Monday, October 27, 2008

So You Want to Work in Sports?: Stephen Masterson, Recruiting Manager, Game Face Inc.

Over the next several weeks, HHR will be interviewing 20 and 30-something-year-olds in various careers in professional, amateur and collegiate sports to get a take on how they broke into their respective industries and to offer tips how ambitious sports-related job seekers might do the same.

Today, we interview Steve Masterson, recruiting manager for Game Face Inc. Steve consults with over 400 major league, minor league, and NCAA teams nationally and internationally representing sports ranging from football to lacrosse. As recruiting manager, Steve specializes in assisting entry-level job seekers break into the sports industry. Day-to-day, he consults with presidents, vice presidents, and directors of teams in regards to recruiting, staffing, and management issues. Since college, Steve also found time to launch and operate the Sports Business Education Network, a free networking resource specifically for the sports industry.

What better way to help people gain knowledge of breaking into the sports management arena, than by interviewing someone who helps teams find people looking to break into the sports management arena?

Name: Steve Masterson
Age: Old enough to rent a car
Position: Recruiting Manager
Organization: Game Face Inc.
College Major: M.S. Sport Management, B.S. Sport Management
Prior Sports-Related Experience: North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Arena Football League, GameDay Consulting, WFAN 660, the YMCA, and the Sport Business Education Network (founder)

You worked for WFAN. Are you a Mike or a Mad Dog partisan, and how much better are Carton & Boomer?

Having worked with Mike and the Mad Dog, as well as a being a long time listener, the split was definitely jarring. I can’t pick sides. Those two guys created and popularized the sports talk radio format that is so prominent today. I’d prefer to remember both parties as pioneers. As far as Carton & Boomer, I haven’t had the pleasure of listening to them, so I can’t compare.

Tell us about the company you work for, Game Face Inc. - the services offered to both job seekers and employers - and then also your specific role with the company. It almost seems like a hybrid of a head hunter service and educational crash course.

You are closer than most. To truly understand Game Face, it is best to understand our history and how we evolved.

Our story starts in 1990 when our President, Rob Cornilles, joined the Los Angeles Clippers as a sales guy. At that time, the Clippers were contending with a crowded sports entertainment market – MLB, two NFL teams, Gretzky was passing through town, major college football and basketball programs, and let’s not forget Magic across town winning championships. Entering the industry with no training and little experience, Rob had to discover a path to success. Within a short time of starting, he topped the Clippers sales board and eventually moved into management. As a manager, Rob reflected on what made him successful and developed his own sales and service training philosophy and methodology.

After finalizing his new techniques, Rob shared the training with others. Within a short time, Rob caught the attention of the NBA League Office in New York City. Quickly, the NBA realized that whatever Rob was sharing with his staff was working. He was asked to share his ideas with other teams in the NBA. The results were undeniable. The other teams Rob worked with saw similar results and this caught the attention of other teams from other leagues. An entrepreneur, Rob founded Game Face in 1995.

Between 1995 and 2000, our primary function as a company was live training. Since 1995, we have trained over 25,000 executives and have been in over 400 front offices nationally and internationally servicing teams in every major and minor league sport. During that five-year period, we broadened our reach developing strong relationships with presidents, vice presidents, directors, and up-and-coming executives in management today. We also earned the title as the top sales trainers in the industry. Between our strong relationships, bird’s eye view of the industry that can only be developed by visiting so many front offices, and training expertise we started being cornered by team presidents … in a good way! Leaders of sports organizations recognized that we not only consistently exceeded expectations training top talent, but were also adept at identifying established and up-and-coming talent.

The entrepreneurial side of Rob struck again when he recognized that Game Face was uniquely positioned to assist teams develop, identify, and acquire top talent. The Game Face Search Division was born in 1999. Our Search Division focuses primarily on filling sales, service, marketing, and management positions throughout the industry. With two subdivisions, one department within the Division focuses on assisting established executives with proven track records advance their careers. The other department within the Division specializes in assisting entry-level job seekers break into the industry. Since 2000, we have assisted over 500 job seekers break into the industry into full-time sales and service positions. We have never placed anyone into an internship. The primary mode for identifying and developing talent is the Game Face Executive Academy. The Academy is an exclusive two-week training session held at our headquarters in Portland, Oregon. The two weeks are filled with the same training that has propelled our business to the forefront of the industry, included a great deal of one-on-one time with the Game Face Search Division discussing career strategy, interview techniques, and insider industry information, and culminates with a project for one of our hundreds of professional team clients. Celebrating our 50th Academy in January 2008, we have successfully placed 75% of graduates in full-time positions in sports.

