Sports Sponsorship Jobs at Corporations

The structure of a sports marketing department varies significantly from company to company. Organization depends greatly on the company’s industry, size, and whether it works with an agency. Nike for example, which is the world’s leading manufacturer of sporting goods, footwear, and apparel, approaches its sponsorships very differently than a company like General Motors. Nike does all of its own sports marketing, prospecting what the company refers to as assets – teams, individuals, and countries – and building its presence in professional and amateur sports all over the globe. GM, on the other hand, does all of its sponsorship and promotions through its exclusive agency GM R*Works. While the company has employees managing sports marketing, the bulk of the responsibility is on the agency.

Jobs also vary based on a given company’s strategy. In a recent interview, Steve Miller, former Director of Global Sports Marketing at Nike, discussed the industry giant’s strategy when selecting its sports marketing activities. Because Nike is in the business of manufacturing and selling sporting equipment and apparel, its brand is endemic to nearly every sport and competition. Because of the direct connection to sports, Nike’s sponsorships are an especially important part of its overall marketing strategy.

In short, Miller says Nike looks for assets that align with the business and provide ubiquity. The company’s “assets” are its relationships with teams, individuals, and even countries – i.e., the Brazilian national soccer team. In order to manage a highly segmented and geographically broad sponsorship strategy, managers in multiple sports and multiple countries are required. For example, Nike has sports marketers overseeing sponsorships and endorsements, broken down by sport and region. Miller, as the global director, had roughly 13-15 direct reports, each of which was a global or regional director of a particular sport (i.e., basketball, track and field, soccer). Beneath each of those directors, are dozens of local assistants and managers, regional managers, etc. Miller estimates that in 2000, his last year with the company, somewhere in the range of 300-400 people worked directly on Nike’s sports marketing efforts.

Other companies, such as Visa, work closely with marketing agencies – GMR represents Visa USA, while IMG consults all of Visa International’s sports marketing. Visa, like Nike, is looking for ubiquity through its sponsorships, leading to a similar global organization structure. The number of employees working directly on sports sponsorship, however, is much lower due to agency help.

So, now you understand how jobs are structured at corporations, but how can you start your career in sports? We have good news to offer as well as bad. The good news is there are no secrets or tricks to getting a job in corporate sponsorship beyond other sponsorship jobs. The bad news is…well, it’s the same as the good news. Start at the beginning. All major corporate sponsors have internship programs. They are not always in sports sponsorship or marketing, but nevertheless provide an “in” into the company.

There are few entry-level positions on the corporate side in sponsorship. Most sponsorship professionals move into their positions horizontally from other organizations or other divisions within the company. There is a logical reason for this – there is a strong emphasis on brand management skills at the corporate level. Someone involved in seeking sponsorship placements, must have a thorough understanding of the brand their company represents. Like other marketing communications, every sponsorship activity has a direct impact on the company’s brand value. Such deals need to be prospected and considered very carefully. Prior experience with the company in a general marketing capacity or with another company in a similar capacity is extremely advantageous.

Other skills and requirements include:

  • Comprehensive sports knowledge. To promote your company’s brand, you will be prospecting athletes in a host of sports. It is important that you understand the fundamentals of each sport – what differentiates the average athlete from the stars, which athletes/teams are endorsed by your competitors, etc.
  • A keen eye for talent. From the corporate side, one of the biggest areas of sports spending is athlete endorsement. Athletes are among the most influential promoters of corporate products and services, especially those that are used directly in competition. A corporate sports marketer must be able to identify up and coming stars as worthwhile investments.
  • A willingness to take risks. Related to the point made above, someone in a sports marketing job must recognize that not every endorsement or sponsorship will be successful. As such, you must be willing to take the occasional gamble.
  • Unwavering honesty. In a business where key players frequently cross paths, it is imperative that you conduct yourself and your negotiations with the utmost integrity. If you are perceived as trying to cheat a business partner or disrespecting the local culture and customs, you will risk being blackballed by the industry. As large as the sports marketing field is, the connecting networks of those who work in it is surprisingly strong.

Corporate Sports Marketing Salaries