This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration.
By: Chase Kostellic, @kostellic
In the competitive industry of sports, it’s more important than ever to get involved early and start building your personal brand. Joey Gardner, Social, Digital, and Creative Services at University of Dayton, is doing just that. Working as a Social Media Specialist and Sports Information Student Assistant while still a junior in college with a wealth of experience before and in between, Gardner has a drive that we can all learn something from.
It’s not every day that you find someone who has broken into the business at such an early point in their journey. For Gardner, it has been full-speed ahead since high school. He attended DeSales High School in Louisville, KY, where he was known as the “Walking Sports Center” due to his love and knowledge of sports. During his junior year, his first big opportunity came when a local group known as Louisville Catholic Sports reached out to his English teachers about the chance to write stories on local high school sporting events. Gardner jumped on this opportunity and became one of the student contributors, working closely with experienced writers from organizations such as Sports Illustrated, while covering a multitude of games going on around the city.
After building a skill set in sports writing, Gardner originally planned to study journalism in college and take that into the sports world. He was set on attending the University of Dayton to keep up with a family tradition, but his plan of study changed when his high school gave him the opportunity to tour the University of Louisville Sports Administration program. He loved what he saw and decided to take a risk by changing his declared major at Dayton to sport management with a minor in business administration. He has stayed true to this plan since then and has an anticipated graduation of May, 2018.
As his first year of studies at Dayton got underway, Gardner was given an early assignment of researching jobs in sports and cold calling contacts in order to find out what he would specifically be interested in, salaries, hours and other related aspects. The goal was to get three contacts for each position. Gardner took it a few steps further, as the idea of being a Sports Information Director had him sold. He gained 15 contacts out of the assignment for that position alone. As a young freshman right out of high school, it was here where it became clear that building a network is paramount.
“That assignment forced us to not only to get a fast idea on what working in the industry is like, but also to begin networking and understand the impact it has. I began to look at it as much more than an assignment.”
Tasks like these carried on throughout Gardner’s freshman year, ultimately teaching him to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. He went back home to Louisville for the summer with the goal of finding an internship. Thanks to the connections he had from contributing with Louisville Catholic Sports, he was able to get in contact with the Director of Media and Public Relations for Louisville City FC, a brand new professional soccer team in the USL that was getting their inaugural season underway. He reached out and was able to get his foot in the door as a Media Relations Intern for the club.
“My time at Louisville City FC was amazing. I would get to the field two hours before kickoff to set up and help with media passes, then watch the game, put together stats and write the recap.”
To go along with his core responsibilities at the club, the front office staff took note of his hard work and made sure to give him even more exposure.
“The General Manager and Director of Media and Public Relations did so much for me. Even as the young freshman, they had me come to the office and sit in on meetings, helped me with match day recaps, taught me to write media guides and trusted me to write recaps remotely for away games.”
This internship resulted in Gardner heading back to school with a lot of experience that his fellow classmates didn’t have, ultimately resulting in him landing a position at the beginning of his sophomore year with the University of Dayton Sports Information Office. His stat crew and recap experience gave him the competitive edge that opened the door. Within this opportunity, he was tasked with the creation of media guides for the 2014-2015 Men’s Basketball season. He became one of the editorial assistants and still holds this role today.
Early on in his time as a Sports Information Assistant, a passion for photoshop and design was instilled in Gardner. He wanted to take this newfound skillset beyond his responsibilities at the Sports Information office, so he did just that by helping redesign the schedule cards for a high school basketball team that his sister played for. Instead of going with what he already knew, he took some personal time to research, download new programs, expand his skillset, and then put it all into action.
“To my standards now, it would have been an awful project, but at the time I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I purchased the entire Adobe Creative Cloud and started creating game day and post-game graphics for the high school. I decided to take a class on it as well. I spend a minimum of four hours a day in Adobe programs working on design.”
Finding new passions and expanding on them became a habit for Gardner. Towards the end of his sophomore year and into the summer, his perseverance landed him a position at the University of Dayton Office of Communications as a Social Media Specialist, where he got an opportunity to implement his writing and design skills on the school’s social mediums.
“I help with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, taking part in the launch of campaigns where we get as much user generated content as possible and craft posts that our fans like to see and engage with. I was also asked to take charge of the planning, content, and launch of our Dayton Athletics Snapchat account that we started at the beginning of this school year.”
When an opportunity opens up to put his skills into action and learn more along the way, Gardner is first in line. During this busy time of creating graphics on the side and working in both sports information and social media, another chance to learn and make an impact presented itself with the Xenia Scouts of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, a baseball league supported by the MLB that helps transition collegiate players into the professional sphere.
“My boss reached out to me and said the Scouts were looking for people to work in creative services and graphic design. It was unpaid, but I said yes right away. I went to most of the games and was able to create work that showcased my skills and build more connections along the way.”
Now in his junior year, Gardner still holds his positions in Sports Information and Social Media, all while actively continuing to get his name out there as a young professional. His hard work is quickly paying off, as he is already beginning to get job offers.
“It kills me to have to respond and say that I’m only a junior in college, but I make sure to stay connected with these people and let them know that I’ll definitely be interested once I graduate. I have to be a student first, but I’m grateful for those who reach out to me with full-time opportunities.”
While the future is looking bright, Gardner still makes sure to keep a strong presence on social and encourages others to do the same.
“The wealth of knowledge out there with today’s technology is amazing. I keep telling people to embrace it. There are great contacts and resources out there that can help you. Get on social and build your brand.”
With so much happening so quickly as he drives in the passing lane, the emerging times for sports and support from his family continue to be the biggest motivators in everything that he does.
“I’ve grown up in what I think is the greatest history of development in sports. So many people have done a phenomenal job in the expansion of programs. I’ve always been someone that likes to see things grow and go to the next level. In order to be a part of that, you have to do the same as a professional. You can’t have your hand in the development if you don’t develop yourself, too.”
“I live with the mentality of how can I make something bigger and better. I don’t slow down for that very reason. I credit my parents for this as well. I owe a lot to them for instilling the values in me to lead by example.”
In order to be part of the rapid development and set the bar, you also have to be an innovator.
“I look at everything beyond face value and think of ways that I can do it differently and make an impact. You can do exactly as your told and stay in the mix of the crowd or you can take it one step higher and be a standout.”
In conjunction with being an innovator, it’s also important to maintain a professional representation of yourself everywhere you go.
“You never know who you’re going to meet and where you’re going to meet them. I carry business cards with me everywhere I go. If I’m working a game, I’ll approach reporters or industry professionals and chat with them. When I go to class, I dress professionally. The way you present yourself and connect with others is a game-changer.”
It’s clear that networking has played a commanding role in the opportunities that Gardner has had, making it fitting that his final piece of advice for those looking to make their mark in the business emphasizes this along with being confident.
“No matter where you’re at in your journey, don’t be scared. Have confidence in yourself and reach out to people. Talk to them, listen to their story and maintain a lasting relationship with them. It’s the biggest thing you can do.”
To see more of his work, check out his website.