By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Richie Smith, Manager of Analytics for the Boston Celtics. In a short time since graduating college, 5 years to be exact, Richie has risen to his position quite rapidly. Crediting his experience outside the sports industry as the driving factor behind how he got to where he is today, Richie knows all to well how important it is to step back away from sports for a moment. He was gracious enough to offer up his time and insight into the world of analytics and how they are being used in an NBA team, why starting in sales is never a bad route to go and why having experience outside of sports is just as important.
You graduated in 2010 and five years later have found yourself as the Manager of Analytics and Strategy, Corporate Partnerships and Business Development. What has that journey been like for you?
I was really pleased that I had ended up at GW because I was able to get a general business degree, while taking multiple sports-oriented classes within the business school. Out of college, I was looking to work in sports, but didn’t really have an idea in what capacity. During my time at GW, I made sure to try and get as much experience and exposure to the industry as possible; I was lucky to intern with the Wizards in corporate sponsorships and Nationals in marketing & promotions, along with working part time in the GW athletics department directly under the SID and Media Relations Staff.
After graduating, I was lucky enough to land a position with the Padres in Inside Sales. It was a great experience where I made some of my best friends and contacts that I still have to this day.
After finishing the program with the Padres, I was not quite sure what I wanted the next step to be. I knew I still wanted to work in sports, but I also wanted to try and get back to the Boston where my girlfriend (now fiancé) was living. If I would have stayed with the Padres, I would have become an account executive, but I wasn’t sure if that was the path I wanted to take. Additionally and probably more importantly, I decided that in order to make myself a more well-rounded, desirable professional and gain a more comprehensive knowledge of the business world, I would try to experience some different things outside of sports and then hopefully use that to find an opportunity to return to the industry later on.
I decided to move to Boston where I began working for a start-up and later moved into strategy consulting, both of which were great learning experiences for me. Earlier this year, an opportunity with the Celtics presented itself and it was a great role to combine what I had been doing outside of sports with my interest in re-entering into the industry.
I was glad I gained experience outside of sports because it allowed me to gain a different perspective on the business world and it has extremely helped my career.
Your first position in sports, like many others, was in sales. What was that entry-level position like for you? What should students expect?
Working in sales is definitely a grind. There’s nothing flashy about it. It was very much a daily struggle and a challenge to put together the self-motivation on a daily basis. You don’t get the best leads and you’re expected to make upwards of 80-100 phone calls a day. Throughout the grind though, you become very close with fellow employees, and it turns into a true bonding experience.
It’s funny because, in a sense, it is a competition against others, but you are also working together and that is when those close relationships form.
Working in sales is a great experience, but you have to be mentally prepared for what it is going to take, especially at the entry-level position.
You have experience outside of sports as well. How has that experience made you better suited to succeed in sports?
It really exposes you to other aspects of the business world and challenges you to look at things in a different light. If you get an entry-level job in sales and then work your way up from there without leaving sports, sure you gain fantastic knowledge during that time and there is certainly nothing wrong with that – many sports professionals I know have been successful taking that approach.
But that is all you really know. Depending on your role, you aren’t typically interacting and working with other industries or lines of business, and that’s where having that outside perspective comes in handy. It just helps you think differently, in my opinion.
The main reason I was able to get my current position with the Celtics was because I came from outside the industry and had those other business experiences.
What is your average day like?
My position falls under the corporate partnerships group, which houses our corporate sales and partnership activation groups, as well as business development and community relations. Within the group, I play somewhat of a unique role – I’m a rover, in a sense -- so one day I may be working with corporate sales, the next day I might be working with our activation group and the day after that I may be working on other revenue generation initiatives that falls under business development.
I help on the analytical, research, and strategy side of things. I help the individuals on our team build a business case for whatever their particular goal is on a given sale, project, partnership, etc., which often involves using lots of data. I think of myself as an internal business consultant for the group. There is really no average day as I always get to do different things with different people inside the organization, which is fun.
Finish this for me “Analytics have….”
Evolved to the point where social media was at a couple of years ago. Sports entities knew that they needed to use social media marketing, they just weren’t sure how and how to monetize it. It turned into teams “doing” social media just because everyone else was, and there was little to no strategy behind it.
I think analytics is in a very similar spot now. Everyone agrees that analytics are important, but much of the industry is struggling to understand how to use them, specifically how to drive more revenue and return on investment.
Networking: how has it helped you and what are your tips for doing it successfully?
I once had a professor at GW tell my class, “it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” Networking is about being proactive and trying to get your name, resume, and aspirations in front of as many people as possible, so that when you are ready, there are people that know you. College students and young professionals can afford to be persistent, appropriately and politely of course.
Resources like LinkedIn are awesome because it makes it so easy to connect and speak with people in the industry. The more people you reach out to, the more often you’ll get in front of people – you got to think about it a little bit like sales. Offer to take them to get coffee or meet up with them at an event. But again, be respectful of their time and go about it politely.
If you approach your current job or job application with the mindset of “how do I make myself invaluable to this organization,” it will be huge for your career aspirations, your current career and how your coworkers perceive you.
We would like to thank Richie for his time an insight and we wish him the best in his future endeavors!