A graduate of The George Washington University and of Georgetown’s Master’s program in Sports Industry Management, Ross Romano gained his first experience in the sports industry as an undergrad, interning with the Washington Nationals in media relations. He has since gained experience in college athletics, the non-profit industry, and multiple start-ups. Most recently, he has been involved with MLB International’s Australian Baseball League in a media and communications role and in baseball operations with MLB’s Arizona Fall League. In April, he also launched a new multi-author website, Choose2Say.com, for which he writes and serves as editor-in-chief.
GSABR: How did you get involved with the MLB and where did that experience take you?
RR: My first experience in MLB was as a media relations intern with the Nationals during the 2008 season, after my junior year at GW. That was the first year in the new stadium, but also the first of two consecutive 100-loss seasons for the team, so it was an interesting environment. I got that opportunity by reaching out to the department to see if they had any openings to bring on further interns. I didn’t have media relations experience yet, but had done a lot of writing for the school paper and also hosted a sports talk radio show, so it was a good fit.
In my time there, we were given a lot of freedom to try a lot of new things. I know some teams are much more restrictive with what they let their interns do, but the Nationals allowed us to get experience dealing with players directly in the locker room, handling media in the press box, and writing game notes and releases. Obviously, they aren’t giving inexperienced students too much responsibility, but it was a great opportunity to try my hand at a lot of tasks.
It’s also important to be around the team front office and field staff to get accustomed to the work ethic required in pro sports. Especially in baseball, with 162 games, front office personnel are working 14+ hour days, seven days a week for much of the season. Also, being in the clubhouse and getting used to working with players and coaches in important for aspiring industry professionals, as some people aren’t cut out for it. It requires confidence and the ability to focus on the task and treat everyone professionally and some interns are quickly weeded out if they have the tendency to become star struck or too friendly with players.
Since I did well in ’08, I had the chance to go back during the opening of the 2009 and ’10 seasons to help out with the new interns. Showing dedication to the club is important and helped out as I moved on to other opportunities.
GSABR: Most people in the U.S. haven’t heard of the Australian Baseball League – what does it take to succeed internationally in the sports industry and how did you contribute to the effort?
RR: Getting involved with the Australian Baseball League was something that took a ton of persistence. The hiring goes directly through the MLB Commissioner’s Office in New York, which can make communication difficult once conversations begin with the staff over in Sydney. It took several months of hard work to figure out the logistics in getting over there.
The ABL is a six-team league spread out across the country with the head office located in Sydney. The teams play a 45-game schedule and this winter they wrapped up the third year of play. I worked as media and communications coordinator in the league office, serving as second-in-command on all media matters. Most of my responsibilities included running the league’s official website and overseeing the team sites, writing daily press releases, working on media notes and the media guide, and calling journalists in each market to pitch print or TV stories.
Working in the central office was an invaluable experience, since I was able to interact regularly with the staff from each team, as well as media members from every city. We made huge strides that season in increasing our radio and television presence and bringing in new fans to our website. I put together the broadcast notes for the Championship Series on Fox Sports, which was also broadcast internationally on ESPN Star in Asia and MLB Network in the US. With a newer league and smaller staff, it allows for far more responsibility than a younger person would normally get in most settings and I think that type of difficult situation is incredibly beneficial to someone still starting out.
This year, the league has had even more success, especially with ABL alumni who have succeeded in MLB. Didi Gregorius was a little-known prospect who played in the ABL’s first season and now is having an outstanding rookie year with the Diamondbacks. Donald Lutz also went over there to play without much acclaim and has now elevated to MLB with the Reds. We’ve also got Brandon Barnes and Travis Blackley currently with the Astros and many more who have been up and down between the Majors and Minors.
Truthfully, the most important thing to succeed internationally in the sports industry is guts. You need to be willing to take a risk; to try something new with no idea how it will turn out. It also takes an open and inquisitive mind. You have to want to learn about another culture, to be willing to immerse yourself in it and learn how to view things from their perspective. The more we learned how Australians prefer to consume their sports, the more successful we were in presenting it to them. That’s something that will grow year-by-year, but as in individual you can’t hold back – you have to go all in.
