Monday, February 21, 2011

"Here-I'm Open!" - A Love Story

“Here—I’m Open!” is a weekly column written every Monday aimed at offering readers inspiration, a unique take on sporting news, and general sports know-how.”   

Welcome to the second edition of this weekly column.  I hope you were all able to take and meet last week's challenge.  Differentiating yourself in this industry is essential to professional success.  It's time to shift gears a little for this week.

For those of you unaware, the Sport Management Student Union (SMTSU) here at Drexel University will be hosting “An Evening with Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS)” this Thursday, in Matheson 308, from 5pm-6:30pm.  Our speakers include Louise Waxler, General Manager of the Philadelphia Independence and a representative (a player or Head Coach Jim Gabarra) from Sky Blue FC.

Being that women’s soccer is the theme of this week here at SMTSU and “The Sports Complex”, I would like to share my sports industry love story.  Don’t worry, I will spare you the chocolate hearts, roses, and cheesy fixed-price dinner-dates for this love story – Valentine’s Day was last week.

This romantic account is not about courting and falling in love with a significant other.  Rather, it is about how I fell in love with the sports industry.  While you will certainly find the following tale rather verbose, I hope it offers you assistance in your own personal journey.  Enjoy…

Take a trip with me almost exactly three years ago.  It was 2008, my junior year at Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough, NJ.  Like most kids my age, I struggled with choosing a career.  Education crossed my mind, but my middle brother was already plying his trade as a history teacher and assistant girls varsity soccer coach in the same high school.  The sciences, specifically anatomy and the human body, were of interest to me, but the thought of being a doctor freaked me out.  I was stuck. 

One of my main interests at the time was playing sports video games: Madden, FIFA, etc.  Though, playing the actual football or soccer game when playing those titles, bored me a bit.  The fun part to me was doing all of the mundane, back-room tasks like building the team.   I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes aspect of the games.

Finally, my already business-savvy dad pointed out a new career prospect.  He brought up the idea of translating my love for playing sports and for building simulated sports teams, into a career.  Sports Business, which I later discovered was Sport Management, became my new interest. 

I thought about it for a short time.  It made sense.  I had grown up in a soccer family and I played the sport from as far back as I could remember to my senior year of high school.  My playing career had no chance of jumping to the Division I collegiate level.  I had heart and an above-average soccer IQ, but I was not any more talented than the next guy on the pitch.

I then put my research skills to the test, trolling the internet for information on undergraduate programs in Sport Management, or names similar to it.  One program in New Jersey, which I will keep nameless, held a seminar for high school students with a possible interest in sport.  In hearing motivational and educational speeches from former sports legends who transitioned on-field success into the business side of sport, the general message was simply, “Hey, get an internship to see if you like this line of work, it is not for everybody.”  Point noted.

I quickly found myself back on the internet looking for a possible internship or volunteer position.  Very few even local sports organizations advertised they were looking for help.  My search and hopes of finding a little industry experience looked dashed, until I came across a potential fit.

I discovered, the Jersey Sky Blue, a Women’s League (W-League) team operating in the United Soccer Leagues (USL), owned and operated by Sky Blue Soccer.  At that time, the W-League of the USL was the highest form of women’s soccer in the United States.  This opportunity was a perfect fit, given my interest in soccer.  The team had a blurb on their website about always looking for volunteers and with their season starting in around June, I was not too late.

However, phrasing the email and actually hitting the send button proved difficult.  For those of you who know me personally, the stubborn-Italian stereotype and I get along quite well.  Sending the email would leave me vulnerable, right?  What if they said no?

My mom made me wise-up.  While I did not like being told “It’s time to grow up”, she was right.  I ended up sending the email and after a quick search of my email, I have found it.  For your viewing pleasure, here it is in all of its glory:

A couple of days later, I received a response from Sky Blue Soccer’s Natalie Smith.  “I’d like to have you on board! As someone who started interning late in my high school career, I hope this will be a wonderful introduction into the sports world.” She noted. 

And so it began.  During the summer of 2008, I was a game-day volunteer with the Jersey Sky Blue.  My main duties were serving in the team’s merchandise tent, selling team gear and apparel.  I also greeted fans as they arrived at the stadium and encouraged the younger ones to sign-up for half-time activities.

After the first game, I was taken and ready to propose on the spot.  Hearing those screaming fans and knowing I had some small part to do with the creation of that exciting sporting environment, served as the catalyst for my draw to the industry.  From that point on, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

During about half-way through the summer, one of the interns asked me if I was coming back the following season when Sky Blue Soccer launched its professional team.  I thought to myself, “Professional team?”

Ever since the Women’s United Soccer Association of America (WUSA) folded in 2003, there had been no professional women’s soccer league in place in this country.  In 2009, the following summer, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) was to begin play.  I learned from this intern that Sky Blue Soccer, the parent company of the Jersey Sky Blue, had purchased the rights to the New Jersey franchise of the WPS.

