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Annabel Padilla, AMD’07

Five Secrets to Success in the World of Professional Sports

In high school, I attended a NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game in support of my hometown team, the New Jersey Nets. I fell in love with the energy of the entire arena and the fans. It was my favorite professional sports league, showcasing some of the most talented athletes in the world on a global platform. I remember looking at all of the people on the floor wearing credentials and I was so curious about their jobs. I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of a team that puts together a memorable experience for fans.

Over the years, I followed that passion, which led me to the Atlanta Hawks. Today, after 11 years in the business, I have learned about the world of professional sports, and what goes on behind the scenes. Every day, I continue to learn more and more, and if this is a world you’re interested in, here are some key tips that helped me get to where I am today:

Understand the business and channel your experience to impact it
It’s not enough to simply “like” sports. Take the time to understand the business and always think about how your current skill set can drive the industry forward, and how you can be innovative and creative in ways that can impact the overall business.

I played basketball and soccer until I was in 12th grade, and many of my teammates were some of my closest friends. I loved how sports brought us together, and more importantly, how it brought my classmates, families and our community together. I used that personal experience to help make an impact in my professional career. If I had to boil down what I do into a few words, it would be – creating a positive fan experience. The world is constantly changing, so I am always challenged with finding unique ways that our brand can connect with fans. I think back to the ways that sport impacted me and use that to fuel my work.

Remember that a sports job is like any other
Unlike the common perception of fame, glamor and glory, a job in sports has many elements that are just like any other regular job. Each league and team have departments like every other job: Human Resources, Finance, IT, Marketing, Digital, etc. Use a company’s website to do your research: learn about what employers are looking for, what language they speak and what direction they are going. It’s the best “on-paper” education for understanding where your skill sets can potentially be compatible for an open role, or, serve as an eye opener to how you can work towards crafting a desired skill set.

Strive to be multidimensional to stay ahead in your job
You will have tasks set forth by your department and manager: maybe it’s a revenue or sponsorship goal, or hitting a target amount of digital impressions, or doubling the number of events that reach a certain demographic. In setting out to accomplish those goals, take the time to learn about other departments and their objectives and goals. Learn about your teammates’ roles, how you can help them, and in turn, how it can help the business. Read industry articles, and see what other leagues, teams, athletes and partners are doing in other cities and countries. You’ll be amazed at the breadth of this industry and how limitless it can be.

“Fill Up Your Cup”
I was once listening to Stephen Curry, of the Golden State Warriors, at a conference, and he talked about how their head coach, Steve Kerr, encouraged his players to “fill up their cup,” meaning, fill up your life outside of basketball and outside of work. Find the appropriate time to disconnect, find meaningful experiences in other areas of your life and set personal goals. For me, “filling up my cup” meant having unique travel experiences. I made sure I found time (and saved money!) for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, to backpack around Vietnam and Cambodia after working in Singapore, or to visit Capetown, even if I had to go by myself, while I was in Johannesburg for work. Identify ways you can “fill up your cup” with new experiences that work with your schedule.

Be adaptable and don’t worry about the things you cannot control
Unplanned things are going to happen in any job. That is why it’s so exciting, and also, why it can be challenging at times. You have to learn to be adaptable to an ever-changing environment. If you’ve had a rough day, chances are someone else has or will have one soon. Remember that things will always get better. Like any organization, you’ll need to navigate your way around unique environments, have to work with different personalities and learn that every day isn’t going to be perfect. Just like the game itself, you need to move on and always look at the bigger picture.
It is also important that if you’re interested in the world of sports, you understand what you are signing up for. The sports industry is notoriously competitive. You’ll have long weekdays and likely weekends. You’ll have emails or texts lost in translation, natural disasters and national rhetoric shaping the news. You’ll be 24/7 with a mobile device – and even when you think you’re having a “non-work” related moment checking social media, there pops up the latest sports news. It’s fast paced, emotional, dynamic, you’ll experience wins, losses, overtimes, good and bad days and good and bad moods (yours and others around you!). If this is something that excites you, then you’re entering the right field!

Remember to appreciate every step of your journey and have empathy for others. We’re all trying to make this industry better because we love sports, the incredible athletes that play and the top notch professionals that work behind the scenes. More importantly, we want to deliver a first class experience to people all around the world, and hopefully, make some sort of impact on others, just like the impact I felt when I was intrigued by all of those credentials on the sidelines 15 years ago.

Annabel Padilla, CAMD’07, is entering her third season with the Atlanta Hawks as Director of Player Engagement. She works closely with the players, coaches, and front office to align their schedules, strengths, and areas of interest with the priorities that fuel marketing, franchise growth, and community relations. She came to the Hawks from the NBA, where she worked for nine years, most recently as Manager, Social Responsibility. In that role, she worked closely with NBA teams ensuring growth and sustainability of their community outreach programs through strategic consulting on program and campaign management, content marketing and sponsorship. Padilla has a BA in communications from Northeastern.