By: Travis Gorsch, @tgorsch3
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Will Exline, Account Manager of Sports Partnerships at Twitter, Inc. Will was gracious enough to invite us in to Twitter’s Headquarters located in San Francisco to chat face-to-face about his experience in the University of San Francisco Sport Management graduate program as well as advice on nurturing relationships, sacrificing time and money for his greater career goals and his best advice for current students looking to break into the sports industry.
You received your Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology before obtaining a Masters in Sport Management. These are two pretty unrelated degrees. How has it prepared you for a career in the Sports Industry and when did you know you wanted to work in sports?
A few months before graduating undergrad, I realized I didn’t want to work in the psychology field for the rest of my life. I always had a passion for sports but was unsure how to break into the industry. After talking with mentors, I learned you were able to get a degree in Sport Management which lead me to the program at the University of San Francisco.
When I came in to the program, I thought I wanted to be a General Manager of a professional baseball team. I was dead set on it. About two weeks in to the program, I quickly came to the realization that I did not want to be a GM of a baseball team. Not so much because of the workload or the work it would take to get there, but after conducting informational interviews with members of MLB front offices, I came to find that some people were on the road 200 days a year. It didn’t seem like something sustainable down the road when you have a family and things like that. It wasn’t the path I wanted to end up on.
As a student, when reaching out for informational interviews, I strongly recommend you play the student card. People always want to help out students; they’ve been there before. You’ll only be able to do so for a finite amount of years. It’s tough for an undergrad to know on your own that it’s something you need to do. When I came to the USF program they put such an emphasis on informational interviews. Honestly some of the connections that I’ve made through informational interviews I’m in touch with now and some of them are even clients. It all started when I began the USF program. It’s been incredibly helpful.
Keep in mind that the informational interviews don’t have to be with the highest ranking officials from an organization or only from marquee programs. People will move around and move up the ladder quicker than you would think. Now, that contact that you didn’t think was important or “big time” can end up being somewhere amazing. You have to follow up. Be politely persistent. I’m still relatively early in my sports career, but with where my workload is now, when I get emails from students sometimes it just slips and I’m not able to get back to them. I’m not intentionally giving them the stiff arm.
You have so much going on in your day to day that you can’t get to everything. Just imagine how much busier that folks at the VP level and above are during the day and how many more requests they get. Of course, when people send that second email it’s no problem; I definitely want to help. The follow up just to get the initial contact is important, but the follow up after you get the interview or meet someone is just as important. You need to find a way to make them remember who you are. You’re not just a handshake at a conference and then you never speak to them again.
Your first experience in sports was with the Fullerton Flyers in Orange County as a Sales and Marketing Representative. How were you able to get your foot in the door?
It was really just trying to find any position that I could. This was an independent league baseball team that not many people knew about. I was really trying to get any position I could and minor league baseball seemed like an ideal place to try a little bit of everything. The position encapsulated multiple departments. We were calling people trying to sell tickets, we worked in the box office during game day, we worked in the kid’s zone seeing how fast they could throw a fastball, and we were dancing on top of the dugouts during the 8th inning firing up the crowd. It was good to be part of a non-professional sports company to see how much really goes in to it and how much you have to sacrifice to get to where you want to go.
You held an internship in Marketing at Advanced Soccer Media. You ended up latching on full-time with ASM as a Marketing Manager. How were you able to make the move from intern to full-time?
It was a small company. There were about 12 people. There was only one other full-time marketing person so it really gave me a lot of room as an intern to work as hard as I wanted to. I was unpaid working 40 hours a week even though I wasn’t asked to work 9-5. I thought it would be a really good chance to show how much I wanted it and show how much I could do even though I wasn’t getting paid for it. It was tough for a while because I was also working at a bar until 2 in the morning to pay the bills and going to grad school on top of all of it. Eventually, I got hired to be the company’s marketing manager full-time so it paid off.
You continued to climb the sports ladder up to FOX Soccer as the Marketing Coordinator for a year and a half before moving FOX Sports 1 to be the Digital Marketing Coordinator for another year. What was your experience like? What has made you successful early in your career?
