Sports. Everyone loves to watch them and almost everyone wants to work in the industry. Landing one of these highly coveted jobs can be anything but easy, but with the right skills, connections and drive, you could find yourself in the press box at the next World Cup, Stanley Cup or Super Bowl.
I spoke with Kurt Austin, Communications Manager for Sporting KC, to see what working in soccer, especially MLS, is all about.
Me: Working in sports is a busy, but exciting career path. What are your daily responsibilities as press officer for Sporting Kansas City?
Kurt: My daily responsibilities can vary greatly from one week to the next, which is part of the fast-paced nature of professional sports. At a broad level, our communications department is tasked with generating positive and continuous coverage of the club. This means working with local, regional and national media members to facilitate interviews while also maximizing the use of the team’s digital properties to showcase player personalities and promote upcoming events. Of course, there is much more that happens behind-the-scenes in sports PR — especially on gamedays — but ultimately it all serves to foster greater interest and interaction amongst those who follow the team (fans and media alike).
Me: Have you ever been involved in a crisis situation concerning a Sporting KC player or the team? And if so, how do you go about handling them?
Kurt: Being prepared to manage a “crisis situation” is a necessary skill in any public relations setting. Whether it’s the death of a former player or off-the-field incidents with players/coaches, how you handle those moments is extremely important. A great example came just a couple weeks ago in Columbus when a fan was struck by lightning and the match was consequently postponed to the following day. That’s a coordinated but complex process involving stakeholders from numerous parties. Both the Columbus Crew and Major League Soccer should be commended for the timeliness in which their joint statements were distributed to address the matter. Another anecdote came earlier this year when MLS Commissioner Don Garber revealed he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. The outpouring of support that the announcement generated from the American soccer community was as immediate as it was genuine.
Me: So it seems that crises in sports can arise at any time and you have to be prepared to handle them immediately. I know that a career in sports is on the mind of almost every public relations student. What advice would you give young students and recent graduates for landing a job in the sports industry?
Kurt: In my opinion, building one’s professional network is the single most important piece in the path toward a career in professional sports. The opportunities are out there — probably much more prevalent than a student might expect — so the key becomes having the contacts who can help identify openings, secure interviews and act as references. Students can and should be strategic when it comes to making new associations that may help them in the short and/or long term. Internships are probably the most common route, though I think there are ample other outlets (such as PRSSA chapters!) to accomplish the same goals.
Me: Speaking about building your professional network, I heard that you just came back from Brazil for the World Cup. First off, what an amazing opportunity! Were you there as part of the media or as a spectator enjoying the amazing soccer being played?
Kurt: It doesn’t get much better for a lifelong soccer fan than being in Brazil for a World Cup. The country’s support for the sport — and specifically their beloved national team — is at a different level than I’ve seen anywhere else in my travels, including Germany in 2006 and South Africa in 2010. While someday I hope to be paid to attend a World Cup in a working capacity like a few of my fellow KC colleagues (see: Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated, Paul Carr for ESPN, Alex Abnos for U.S. Soccer, Andrew Wiebe for MLSsoccer.com), I was in Brazil strictly as a spectator sitting in the stands for once instead of the press box. Having worked so closely over the years with Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, as well as the superb staff at U.S. Soccer, it was extremely rewarding to be there in person to witness all of their achievements firsthand. Let the planning begin for Russia in 2018 — or perhaps the Women’s World Cup in Canada next year!
Me: Well I know it has always been a dream of mine to attend a World Cup match, so maybe I’ll see you in Canada next year! Lastly, I know you’ve played soccer and obviously work in the industry, but is soccer your favorite sport to watch on TV?
Kurt: Soccer is indeed my sport of choice on television, not surprisingly. And I think this World Cup showed the viewing audience for soccer is continuing to grow at record rates. The USA-Portugal game on ESPN was the most-viewed soccer match in the United States ever, across all networks, by averaging more than 18 million viewers. Outside of football, the match was the most-viewed program in ESPN history. Then at the league level, MLS recently announced new TV deals with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes that extend through 2022 and were reported to be worth $720 million. So it seems to me that there is more televised soccer programming available in the United States than ever before and I think that speaks to the demand that networks are seeing from consumers, especially amongst younger generations.