CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Sports lovers score behind the scenes

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

Think you have to be an outstanding athlete to enjoy a career in sports? Think again. In a nation fascinated by sports, there are countless opportunities to flex your muscles in the business arena behind the scenes of professional and amateur games.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors and the Air Canada Centre, and is one of Canada's largest sport and entertainment companies. It employs 330 full-time staff (and another 1,500 part-time staff) with a huge variety of skills.

"There are a lot of careers that appeal to people who love sports," says Cary Kaplan, president of Cosmos Sports, a management and ticket agency.

"There's a huge variety of different things you can do, from working in sales, marketing and corporate sponsorship for a professional team ... to representing athletes like Tiger Woods," says Kaplan, former president of the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team.

Cosmos Sports is tapping into the growing demand for professionals eager to tackle the industry with a new website (www.canadiansports It posts behind-the-scenes jobs in categories like administration, broadcast/media, coaching, event management, facility operations, finance, IT, legal, marketing/promotions, retail and sales.

Colleges and universities are responding to industry need with sport management, sport administration and sport/event marketing programs. The programs are relatively new and are designed to prepare graduates for careers in communications, facility management, marketing and public relations in both the public and private sectors.

Brock University in St. Catharines unveiled its sport management program in 1996 and now boasts the highest enrolment of any such program in North America with 500 students. It lists the following as possible careers for sport management graduates:
  • Marketing consultant
  • Program and facility manager
  • Professional sport promoter
  • Organizational behaviour
  • Sport equipment and product sales
  • Manager/co-ordinator of amateur sport organizations and intercollegiate athletic programs.

    Students learn about non-profit policy and governance, financing and economics, marketing, sponsorship, the hockey industry in Canada and the cultural significance of sport. The program looks at the manufacturing, retail and entertainment sectors.

    "Sport management is a real growth industry," says lecturer Chris Chard, a former professional hockey player in England.

    "The number of students applying to the program is just incredible."

    George Brown College in Toronto offers a one-year sport and event marketing post-graduate program. Students learn marketing management, business communications, event planning, licensing and merchandising, sponsorship and advertising and direct marketing.

    Graduates can work with sport teams, sports associations like Soccer Canada and the Canadian Ringette Association and non-profit organizations like United Way and Ronald McDonald House, says professor Paul Markle.

    He points to positions like sponsorship co-ordinators as key in the industry today. "Sponsorship is about more than paying a fee and having a team wear your logo. It's about getting involved with the spectators and fans," says Markle, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays.

    A love of sports is a common denominator among those seeking a career in sport management. But it's a challenging industry, warns Mardi Walker of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSEL).
    You can learn more about careers in sport management at the Sports Careers 101 Conference hosted by Cosmos Sports.
  • Featured keynote speakers include Tom Anselmi of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Michael Downey of Tennis Canada, Martine Gaillard of The Score Television Network, Jerry Howarth of the Toronto Blue Jays and Nelson Millman of The Fan 590.
  • The conference will be held Friday, Oct. 15 and Saturday, Oct. 16 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Dave & Busters in Vaughan.
  • The cost is $235 plus GST. You must register in advance. E-mail or call 905-564-4660 or 1-877-626-7667.

  • "There are long hours. Events happen on weekends, evenings and holidays. You have to be pretty dedicated to it," she says. "In communications, for example, you're watching the game because it's your job. It's not the same as watching it as a fan."

    15,000 applications a year

    MLSEL owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors and the Air Canada Centre, and is one of Canada's largest sport and entertainment companies. It employs 330 full-time staff (and another 1,500 part-time staff) with a huge variety of skills, including communications, finance, graphic design, TV production, restaurant management and skilled trades.

    MLSEL receives 15,000 applications a year. It has a large internship program of primarily college students, including sport management students from George Brown and Durham College.

    "That's where a lot of our employees started," Walker says. "We have a pretty low turnover because people just don't want to leave."

    Employees can get tickets to various events through an employee recognition program, but the atmosphere is the biggest fringe benefit.

    "It's more the excitement of being around the building," Walker says. "On game day, you can peek in and see a team practising. You can see a concert being set up and a band like the Rolling Stones practising."

    Very few jobs are available working directly for either the Maple Leafs or Raptors, says Walker. When MLSEL does hire, it looks for skills specific to a position.

    But all employees must have a winning attitude. "We hire for attitude and train for skill," Walker says. "We look for a certain energy and certain enthusiasm. Certainly some background helps."

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