The thrilling news continued as that W-League season ended and Sky Blue FC was born as a team in the WPS.  The summer of 2009, my transition year between high school and college, I served as a game-day volunteer with Sky Blue FC of the WPS. 

Working in professional women’s soccer became an entirely new beast in itself.  We transitioned to a larger stadium and had larger crowds, naturally.  My primary responsibilities were on the field as the Assistant Field Manager and Ball Person Coordinator.  I performed many tasks including stadium set-up/break-down, oversight of the Stretcher Crew along with the 4th Official, and facilitation of pre-game, half-time, and post-game activities/autograph sessions. 

At the age of 18, I was having the time of my life.  Arriving at the stadium on a game-day never felt like work or a job, rather it was fun and enjoyable.  Of course, the initial wow-factor wore off after the first few games.  What do I mean by wow-factor?  Well, I noted soccer is my main sport and I naturally knew about the women’s game.  Being 5 feet from players like Brandi Chastain, Christie Rampone, Heather O’Reilly (HAO), and Marta – the current and 5-time consecutive FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, was pretty cool initially.

That season on the field, the first of WPS, Sky Blue FC barely skated into the playoffs and endured numerous coaching changes.  They made it all the way to the WPS Championship game in L.A. against the L.A. Sol.  In the end, the underdog Sky Blue FC upset the Sol to capture the inaugural WPS title.  After the match, Christie Rampone, team captain who also assumed the role of head coach after the resignation of the previous coach near the end of the season, announced to her teammates that she was 11 weeks pregnant.  There’s a little Sky Blue FC trivia for you.

Anyway, Sky Blue FC won the 2009 WPS title.  Of course, after that summer I came here to Drexel for my first year in the Sport Management program and loved every second of it.  With that summer, which was this past summer, the only free summer of the Drexel curriculum and the last summer vacation of my life, I still wanted to return to Sky Blue FC in a larger capacity

With numerous staffing changes in the front office and in Operations specifically, one of the top interns had assumed the position of Operations Manager.  Her and I always had a great relationship and when I expressed interest in coming back, she offered me her old position as a full-time Operations Intern. 

That brings us to this past summer, where I served as an Operations Intern with Sky Blue FC.  This proved to be my most valuable and educational experience in sports.  Having been with the organization for years prior, I knew a majority of the front office staff and had great relationships with them.  Aside from the work of the Director of Operations, as an Operations Intern my main responsibilities revolved around home matches.  On off-weeks when the team was away, I transformed into more of the general front office intern.  I found myself assisting the Director of Marketing in creating promotional material, cold calling potential ticket buyers, and facilitating practice sessions. 

The team also signed Patrizia Panico, the captain and star forward for the Italian Women’s National side, about mid-way through the season.  It became obvious that there was a communication barrier between her and the rest of the players.  Her English was not the best.  Word got around the front office of my Italian language skills.  The next day, I was translating for Patrizia at team training and team meetings.  It was fun and a little interesting being in closed-door team meetings open to only the coaching staff and players. 

How did Sky Blue FC do this past summer on the field, in their second season?  Not as well as the first.  The team narrowly missed the playoffs but with many new faces and the addition of Head Coach Jim Gabarra, the team looks set for this season.  Last year’s coach is still on staff.  Rick Stainton is now Jim’s assistant and I can tell you Rick is by far the classiest, nicest, and most upbeat person you will ever meet.

In my total of three years with Sky Blue Soccer I fell in love with the sports industry.  Heck, after my first Jersey Sky Blue game, at the age of 17, I fell in love with the sports industry.  My experience in women’s soccer, has proven to be invaluable in my professional career. 

To those of you who know me personally, yes, I did also work on game-days this past season with the Philadelphia Union of the MLS.  While that was an awesome experience as well, it does not compare to my experience and the skills I learned at Sky Blue Soccer.

I will be forever grateful to the organization for introducing me to the industry.  Sky Blue Soccer is kind of like that friend that set you up with someone.  In this case, it happened to work out perfectly.

Have your own sports industry love story you would like to share?  Whether you are an SMTSU member or a complete outsider, we welcome your story.  Submit it via email to, we will review it, and baring any major issue, we will put it up on the blog.

I warned you this would be a wordy story.  I hope it provided you some insight in your personal journey through the sports industry, whether you are in college or nearing the end of your career.  Planning and reflection is key in your professional life.  Take some time to do it. 

Love is love and if anyone asks, I’m taken by the sports industry.  Are you?    

“Here—I’m Open!” is authored by Sport Management Student Union (SMTSU) President, Kevin Giordano.  A sophomore sport management major and native of Hillsborough, New Jersey, Kevin has experience working in women’s and men’s professional soccer and collegiate athletics.  For questions, comments, and story suggestions, he can be reached at

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