By Zac Cornell
Sam Light works at Momentum Worldwide, which is the preeminent agency for brands who want to create experiences and connect with partners. The award-winning company specializes in three areas, experiential, sponsorships, and shopping, which Sam thankfully explains and elaborates on below during our interview. Sam is the Director of Sponsorship Consulting which is a huge job, considering the company manages over $4 billion in sponsorship spending across sports and entertainment properties!
Sam went to Union College and majored in Math. He had always found internships in sports, and his first job out of college was working for the Eagles doing “Moneyball type stuff” working on the football operations side. He soon realized there just wasn’t a lot of human contact and felt like he was just crunching numbers with his head down, working 18 hour days. He wanted to explore what else was out there, so about midway through his Eagles tenure he started making connections on the marketing side, just to see what that world was all about. He ended up going to UMass to get a graduate degree in sports business, where he got exposed to all the sides of the business there, and wound up moving over to sponsorships which is the field he has been in ever since.
Zac: My favorite thing in the world is sports. All I do is play sports, read about sports, or watch sports. I’m like one of those crazy freaks about basketball and football, I know every player’s statistics, I’m obsessed with statistics. I’m a numbers guy as well, I have loved math since I was a baby. I know there are so many different careers in the sports field, and I’m in the process of exploring all the options. I would love to hear about what you do and the best way to enter the sports industry.
Sam: I’ve always been a numbers guy but I didn’t find my footing until a few years out. I found myself gravitating toward reading about the business of sports, whether that was about the different marketing deals that went down or following different social media accounts that talk about sports and fitness, just to get exposed to it. Different talent endorsements, the hot thing right now over the past couple of weeks have been about amateur athletes being able to market themselves…
Zac: Yeah – I spoke with Jim Boeheim about two weeks prior to the NCAA changing the rules, and he was of the belief that it was going to pass. Then soon after it passed, I read that Buddy Boeheim, his son, was the first player to create his own merchandise line and was selling Buddy Buckets sweatshirts. And I read about another guy who signed a four-year, $2 million contract which is pretty big for someone coming out of high school, who there is no guarantee that he’s going to be a real player in the NBA. But yeah, I follow all these sports business news stories, like what you’re describing right now.
Sam: OK so let me talk about what I do. I work at a place called Momentum Worldwide. We call ourselves an ad agency but we specialize in three areas. One is experiential, which essentially is putting on events, executing events at sporting events, or concerts, or really wherever, and bringing brand experiences to the fans. We represent only brands, where a lot of different agencies represent talent or represent different partners.
When I say properties, I mean the Yankees or the NFL and that side of the business. So outside of the talent, there’s really three sides, there’s the brand, such as one of my biggest clients: Verizon, the property, so, let’s just use the example of the NFL because Verizon has a relationship with the NFL, and then the agencies, that me, the middleman, if you will, in a lot of cases.
So, experiential is that first leg for my company, putting on events at those property events.
Second is shopper, I don’t have much experience there, I don’t really fully run the shopper side of things, but that’s essentially going to market for a Coca-Cola or other consumer packaged goods brands to do shopping ad campaigns or social media or digital media, advertising, all that sort of stuff.
And then the third, which is my specialty, is sponsorships. So it’s similar to experiential in that, you’re working across the aisle with partners with properties. For clarity on sponsorship, let’s again use Verizon and NFL as examples. Verizon pays the NFL a boatload of money up front for all these different assets, all these different things like signage at NFL events, or media. But the distinction with sponsorship is that you’re paying a bulk sum amount to a partner. It’s not buying assets, buying access to talent, buying tickets off a menu, you’re paying up front, a lot of money. And then my job is essentially to assess what those brands should pay, and what they should pay it for. And as a part of that, I’m consulting on negotiation and where they should be investing, how much they should pay, and then measuring if it is an effective partnership or not.
You know the difference between sponsorship and experiential is in my world, experiential can live outside of sponsorship, you don’t need an actual partnership to go to Fenway Park. A brand can show up at Fenway Park without a sponsorship, but their rights, their access is very limited without that sponsorship. Also putting on experiences for fans, when you do have a partnership, if you do have a sponsorship, you’re able to do it at the venue and the definition of experiences can be much wider.