Business has exploded, specifically our live training and consulting services division. We are on the road in team front offices more than ever. As a result, we’ve taken the Academy on the road to team facilities and university conferences in an effort to broaden our reach and identify more star candidates for our team partners who rely on us as a source of entry-level talent. We are finalizing an event schedule for next year. If you are interested in more information on our events or how our Search Division may be able to assist you break into sports, please email me directly at

You can also click here for more sports career insights (PDF)

Assuming a great number of young job seekers are always looking to break into jobs in sports, what is the benefit of a team or franchise using a company and service Game Face, as opposed to doing the work in-house?

That is a great question. The reality is that there are far too many people who want to get into the industry and not nearly enough jobs available. Put yourself into the seat of your typical sports manager. Also consider that most teams do not have a human resources department. On a day-to-day basis they have to:

A) Run a department of 20+ people
B) Do THEIR jobs
C) Answer to the fans AND the owner
D) Work 15+ hours if it is a game day.

When in the world would anyone have enough time to effectively review the hundreds of resumes that come pouring in every time they have an opening? As someone who gets anywhere from 20 to 100 unsolicited resumes in his inbox everyday, after a while they all just start looking the same!

Our Search Division streamlines the hiring process for teams. First and foremost, we handle the volume of inquiries. Sports is a small industry, but hundreds of thousands of fans want to break in without the slightest idea of what the industry really wants in an employee. We filter through these candidates and identify those with great attitudes, those with strong communication skills, those who are serious about selling, and those who have the willingness and ability to get their careers started. Sacrifice includes the ability to relocate, the ability to handle a few years of low wages at the beginning of your career (average $30k), and the willingness to work where the industry needs you, whether that is with a major league team or a minor league team. I’ve had candidates question me about MY willingness to relocate. For the record, I picked up and moved 3,000 miles across the country from New Jersey to Portland, Oregon, to accept my ideal position in sports. Most people will have to do something similar to break into this industry.

Second, we prepare our candidates for a career in sports. Game Face candidates receive the same training the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Celtics and on and on, have been delivering to their people for the last 13 years. The logic goes…if those teams want their employees to have these skills, wouldn’t it benefit you to have those skills too!?

Third, we don’t just send a list of candidates to a client and say, “Good luck!” We establish a thorough understanding of the position they are filling, including required skills, the corporate culture, compensation info, benefits, estimated start date, et al. and make sure the candidates we present are a good fit for the position and interested in the job. We then present a concentrated list of the top candidates we have available to the hiring manager, and facilitate the interview process.

Literally, all a hiring manager in sports has to do is give us a call and describe their job. Within a few days, they’ll have a list of five-to-ten eager, qualified, pre-trained candidates interested in the job ready to interview. The first round of interviews are typically completed within four days cradle-to-grave.

Now, if you are a hiring manager, would you rather spend hours and hours away from your family sorting through thousands of “doctored” resumes trying to figure out who will make a good employee? Or, would you rather make a quick phone call and have outstanding candidates hand-delivered to you?

As for the candidates, we take a vested interest in your success. If we choose to put our name on you that means we are engaging in a partnership that includes marketing of your candidacy directly to decision makers with teams with whom we have a strong relationship, interview preparation and coaching, feedback from interviews (don’t you hate when you don’t get a job, but never find out why?), guidance once you receive a job offer(s), and support AFTER you take the job. Game Face candidates are high performers in the sports industry for a reason and that is because we invest ourselves fully into the people we work with.

Are most of the jobs you place entry level or more executive in nature?

