So You Want to Work in Sports?

Kristi with Bob Neal on the set of SportsNite

By far, the number one thing I’m asked by email and on Twitter is how I got to where I am. So, I thought I’d tell my story, and also show you that my career may not be exactly what you think.

I grew up wanting to be the first female GM in Major League Baseball, but my second choice was being a corporate attorney. I learned early on that there were two ways to get into baseball: be a former player or start as an unpaid intern. I applied for an internship with the Braves every summer in college. I was an Atlanta native, a baseball enthusiast and attended a well-respected private liberal arts college. They never even interviewed me.

When I got the chance to work for the WTA Tour in law school, I was ecstatic. Finally, I could get me foot in the door. It wasn’t baseball, but it was sports. Once it was on my resume, I could apply again to baseball teams. And this time I’d apply to more than just the Braves. I’d learned you have to be willing to go anywhere you could get a job.

Then I learned you also had to be willing to start at the bottom – financially, that is. Turns out that when there is an abundance of interest in a position they don’t have to pay you much. I did get an offer from a baseball team other than the Braves. It paid exactly 1/4th of the amount a medium-sized firm in Atlanta had offered me. I had student loans and dreams of owning a home, so I took the law firm job.

Ever heard that things happen for a reason? It was at that law firm that I met someone who set me on a whole new course.

During my last year of law school, I write a paper for my Taxation class on internal taxation in baseball (i.e., revenue sharing and the luxury tax). I could always make any class relate to baseball. I finished law school with baseball-themed papers from Taxation, Sports Law and Historic Preservation. Anyway, my taxation professor was kind enough to help me pursue publication for my paper, and it appeared in the Spring of 2007 in the University of Denver Sports and Entertainment Law Journal.

Flash forward to the fall of 2007 when I was a first-year associate. A chance meeting with a client who was also a baseball fan led to my showing him my article. As it turned out, he knew the editor of a sports publication and forwarded it to him. That editor knew an editor at a publishing company and forwarded it to him. To make a long story short, I signed a contract to write a book based on that article in December 2009 with that same publishing company. That book, BALANCING BASEBALL: HOW COLLECTIVE BARGAINING HAS CHANGED THE MAJOR LEAGUES, is due out next year after the execution of a new collective bargaining agreement in Major League Baseball.

In April of 2010, I was watching a video clip of Forbes’ SportsMoney editor, Michael Ozanian. He was discussing an aspect of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement and I thought he said something misleading. I decided to email him and express my thoughts on the issue. I added in that I was working on the book and that I’d be happy to collaborate with him if he ever covered MLB’s collective bargaining agreement again. I pointed him to my journal article and other pieces I’d written online.

Much to my surprise, I received an email a few hours later asking if I’d like to write for SportsMoney on Forbes. I tried to wait more than 30 seconds to respond so they wouldn’t know just how excited I really was to write for Forbes. Who turns down Forbes?

By this time, I had moved to another law firm. This law firm hired an outside publicist to handle their work, and a colleague suggested I meet with her to see if she could help market my book when it was published. We had a lovely lunch and talked about my long-term goals. I told her one of my goals was to appear on a show called SportsNite that Comcast Sports Southeast tapes here in Atlanta. I had been a long-time viewer of the show and thought I could appear if they ever needed an expert on collective bargaining.

The publicist suggested I email the show. “Just email the address on their webpage?” I asked, doubting the effectiveness of this approach. 

“Yep,” she said. “You’d be surprised where that can get you.

Truth is, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, I’d gotten the offer to work for a baseball team after emailing the General Counsel and asking if there were any jobs available. I got my book deal because I emailed a client my journal article, hoping he might be interested. I got my position at Forbes because I emailed the founder and offered my expertise. Why wouldn’t Comcast be the same?

One interview and a bundle of nerves later, I was live on the set of SportsNite. That was almost exactly one year ago. I went on to get a segment named after me (“Miss SportsBiz”), a blog on the CSS website and a weekly appearance.

By the end of the summer, I was being asked to appear on podcasts to talk about baseball. I’m not sure any of them had much of an audience, but I did them for the experience, and because I like to hear myself talk (as I’m sure you’ve figured out from the length of my posts). Comcast had required me to branch out from baseball for my segment, and I soon began writing more and more for Forbes on other sports. By the fall of 2010, I was becoming more fluent on each of the four major professional sports leagues.