If you do have that sponsorship, you’re blocking access to that partner from your other competitors. So for example, Verizon has an exclusive sponsorship with the NFL, so T- Mobile, and AT&T, and their other competitors won’t be able to access the NFL.
So that’s where my company plays, and then my role is really investment analyst, if you will.
Zac: Yeah, so like facts and numbers.
Sam: Yeah essentially, I’m assessing contracts, assessing opportunity, both from a strategy perspective and also from a numbers perspective.
Zac: So is this just with teams and brands, or is this with players too?
Sam: I do a little bit of work with players. Our primary focus at the company I work at is to represent brands, and occasionally that means going out and securing player rights. But for the most part the brands that I work with are focused on working with teams, working with leagues, on procuring those sponsorships.
Zac: That’s cool. And what influenced you to pursue this field? Was it because you were such a big sports fan as a child?
Sam: I think I had a comfort level in this industry, in this space. Probably right where you are now, I started doing internships to see if the business side of sports was as interesting as following sports as a fan. I always kind of thought that my background in numbers, and my comfort level and sophistication with numbers would be applicable in the industry.
So I just think overall it was a comfort level with really knowing the ins and outs of sports and being able to take what I know as a fan and apply it to different strategies. How to advertise and market and speak to fans is something that I have cultivated over time, you know, there are a lot of sports fans out there. But I think just finding your niche within the industry whether you’re rolling with social media, there’s a lot of social jobs out there in sports right now, or you’re very organized and a neat person and an efficient person, a lot of these accounts are multimillion dollar accounts where there’s a lot to keep track of and to communicate with clients in a certain way to make sure that they’re being efficient. And, you know, you mentioned PR or comms, so if you have taken a liking to writing, being able to communicate, there are opportunities there. Sports psychology is another really interesting track where, you know, I don’t know a whole lot about the space, but again there’s just so many ways into the sports field. So just for example, if you get a communications degree, that won’t limit you and what you can do, either within sports or outside of sports.
I wish I had figured out a little earlier on in my career, what my core competency was beyond numbers, because I just figured out that the math route wasn’t really for me. But, that said, I figured out a way to kind of combine those math skills in the role I have now, and turned it into more of a negotiation role, so I’m having to use psychology in a different way. And again, all these things I sort of learned on my own, so there’s no true one path. What you decide for your first internship, or your major, is not going to determine the next 10, 20, 30 years of your career. There will ultimately be twists, turns, changes, you know, you might take what you learn in the sports industry and go outside of the sports industry and apply it there.
Zac: And in regards to your career, what are the benefits, or your favorite perks about it, compared to other jobs in the field?
Sam: You know a lot of folks in the industry frankly go into it because they think they’re gonna get tickets to games, and travel the world, and have a lot of perks, and you know that is the case sometimes, but it’s a really small part of the industry, and small part of the job.
Even when folks go to events, or sporting events, or concerts, or what have you, they’re working during them. So, whether you are on the experiential team where you are engaging with fans, or clients, or having to host clients, you are always in work mode at these different events. I happen to not travel and go to events as much as some of my peers, just given my role at this company, again it would be a little different at different companies, different agencies, they just do things differently. But I would say the biggest benefit is continuing to make connections across the country, across the world, with a lot of different types of people in the industry. Because you just never know where you will wind up, right? So, continue to do what you’re doing right now, talking to people. What I do is, once, twice a week, I’m either reconnecting with folks in the industry, or friends in the industry, or making a connection whether it’s LinkedIn, whether it’s through a mutual party, just to continue to keep my network growing. Just continue to grow your network substantially and exponentially, so if you need a favor, or are in a different city, or you’re trying to make a difficult decision, or you’re thinking about switching paths, or, fill in the blank, that you have that rolodex to tap into that you grew over time. I think that a massive benefit of this industry is that it’s a much smaller industry than everyone makes it out to be, a lot of people say everyone knows everyone, I don’t know if I’d say that.