Our Search Division has two branches. One side is devoted to executive and management level positions, while the other branch specializes in assisting entry-level job seekers break into sports. Entry-level placements outpace executive and management level placements based entirely on the comparative number of positions available on each level. In any business, there are more front-line staffers as compared with managers.

What qualifications are most employers looking for? Any specific experience levels or education backgrounds?

Qualifications…well, from us, Game Face sales and service training! Our candidates get hired because they have the skills to hit the ground running from day one.

It always helps to have previous sales experience and earning a four-year degree is important (having a four-year degree is required by most of the organizations we work with), though I haven’t observed any specific educational background that might give a candidate a particular advantage when trying to break into sports.

Now, in my personal experience, students with undergraduate degrees in sport management (sport administration or any derivative) are, in general, more prepared for the industry than your typical college graduate. This is a direct result of the work that dedicated sport management professors perform every day. We, at Game Face, feel professional, dedicated educators do not get enough credit in this country for the important work they do.

What type of jobs are generally most sought out by users of your service?

Full-time and non-internship. I’m sure you wanted a specific department. See below for that answer.

What type of jobs are most employers seeking to fill?

Revenue-generating positions. The fact is the two biggest expenses any team will have are the facility they call home and player expenses. Everything else centers around covering the bills related to those two assets and making a profit (or minimizing loss). If you are successful bringing in revenue, you have a career in this industry.

Based on these answers, what would you recommend to students looking to get a job you might potentially be looking to fill - courses, experience, internships?

Our training. I know, it sounds homerish, but there is a reason teams come back again and again to utilize us as a source of the best talent available.

What is the weirdest/most interesting job title you have seen so far (and if you can say where, all the better)?

One minor league executive we work with is referred to as “GERT.” Or, “Guy Everybody Reports To!” To clarify, this executive oversees every aspect of three minor league baseball teams. His official title is, “General Manager.” We prefer GERT!

Some teams (like the Red Sox) have hired beat reporters to become full time bloggers. Is this a trend in the making, or are teams open to the idea of hiring bloggers who have experience... blogging?

I think the truly talented, serious bloggers of the world will always have a place in the media scene. Unfortunately, the barriers of entry to become a blogger are non-existent. As a result, you have a lot of knuckleheads giving blogging a bad name. I hope teams pay attention to the professional bloggers and not the irrational fans who can’t string a sentence together.

What has been your proudest moment as a recruiter for Game Face?

I’d say it was the first time my President told me he trusted me. When you work hard for the big moments, you expect the results. Often, it is the small things that catch you off guard. I went home very happy that day.

Do you see many mid-career switchers or do you mostly focus on college students and the next generation?

We get a nice demographical mix of candidates. In fact, here is a breakdown.

Typically, most of the people we deal with are between the ages of 22 and 25, but we stress diversity. Our teams don’t have a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to hiring, so it is in our best interest to cultivate a deep pool of talent. Diversity is very important to us.

One interesting success story centers around a professional who was 65 years of age when we got our hands on him. He had a successful, long-term career with a Fortune 500 company before coming to us to transition into sports. He wasn’t the kind of guy who could “retire,” so a career in an industry he loved made sense for him. He tried taking a sports management course online but found that didn’t prepare him nor qualify him for a job with a team, but after completing our training we were able to successfully place this individual with a minor league baseball team in the same town where his granddaughter calls home.

The Sport Business Education Network (SBEN) is unlike most sports job resources, mainly because it is free. Tell us about starting that up, its usefulness and its growth.

The original SBEN was developed back in 2003 as project for a college class. The idea came to me during my very first sport management class. My professor made a huge point during one class about how important networking was to our futures in the sports industry. I went home that night and used what was a relatively new search tool at the time, Google, to see if there were any sports career networking sites online. To my dismay, there weren’t. I decided, why not me?

The SBEN is a free resource and will always be a free resource. In my eyes, it serves two functions:

1) Provide a central point for all the great resources on the web dedicated to assisting people break into this tough industry
2) Provide a central point for networking and the sharing of great ideas

So far, we’ve accomplished both!

