs games, played here in high school, and am now helping put those events together for kids and families who were just like me. It makes coming to work fun everyday, and that is the biggest reason that I wanted to work in the sports industry. I knew it would be something that I would enjoy and like to be a part of.
3. What qualifications do you seek in a new hire?
There are a bunch of traits that I’m looking for during the interview process, but there are a couple that I’m more focused on than others. Two important traits that I want in all of our employees is commitment and organization. Commitment is a big one in the sports industry, because 90% of our applicants will tell you they love sports. That is great, but that does nothing for me in terms of determining if they are the right person for the job. I don’t think people realize we don’t get to take in a lot of the games. Yes, there will be games when not as much is going on and you will get to catch a few innings, but you are hosting an event that approximately 7,000 fans are attending so there will always be something for you to do. Therefore, what I mean by commitment is that they are willing to put in the long hours, they realize that we only have 72 games a year to make a profit and we need to maximize those opportunities, and that you will be doing jobs that aren’t always the most fun. Organization is key for me because time management is such a big part of our job. The games can get pretty hectic, and I’m looking for someone that can handle finding 3 kids for a promotion in the middle of the 3rd inning, who can escort a fan to their correct seat, and can help someone from an outside company to their table in the concourse while explaining how the process typically works all in a few outs. There is always so much going on, and I think it is important to have people on our team that can think clearly in high pressure situations, because it is a highly interactive and fast paced environment.
4. What is one thing that surprised you about your career/current position?
It has actually been a pleasant surprise for me, but there literally is something different every day going on for our department. I like the change of pace and learning from the new experiences. Every company we work with has a different idea on what will work best for them whether if it is advertising, a group outing, tailgate, etc. and it is really fun to hear their perspective on how they will benefit the most from working with us. It helps me realize what other people are looking for and see when attending an I-Cubs game. There will always be last minute curve balls, and the moment I think I have seen it all something new comes around.
5. Do you have a mentor or someone you strive to be like?
I have a few mentors and am very fortunate to have great examples and people I can lean on. First and foremost it would be my Dad just because I got to witness first hand all the hard work he did just to provide the best opportunities for me and the rest of my family. My other two mentors come from within the organization. First would be our Director of Stadium Operations Jeff Tilley, because of everything that he has taught me in the few years that I have worked under him. I never imagined the things I would be capable of a few years into this position, and a lot of it he has shown me step by step from the beginning. Another thing about Jeff is that there is no job too big or too small for him. He is more than willing to do the crappy jobs, and sets a great example for me to keep that kind of outlook on my position. The second mentor here within the organization would be our General Manager Sam Bernabe. Sam has been great about explaining to me why he likes things a certain way, and is very good about taking me to the side and explaining things to me if a mistake is ever made. Also, it is reassuring for me that Sam started in my position and now is General Manager of the organization. He is doing a great job of preparing me for future opportunities and he has me excited to grow within this organization.
6. Why did you choose to work for the Iowa Cubs?
The Iowa Cubs organization had a lot of selling points for me. It is the highest level of professional baseball in Iowa, it is a venue that sells tickets to over 500,000 fans on a yearly basis, the city of Des Moines, close to my family, a front office staff that is almost always hired from within, and a lot of the staff had been working there for a long time (happy with the company).
7. What is the best advance you have for someone going into the sports industry?
The best advice that I can give to someone is to keep expanding your network and looking for ways to gain experience. Connections are big in every industry, but I think they are especially important in the sports industry. I think it is good to get experience especially in a area where you are not completely comfortable. Whether that is in a sport you aren’t 100% familiar with or working in a department you don’t have any experience in. For example, I think it is important to get experience in sales no matter what job you are looking for in sports. You are always trying to sell your event and it helps you understand how to sell yourself to a future employer.
8. What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
I love the people that I work with. I think we have a great staff with great chemistry and that makes it easier to show up for any job. We have a clear understanding that every department counts on each other to do their job to make the whole organization successful. We can’t do what we do if there aren’t any tickets sold, and ticket prices can’t be as cheap as they are with out the sales team selling advertisement throughout the stadium, etc. Also, I believe that everyone is willing to bend over backwards to help out a co-worker here.
The other thing would be providing the experience for our fans of all ages. I love seeing the kids big eyes when they first see the field, or listening to them talk when they are getting ready for an on-field promotion. I enjoy seeing a group of friends coming down to enjoy the game together and catch up, and I enjoy seeing families making it a family night and spending the night together.
I want to give a huge thanks to Jake for taking time out of his bust schedule to answer these questions. For any of you out there looking for internship experience, I highly suggest you go to the Iowa Cubs Website and look at the internship opportunities they offer. They have excellent opportunities for students and it is great experience for people who are looking to go into the sports industry. I can vow to that from experience!