By Mike Mackin, @Mmackin17
Front Office Sports is excited to share the insights and advice of Shane Harmon, Chief Executive of Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. Shane currently holds over fifteen years of experience in the sport and major event industries in Australia and New Zealand. He has been most involved in marketing, ranging in roles from a general marketing manager to marketing director of two Rugby World Cups.
An Ireland native, Shane didn’t get his start in sports until 2000 when he joined the Sydney Swans, a member of Australian Football League (AFL), as their Membership and Direct Marketing Manager. Before coming to the Swans, he spent a number of years in food sales and the banking industry. He transitioned from Ireland to Australia in 1995 and accepted a position with Citibank. While at that position, Shane focused on honing his direct marketing skills, something that has helped him succeed in his subsequent roles. Being a season ticket holder for the Swans, he developed a passion for the AFL and in five short years after moving to Australia, he accepted a role within their marketing department. “I found that that solid consumer marketing background I gained from my time with Citibank, was a great and transferrable asset for me in breaking into sports.”
Shane was one of many who have made the transition from the corporate business world into the sports industry. “I was able to take my passion for the game and the team, combine it with my consumer marketing background, and be able to deliver actionable strategies.” Before his interview with the Swans, he spent a large amount of time researching the position he applied for and what specific skills they were looking for. He then looked back on his own personal experiences and how he was able to apply those skills that fit the needs of the role he was being interviewed for. All things he highly recommends to anyone looking for a position.
Being a senior administrator with multiple years of experience, Shane has seen many individuals grow and transition their skills that will ultimately lead to greater team success. He can link that success directly to a few certain traits and qualities that every one of those employees possessed: a strong sense of self awareness, a hunger and passion for the position itself and a direct customer focus. Be open about your skills. Very few individuals are good at everything, so keeping an open mind and willingness to adapt will lead to a larger growth potential. Employers can recognize immediately if and when an employee brings passion to the table. A strong passion and hunger for the position shows dedication and a willingness to grow. Lastly, all sports industries have a very strong customer focus. The fans are the most important stakeholder in the industry, as all revenues come directly and indirectly from the supporters of the team.
Regardless if you are already in the industry or looking to get your start, an appreciation for sports is necessary, but having passion alone isn’t enough; an employee must look how they can take that passion and translate that into actions and positive business outcomes. “Above all, you need to be able to demonstrate a passion for what it is you do. You need to be a passionate marketer, a passionate social media coordinator first and foremost. It’s critically important that the passion for the sport itself doesn’t outweigh the passion for what you actually do.”
That passion can be easy to talk about, but few are able to transition that passion into actions. As advice to younger professionals, Shane commented on what he has seen from previous employees. “What they can bring to the table is an excitement about working in the sports industry and being around that team environment. The reality is, it’s not like that. The industry can seem a lot more glamorous from the outside than the actual reality.” There will be days with long hours including weekend and holiday work. As advice, he recommends that people understand what it takes and what goes on behind the scenes. Working in sports involves working with limited budgets and resources compared to the general corporate world and generally a very limited interaction with the players on the team. “It’s important to have an interest in sports because ultimately you’re going to be dealing with customers at all levels that are all very passionate about the product and the sport.”
As a sports administrator, the key is being able to recognize that passion, have empathy for it and be able to relate to it. Comparable to anything else in work and life, it is extremely hard in this industry to succeed unless you actually enjoy the sport.
He also adds that sports is the ultimate people business. “You really need to enjoy working with people in this environment. You need to adopt that same team mentality off the field that the players do on the field.” Each individual person has their general job descriptions and tasks that they must complete, but there must be a willingness to pitch in with any other area as needs arise. A good team dynamic is very important to the success of any organization, regardless of industry. Prove to the hiring staff that you are a team player; be someone who is coachable and can work in any team environment. “However, being a team player does not mean you should toe the line on every decision. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to be constructively critical as to how things are currently done.”
“Excellent people skills are a must and use them to network with others. Networking is a very important part of any job search process. Because of this, graduates and young sports professionals need to spend time and energy on networking.” Networking can involve a lot of things ranging from volunteering on game day to catching up with old colleagues and connecting with other professionals via social media. Find that niche to combine your passion with your educational experience. If done correctly, networking can demonstrate hunger and passion, and creates a connection prior to face-to-face meetings. Start the connections early and build a strong base to build off of in the future. Don’t reach out to someone and the first contact you have is asking for a job. Use the time to learn how to succeed.
Besides having superb people skills, being a good listener is a necessary if advancement is the ultimate goal. “You need to be able to listen and understand where others are coming from and then be able to take those learnings and turn them into mutually beneficial outcomes. Don’t come in to a role and approach professionals pretending that you have all the answers.” Listen, learn and grow.