Also, don’t rule out “fee based” job boards. They do a good job serving the industry. If you have the resources, I’d recommend checking out the two biggest, and A free job board to consider is

What feedback, positive and negative, do you get from users on the site?

Surprisingly, I’ve gotten 100% positive feedback from users on the website. Keep in mind the current incarnation of the site is a result of five years of mistakes, successes, feedback, and trial and error. Back then, I did get a lot of feedback, but from the ashes of the old website I’ve been able to build a valuable resource, which serves a very specific market free of charge. I think the positive vibe around the Sport Business Education Network is a direct result of the efforts put in by early members and volunteers. Although, for the sake of space, I can’t name each and every person involved in the site in one way or another, I want them to know I thank them all for caring and nurturing the concept!

Personally, how do you compare your current work with that which you've done in the past? The other places you've worked seem like the sort of jobs you are placing people in. Any temptation to just get back into something like them as opposed to what you are doing now?

I’ve been in the industry and sometimes I miss the feeling of being in a ballpark on game days, but I’ve really lucked out and found my niche. I’m very good at what I do and I’m eager to continue improving. As long as the opportunity to develop and grow is here at Game Face, I don’t anticipate leaving. Although, I’m not really sure what my future holds! Candidly, I get job offers from clients all the time!

What are your ultimate career goals?

I’m not sure. Unless someone knows something I don’t know, I’ll be involved in taking Game Face to a whole new level. Perhaps my future lies in another industry. One way or another, I look forward to making a positive impact on this industry and on the lives of thousands of people before all is said and done.

What's the most rewarding part of your current job?

Most rewarding part of my job…serving our clients. When I say “client,” I am referring to both candidates whose careers we assist launch and the satisfied hiring authorities who thank us for our efforts. It feels really good to assist so many people achieve their dreams!

Biggest perks?

Biggest perks … the relationships and my mentors. I’m on a first name basis with hundreds of executives in the industry. I can’t say I expected that at such an early juncture in my career.

I also have the BEST bosses in the world. They would call me a partner. I’ve been blessed enough to learn from the sports industry’s best sales trainer and a true visionary, a Harvard MBA with over 20 years of business experience, a staffing industry expert and business-builder extraordinaire, one of the best and most seasoned sales managers in the industry, and a former high-level NBA executive.

Not bad company!

Biggest hassles or obstacles?

Biggest hassle…dealing with the unrealistic expectations of job seekers. This is a cutthroat industry. Game Face has a proven track record of guiding people into the industry and throughout their careers. Some job seekers decide they know more than we do about the industry and refuse to accept the realities of what type of job they’re qualified for, what skills they need to develop, and what sacrifices they may need to make to acquire a job in sports – lower starting pay, longer hours, you probably aren’t starting your career with your favorite team, you are probably going to have to relocate for your first job in sports, and sales is the widest door into the industry.

As successful as we’ve been, we don’t have a magic wand. If a job seeker doesn’t accept the realities of the industry, no matter how talented they are, they probably aren’t going to get in.

Anything you would have changed during college to better prepare you?

Wow, this is an interesting question. Obviously, I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t followed the path I took, but…I probably would have saved more money, cut back on my student loans, and would have delved into sales earlier in college. As far as money/student loans, most college students don’t think about the ramifications of the loans they take for education. I know I didn’t! My loans aren’t outrageous, but I deal with many college graduates who have to pay the government as much as $1,000 per month for the next 20 years to pay off their loans. How do you survive on an entry-level salary (around $30k), when $12,000 of it is going to Uncle Sam? $1,000 is more than a monthly rental payment in most cities in America!

As far as sales experience, I understand now that everything is about sales. Whether you are negotiating, developing a relationship, servicing a client, communicating with your boss, or…actually selling…you need these skills. I can’t stress this enough.

You're GM for the Pittsburgh Pirates. What are the first three things you implement to turn the team around?

1) Pick up the phone
2) Dial (503) 692-8855
3) See what Game Face thinks.

In all seriousness, we’ve worked with a number of people in the organization and they have made a couple of excellent hires recently. I predict better times ahead for the organization.

Contact Stephen:

See all our "So You Want to Work in Sports?" Features Here.

1 comment:

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