My first appearance on a real, live radio show was in October 2010 with the Milwaukee Sports Geeks. I’d met Chris Carter on Twitter through my various blogging efforts and he asked me to be on his show one Sunday morning. I was shaking through the whole thing.

By December of 2010, I was making appearances on The Pulse Network. By the first of the year, they’d created a weekly segment for me (which is live on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. ET).

The more I wrote about the impending NFL lockout possibility during the 2010 season, the more radio interviews I was asked to do. I used my legal knowledge to bone up on the collective bargaining agreement and the law surrounding these types of negotiations and agreements. Before I knew it, I was on the radio in a dozen different cities.

Around the beginning of this year, I was shocked to find that the topic I wrote about most often wasn’t MLB or the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement – it was college football. I was doing a Conference Finance Series on Forbes and getting tens of thousands of hits. I’d finally found my perfect niche.

I started BusinessofCollegeSports.com on April 18th, 2011. After consulting with the owners of several other amazing sports blogs, I decided to start my own. The decision was primarily based on the ability to post immediately (without oversight) and organize the categories how I pleased. I threw together a WordPress blog with a terrible header and sat back to see what happened.

I’m delighted to say that in two months this site has seen over 100,000 unique hits. It’s been linked to online by ESPN, CBS, NBC, the Seattle Times, the Atlanta Journal and dozens upon dozens of other networks, newspapers and blogs. I’ve done a remote interview for a television station in Tampa. I’m interviewed on the radio on an almost daily basis. I’ve done nationally-syndicated and satellite radio with guys I really admire like Tim Brando. I even picked up my own radio segment on Wednesdays at 5:30pm ET with Shawn and Wally on Arkansas Radio Network/Sports Animal 920.

And now I’m writing another book, this one on the business of college football. The amazing feedback I’ve received from this website has convinced me that there is a demand for analysis and news on the business surrounding college sports, particularly football. I’m passionate about this subject, and I love sharing with you all what I find.

Here’s what will shock you, however. I make virtually no money from any of this. So, when you ask me how I got to where I am, I always tell you this: “There are three keys to success in sports. You have to be willing to start at the bottom. You have to be willing to work harder than everyone else. And you have to be willing to work for free for awhile.”

Last year I made a grand total of $5,000 for all my writing and television appearances. That’s it. I didn’t make a living. I made a little spending money off a hobby.

I always say I’m lucky to be able to make a living as an attorney while I pursue my career as a sports business analyst. Truly, I’m lucky that I’m love my law job as well. My boyfriend always reminds me, however, that it’s not luck. It’s hard work.

I put at least three hours into this website every single day. Some days it’s far more. I’m emailing and calling athletic departments, reading through eighty-page budgets and writing a post for each weekday. I’m using my lunch break or getting up early to go on radio shows to do interviews. Before an appearance on SportsNite or The Pulse Network, I spend hours researching topics. I treat this site like a part-time job. There is no pay and no benefits, but I love it. My real luck is in having found someone who encourages me to continue to pursue this avenue, even if it means I spend less time with him or that our time together is filled with me debating the merits of issues like pay-for-play.

The only advice I can give you if you want to work in sports are the three keys I shared before: You have to be willing to start at the bottom. You have to be willing to work harder than everyone else. And you have to be willing to work for free for awhile. Oh, and it helps if you’re willing to email anyone, anytime and ask for anything!

5 thoughts on “So You Want to Work in Sports?”

  1. Praise the Lord! Thank you very much for sharing your testimony! I found it to be very inspirational. Not everyone (actually many are not) is open, honest and humble enough to share real-life strategies as to how they’ve achieved their success. You don’t know how much of a blessing your story was to me. As a fellow blogger myself (awaywitwordzwatson.com), I appreciate and encourage all the support from fellow members of this writing community. The Lord led me to your site just a few weeks ago. It’s good for two bloggers, such as ourselves, who both share a passion for sports to fellowship. Whether you are a Christian or not, the following here is a scripture that sums up everything about your testimony aptly:

    Romans 8:28 (New Testament, KJV)

    Once you read it, you’ll see what I mean. :-)

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