‘Sure, I can figure that out.’

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By: Mark Hodgkin, @Mark_Hodgkin

Mark Hodgkin, Product Manager for College Sports at NeuLion Inc.

Mark Hodgkin, Product Manager for College Sports at NeuLion Inc.

‘Sure, I can figure that out.'

This is essentially how I got my start in digital.  In truth, it’s how I got into the world of college sports and has helped me advance. 

I had come late to the party and only realized I could make a living in sports prior to my senior year at the University of Texas. I was encouraged by a mentor (Dennis Coleman of Ropes & Gray) that I could build a career in sport with some doors he could open for me. He was careful to tell me that while he could open the door, it would be up to me to kick it down and make my place inside. 

But back to my route to digital. I had spent two years at Bryant University as a marketing GA doing just about anything you could imagine for (what was then) a division II athletics department. 

One of the networking relationships I’d made up my first few years in the business was with Boston College Associate Athletics Director Jamie DiLoreto. I met Jamie at an NCAA networking event my first year at Bryant and had kept in good touch. 

Jamie was everything you could ask for in a mentor. Smart, kind and well connected. We would meet for occasional breakfasts in Newton and regularly exchange emails. So it was one of the great compliments I’ve ever had when he called me and told me he had a position he’d like to see me fill at BC. 

There was just one catch. It was a brand new position, a one year internship totally devoted to their website and digital offerings. ‘Do you know anything about that?’ Jamie asked.

And thus my start. As someone who grew up with the Internet taking shape and a general proclivity for it I jumped at the opportunity to head to an ACC school.  

I forget my exact response, but it was something to the effect of ‘I’ll figure that out!’

So I was able to immerse myself in the digital world of college athletics from some of its earliest days. I was right between the worlds of marketing and media relations, a position I’ve remained in most of my career. 

And it never would have happened had I not met Jamie at a Boston networking event I just happened to attend. 

By this point, I hope you know the importance of networking. If you don’t, then etch it into your mind as you will never get where you want to without it. And get it into your head that networking is NOT just about finding a job.

Some of the most important and meaningful relationships I’ve made have not led to full-time employment. If you treat them this way, you will come across as transparently opportunistic. I’ve found people in sports to be enormously generous and willing to help, but it’s important not to treat it as a one-way street. Look for ways you can provide value and give, give give before you ever consider asking for a ‘take’. 

Think beyond the collection of business cards you may pick up along the way. Work hard to develop and maintain those relationships and slowly building each up to the next level. Strangers to acquaintances, acquaintances to friends, friends to confidantes. 

When I left the American Athletic Conference in April, it took me several weeks to touch base with my entire network via phone calls, texts and emails. It was essentially a full-time job to alert them to the change and hopefully grab a few minutes for their advice and guidance. 

Many of those conversations helped me frame what I wanted to do next, many challenged me, many comforted me, and yes some eventually led to my new position at Neulion. 

I’ve never taken a formal class in sports management or anything related to digital media. I attribute my success to hustle, my network and my ability to adapt. These things sound natural and common sense, but they take a discipline and a concerted effort. 

If you’re just starting out, don’t be scared to ask established professionals for ten minutes of their time. Introduce yourself, make a positive impression and work towards a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. 

This is a small world and a strong network of professional contacts is invaluable. 

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