The other thing, you know you mentioned you play tennis, a lot of people go in the direction of just focusing on a single sport, or a certain side of the industry and there’s, in my opinion, a lot of benefit in that, you know people who just specialize in tennis, and that industry or, you know, I have friends who have tennis agents and they’re able to travel the world. Are they at the Superbowl? No, but they develop relationships near and far in the tennis industry and then potentially could leverage that to go work for a brand that is in tennis, but is also in a lot of other markets and then those connections, have a balloon effect. So that was a long winded way of saying, you know, the biggest benefit is just making connections across the board.
Zac: That is something I look forward to. So right now, I’m interested in being an agent, or working in sponsorships and advertising like you, or even social media branding. But the area that appeals to me the most is advertising, especially through social media. What types of internships should I seek out and what should I be doing, besides reaching out to people, what else could I do?
Sam: You know, I think, for advertising, social media, I wouldn’t limit myself. In my opinion, and again I’m not necessarily in the social media/advertising space but I know people who have gone down that route. I will say, you’re so young, I wouldn’t necessarily just focus on sports, or something like that, I would say that finding unique opportunities, unique internships, under Social Media Manager for even a brand that is not within sports and just kind of learning the different nuances and skill sets that come with managing social media accounts and the strategies that go into it. You also can look at agencies. The agency side has dedicated social media strategists, and oftentimes they’re looking for internships, I think this summer probably is a little different for the industry, the sports industry overall.
But, you know, even, I don’t know where you’ll end up, will probably have a different vacation schedule, but, at Union, we had a trimester schedule so I would have six to seven weeks off between Thanksgiving and New Years. And I tried to squeeze in two, four-week internships each year, and you know I did everything from working with a tennis agent, to interning with MasterCard where I was in the marketing department, but I wasn’t really working in sports, and understanding different sides of different industries because frankly I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do at that point. So, I would say, I wouldn’t get too concerned about finding the right internship, if you will, I think just continuing to figure out how to interact and make connections with folks in the industry. At your age people will say, I’d love to be a sports agent, but there’s probably less than 1% of the people who say that who are going in that direction within three, four, or five years. In my opinion, it is an extremely cutthroat industry. I found early on that, at least for me, I didn’t mesh with that track.
But, you know, for social media, I think there’s a lot of opportunity at entry level and internship level, to just get experience, whether it’s in tennis, whether it’s in music, nonprofit, everyone needs social media support these days so just understanding that side of communications would be great.
Zac: Yeah, and my last question was about social media and the importance of knowing online skills such as Photoshop and coding. Do you think those are very important skills to learn to enter this field and make a point to develop them?
Sam: You know, I don’t think anything is required. I didn’t know, I still don’t know how to code, but I learned, and then forgot how to code after10 years. When I worked for the Eagles I had to kind of learn on the fly.
I took a media class, I had no media experience, understanding all the unique applications for media for my industry. I ended up doubling down and taking a few media classes during my professional career, I was long gone out of school. You know, I just think that there isn’t necessarily, like I said earlier, one path. I don’t think that you need to worry about Photoshop or even something as basic as PowerPoint. Those are skills that a social media manager, for example, will probably need, but those are also skills that you will develop during your career, so yeah I think you get a leg up if you teach yourself some of those skills if you know that that’s the track you want to go, but I think there are very few of those technical skills that you won’t pick up depending on which track you go. So in my career I’ve never had to use Photoshop, but I’m building PowerPoint decks a lot. For the first five, six years of my career, during internships in college and in the first few years of my career I was using Excel more than anything, so I found myself, during my free time, trying to pick up little tips and tricks on that, so it just really depends.
But again I think you are in a position where you could go a lot of different ways, I wouldn’t limit myself to focusing on certain technical skills like that, just pick up industry experience. My biggest recommendation would be to keep tabs on what’s going on, read scholarly articles, read anything about the industry, you’ll pick up little things. You’ll surprise yourself and pick up things as you read Sports Business Journal or any of the publications out there. And you’ll start gravitating towards the skills that you want, you might pick up something and be like, oh, that sounds interesting, maybe I should learn how to do Photoshop, or something like that so that would be my biggest piece of advice.