Growing up, children often dream of being a part of their local, professional sports franchise. Whether it‘s as a player or working for the team in some other capacity, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to make it happen. Rich Nairn, Vice President of Media and Player Relations for the Phoenix Coyotes, knew he wanted to be involved with hockey.
“Growing up in Winnipeg, I was a huge fan of hockey. I grew up watching the Jets and followed them through the WHA and the NHL. Hockey has always been my favorite sport to watch and play.” Nairn took his love for the game and decided he would try to apply for a position with the Jets organization. He tried for several years and was told more than once that there were no openings.
With a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Manitoba and a newly gained Master’s degree in Communications from the University of North Dakota, his persistence finally paid off in 1993.
“I finally got an opportunity to assist the PR and Media Relations department. I was working for free as a volunteer for Mike O’Hearn who was the Vice President of Communications for the team. He gave me a chance and I tried my best to impress him.”
The hard work was quickly rewarded. “After six months of working there for free, they offered me a chance to join the team as a communications assistant. I continued to work hard and a year and a half later, I was the director. I was in the right place at the right time and was very fortunate to be in such a position.”
Nairn started with the Jets in 1993 and worked there until 1996 when the team was purchased and relocated to Phoenix, Arizona. He is currently in his 11th year with the franchise. “I was fortunate enough to be asked to accompany the team and I jumped at the opportunity to move to Phoenix. I was single and looking forward to the challenge in a new market, and growing hockey in a non-traditional market. It turned out to be a great decision and a great opportunity for me. The team has exploded down here in terms of popularity, we have great fans, and it has been a huge success story that I am glad to have been a part of.”
If you are looking to “Work in Sports”, Rich says the best thing to do is to test the water before you dive in. “My advice is to either volunteer or acquire an internship with a professional sports team. It doesn’t matter if it’s your ideal team or the actual team that you are trying to work for, but just get involved in some capacity. Whether it is basketball, hockey, football, baseball, or whatever it is, during that internship try to get a good idea or knowledge of what each department or area of the franchise does. Often what it looks like on paper is different than what it is in reality.”
Rich adds that, “One of the toughest things in life is discovering what career path you wish to pursue. A dilemma that a lot of college students will face is uncertainty of what they want to do when they graduate. They are still young and don’t know exactly what they want. By interning with a team or volunteering in some capacity, and all sports teams are willing to take on people who are eager and aggressive, you get a really good idea whether or not the sports industry is a career path to follow.”
Additionally, the experience you gain at this level will help you in many other ways. “You can’t say enough about first hand experience. It will give you a great deal of opportunity to decide if this is what you want to do. The experience itself will lead to other opportunities either in that organization or another one. The fact that you volunteered or worked for a professional sports team will only help you down the road.”
As for Rich, working in the very sport he grew up watching and playing, as well as working for the team he followed as a child has been very rewarding. “When I first received the opportunity, it was very exciting and intriguing; it has turned out to be everything I have imagined and more. It’s been great.”