How One Phone Call Changed a Career, the Journey of Brian Schiazza

By: Ryan Weir, @r_weir

Brian Schiazza, a sports media professional 

Brian Schiazza, a sports media professional 

Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Brian Schiazza, a sports media professional who has worked at the NHL and the New York Rangers. Brian worked as a Web Production Manager for the NHL Club Sites, where he, among other a variety of duties, managed and scheduled full-time producers to help maximize written and multimedia content for the NHL Club Sites.  Most recently, Brian worked at the New York Rangers as Director, Digital, where he was responsible for the day-to-day production and creation of content across multiple platforms. Brian was gracious enough to offer up insight into what it takes to succeed on the digital media side of sports, how he got to where he got and what his day-to-day responsibilities were like.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to work in sports.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn. Baseball is in your blood as a New Yorker and I am a Mets fan.  Then I fell in love with hockey during the New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup run in the 1980s, along with the Miracle on Ice. I became an Islander and hockey freak.  I liked baseball and collected baseball cards … but I loved hockey. When I graduated college with a major in English, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.  So, I thought about teaching and went through a few jobs. I decided to switch careers and managed to do it.  At the time, the web wasn’t what it was now and I wanted to get involved. I wanted to do something where I could possibly write about it while knowing what was under the hood. So, I went to the Mac Learning Center in New York where I took a course to learn more about the web. I learned a little bit of code, Photoshop and stuff like that.

I read an online column around this time written by [hockey historian and broadcaster] Stan Fischler and responded to it.  The next day, I get an email directly from Stan saying: ‘I like what you wrote, give me a call at this number.’  I said ‘What? Ok.’  And I called him the next day and we just started talking. That is just how he is, and he gave me my start as a result of the phone conversation.  I was probably his oldest intern ever but I didn’t care because I was changing careers and wanted to do this. 

His accomplished former interns in the sports industry are notable, and he really gave me a break when I started working for him and his wife, Shirley.  I helped them write their books, helped them edit their newsletter, and I went to assist Stan at hockey games because he was a broadcaster.  I would help him write stuff and come up with topics pre-game, and during breaks and I saw the amount of access he gave to interns, especially if they were astute, on the ball and asked good questions.  So, I learned quite a bit of the media and publishing businesses as a result of this.

After about a year interning for Stan Fischler, I landed a job at the MSG Network, where I worked as a Producer for the MSG Network website, which is the same website in which I saw Stan Fischler’s column and responded to it.  That position was through Stan’s relationship with the MSG Network.  That is how I got my start.

What was it like to work for the Rangers?

I was the Director of Digital / Web Applications & Development.  The biggest reason why I got to work there was because I worked for the NHL for almost seven years managing the club site production desk for all 30 NHL club sites, and had solid insight to what best digital practices were, technically and content-wise. I also had excellent relations at the NHL and MSG Network. I felt working for a team as opposed to the league was very different because, when working for a team, you have a narrower focus and really have to hustle for your content while being more brand-aware. There is quite a lot that goes into teams creating their digital voice, and that includes sales and partnerships, which I gained more exposure to at the Rangers.

What were your responsibilities while working for the New York Rangers?

I was in charge of the day-to-day operations of their sites and mobile app. The Rangers generated a lot of content through MSG and I worked with MSG and the NHL to produce content that was included in the team’s social media channels.  I also worked more on the technical side to maximize the abilities of the NHL platform’s tools and helped them build their app and fan site.

Describe what it was like to win an Emmy Award while working for the MSG Network.

At the time, MSG had an interactive TV project on Cablevision called Game Director, which allowed people to pick different camera angles on their set-top-boxes while watching a Rangers game, and also allowed you to read MSGNetwork.com content.  This was one of the earlier initiatives of its kind at the time, so the team that worked on this won a New York Emmy Award.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the ceremony!

Aside from working, did you do anything else to gain proficiency in digital matters, web development, social media, etc?

Everything that I learned was gleaned by doing it on the job, which, in this 24/7 sports business,  you tend to take home and on the road with you.  Plus, I came to know a lot of people in the NHL that were very helpful.  Initially, I wanted to work in sports as a writer who also had a technical repertoire, in case the writing thing didn’t work.  But once the NHL opportunity arose, they wanted someone that was comfortable with working on website production, could work with people and who also knew the game.

So, I made sure that I became a master of the NHL’s content management system and got to know the web development behind it since it was always evolving.  It was an ongoing process and I learned how to troubleshoot problems, play with HTML, create splash pages, and use code to create solutions for teams in a customer service / collaborative way. I have dealt with development teams, PR teams, creative departments, and even sometimes with the scheduling department and you learn in a hurry how other branches of a business have an effect on your own.  I had a lot of help and a lot of resources and made sure to pass what I learned on.

What else do you aspire to do?

Sports media has a changed a lot in that it has a much larger focus on feeding digital content through social. Finding that perfect balance of exclusivity to keep fans engaged and coming back for more is the biggest challenge.  I think virtual reality is the next best thing that is coming to sports media.  How teams and media can harness this will be interesting. Any digital innovations or methods that helps the NHL game grow is of great interest to me, and I want to learn it all.

Helping people break into sports media and helping them learn and master skills, helping them move up is also something I enjoy.  Lots of folks that I have worked with have gone onto bigger things and I try to stay in touch with them. 

Any concluding tips for people pursuing a career in sports media?

Be prepared to work a lot of hours.  Depending on your job, it may not be always be lucrative or convenient to your social or family life.  So, you must love your job and have a lot of energy and passion and build your career with this early on. It’s a little bit simplistic and cliché, but it’s true. Learn as many skills as you can, and parlay them into be as indispensible as you can without taking your eyes off where you want to go.  Make sure that you can deal with egos, which there are no shortage of this in every branch.  If you do these things, you will be in a position to excel. And internships are more of a golden ticket than ever.

Communicate well.  Make sure to be diligent with your writing and communication. It’s not overrated.  Also, being ahead of the curve in what digital media advances unfold is more important now than ever before.  New applications, new innovations come out every day, so staying ahead of the curve will set you apart.

Finally, once you find a mentor or a boss who believes in your abilities, be humbly indispensable to that person and soak up their wisdom. Having that mentor or boss who values what you bring is absolute gold.

We would like to thank Brian for his time and insights and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors! 

You can follow him on Twitter here or connect with him on LinkedIn here

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