GSABR: Sports is such a networked industry – how can students improve their networking skills? In your experience, what are some of the best ways to connect with people in the industry?
RR: Sports is absolutely about networking and the best way to build up a network is to be outgoing and reach out to people. Certainly everyone in the industry is very busy and trying to get straight to the General Manager or someone at that high level is going to be a bad pursuit, but there are plenty of executives who are more than happy to meet for an informational interview or chat on the phone if you take the initiative to reach out.
Most importantly, always follow up and keep in touch with people you meet through your networking journey. Make sure to express your gratitude when someone offers their time and also keep them informed about what you’re up to. Eventually, at some point in time, you may be in a position where someone is able to help you out with something, whether it’s a job, grad school, etc., but usually those opportunities come up organically without you even realizing. If you develop a sincere relationship with someone that isn’t based on asking them for anything, but rather just to learn, then you’ll benefit in the end.
GSABR: What types of internships/experience are most helpful for people applying for internships, trainee positions and full-time entry level positions in sports? What experience is most helpful later down the line for higher level positions?
RR: As far as picking up internship experience to help you down the road, the best experience is really any experience. If you know as a freshman or sophomore that you’re pursuing this field, then see if you can land an internship early. If you can get a couple under your belt before graduation, you’ll be one step ahead, since it now takes more internships than ever and mostly everyone will still end up doing internships or trainee positions after graduating before being positioned for full-time consideration.
An important factor to think about is how much responsibility you’ll have in your internship. Sometimes the most impressive-sounding team or business name won’t help you learn the most if you’re tasked with running errands or doing minor projects. There are some smaller teams or start-up companies out there that will let you jump right into their creative process and work on major individual projects that will not only look great on a resume, but give you real work experience that you’ll need.
GSABR: What level of business skills and people skills should people have to break into the industry and be successful? What about the level of dedication to sports in general, and specifically to the sport(s) they’re working in?
RR: People skills are first and foremost in this industry, as I suspect they are in many other industries. If you understand how much networking is involved in sports, it will of course make total sense to you that good people skills will lead to success. The other part to understand is the long hours required of everyone working in the sports industry, which most people happily do because they enjoy their job. However, this extends the importance of people skills because nobody wants to spend 12-14 hours a day with people they don’t like. You have to be able to get along with people to stick around too long.
Business skills are important, too. For different roles, you’ll certainly have different needs. A psychology background is great for dealing with people, for example, and a communications and writing background is needed for media relations. To work in the business office of a team, you may need a finance or accounting background. It really depends whether you’d be in the business side, but of course being a team president or a similar role would require very good business skills and most likely an MBA. In general, a common understanding of business concepts and strategies will always serve you well in this industry or any other.
Dedication is probably the number one word associated with anyone trying to break into the sports industry. It takes a great work ethic to advance up the ladder, but also there have to be some breaks that go your way. You may do a great job, but still have a hard time getting into a full-time position you want if there are no appropriate openings. Further, for every one opening, there may be hundreds of applicants willing to work just as hard, so sometimes it will take more time and persistence than you want to commit. If you have extreme dedication to success in this career path, you’ll have what you need to overcome the adversity. It requires a lot of sacrifice – moving around a lot, low-paying internships, long hours – but if it’s really what you desire, you’ll find the payoff to be well worth the effort.
As far as dedication to a specific sport, it’s important for two reasons:
1. You need to know what you’re talking about to gain credibility. For a player development or operations role, you’ll need adequate playing experience or experience working with players to prove your expertise, which obviously takes dedication and love of the game.
2. Even in roles that don’t require sport-specific expertise, such as community relations or sales positions, it will still benefit you to be passionate about the sport, since the effort required for success is often much greater than it would be in a different industry. Both because of the hours you it in and the fact pay will often not be the greatest, dedication to the success of your team and sport is important for the full staff.
Special thanks to Ross for his time and insight
Interview by Nik Oza, Georgetown Class of 2016