The way I got the position at FOX is a testament to how important your network is. Early into my time at the startup, my boss had left to go to FOX from Advanced Soccer Media. We had stayed in touch, at least every couple months just checking in. Eventually when a spot had opened up with FOX, she thought of me. She knew what I could do and how hard I worked. She reached out and one thing led to another. Truly a case of “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It was good to have those connections and continue to lean on your network to get those kind of opportunities. Once I was in there, knowing FOX is a bigger media company, it was, ‘how hard did I want to work for it?’
A year and a half on the soccer side I got my hands into as much as possible, doing everything from media buying, to social, to video, to working with PR folks. When they started FOX Sports 1, they brought me over for the launch of the new network. That was incredibly valuable because I wasn’t just working in soccer anymore. I was working with the MLB, NFL, NASCAR, and UFC. When you start working with those different properties, you’re constantly preparing for these marquee events, not to mention the launch of a 24/7 sports network.
Working harder than anyone else there set me apart. Going back to the internship example: No one asked me to work 40 hours. I could have just as easily logged the 10 hours a week and went home early. That’s really a way that you separate yourself from the rest of the pack. When it came time for the hiring of a full-time marketing person, it was a no brainer. They knew that I had already worked my butt off to show what I can do for the company.
I try to continue to have that mentality, even being a full-time employee. I worked as hard as I could, trying to network and get in front of as many different groups as I could so that when it came time to work cross functionally with someone from another team, there was already someone that I had that existing relationship with. I was able to get the work done more efficiently and in turn it makes you look better.
Now that you are an Account Manager for Sports Partnerships at Twitter. What does your day-to-day look like?
It is very different depending on which day you ask me. In this role we work with teams, leagues, networks, content partners, and even a couple daily fantasy companies you may have heard of a million times. The day really depends on the client. You could be talking to someone about the Daytona 500 and an hour later you’re talking to a partner about how to get College football fans excited about the Championship game. You have to be creative so that teams and leagues can in turn put together the best campaigns possible on Twitter and really maximize their market. Whether it’s selling tickets or driving app downloads or just getting fans excited.
Getting in front of a client differs with each one. If partners are in town, we love to host them at Twitter HQ, but we are on the road multiple times a month whether it’s New York, Charlotte, Vegas or Los Angeles. We want to be a resource for our partners to make sure they are all set for their marquee or tentpole events.
The conceptualization process is always better in person just because being in the same room you can brainstorm and collaborate much easier than over a video conference. As far as “making the sale” there’s not really a go-to tactic. I’m never going to pressure people to do something that doesn’t make sense because if it’s not helpful for them then it’s not going to be helpful for us in the long term anyway.
What advice do you have for students interested in the digital side of sports?
Learn something new every single day. In the span of two weeks, there are going to be completely new products that are top of mind and completely different ways in which they’re used. Taking a quote from Moneyball, “Adapt or Die.” Something that is big now, may be an afterthought next year or it could be huge and something that everyone is focusing on. Also, don’t just focus on what’s happening in the sports business world; you can absolutely find a great idea in the NY Times or AdAge that can apply in the sports industry.
Do you have any networking advice for students and young professionals?
People try to overcomplicate networking; most think they have to go to an event or mixer in a suit and shake hands and swap business cards. It could be as simple as knowing that someone went to school in Iowa and shooting them an email when they make a bowl game. Just being able to keep in touch. Whether it’s a happy birthday or just saying hi, check in and see how they are doing. Don’t try to overthink it. You also don’t want to only reach out to people when you need something. Taking a page from Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’: build the relationship, build the relationship, build the relationship, and then you can make a request if there’s a way for them to add value.
Whatever stop it is, whether it’s an internship or a full-time job, make sure you can create value. A lot of what they talked about at USF was making sure you’re actually contributing something, not just doing exactly what you are asked. If you find a better way to do something or an easier way to do something, then make it happen. Take initiative and be the change you want to see.
We want to thank Will for his time and insight and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!