For Kelly Staley, sports is life. Or, as she puts it, a lifestyle.
Ever since she was a young girl, there's always been a game, always an activity. Always something to do involving some type of athletic ball. It was like that through college, and it's like that right up until this very day.
Most of you are just like Staley. You can't imagine this earth without sports. Many of you wish you could make it your profession. Perhaps you can glean some insight from her story. I'm betting you'll see a lot of yourself in her.
"I have been a sports fan and participant for as long as I can remember," Staley says. "My dad was a professional baseball player for the Yankees minor league affiliate, so I grew up playing multiple sports. I was lucky in the sense that my parents never pushed me to participate in sports; I just naturally gravitated in that direction. I was a Division I collegiate athlete on a full tennis scholarship at the University of Tulsa. Since the NCAA does not allow student athletes to hold jobs, I came out of college with zero employment experience (literally). I could have worked during the summer breaks, but I opted for summer school to ensure I graduated in four years."
What does somebody do if they know they want to be in sports but have an empty resume? Well, sometimes it's about getting yourself into the right position. Here's what Staley did: "Because of my athletic background, I always knew that I wanted to be involved with sports after my college career. I spent my senior year spring break in Arizona so I could meet the director of corporate sales for "Phoenix Hockey" (at the time) for an initial, informational interview. I moved back to Arizona immediately following graduation in the middle of May 1996 and began my sports career with the Phoenix Coyotes on June 1, 1996."
Staley says her love for sports has acted as a fuel, a desire if you will, to get herself into the business.
"I was realistic that my tennis career was not going to go beyond college unless I wanted to become a teaching pro with the USPTA. Therefore, sports seemed like the perfect fit. A place I would feel comfortable, in my element so to speak. I am a very competitive person by nature, so the passionate aspect of the sports industry was very appealing to me.
While Staley says her background and work history "is all sports industry related thus far," she did pursue other interests at Tulsa.
"I graduated from the University of Tulsa with an Organizational Communication degree with a heavy emphasis on English," she says.
Okay, stop for a second. Org Comm?
"Org Comm is one of those nebulous degrees that your college counselor never tells you what to use it for post-graduation," Staley says. "I suppose I could have gone into consulting to help companies develop business and communication plans. That definitely did not sound as fun as being a part of the ground level staff launching an NHL franchise in the desert."
So we rejoin Staley after the spring break interview. She's obviously done well. She's gone back to Phoenix, and now it's time to perform.
"I had my second interview with Mike Blake, the Phoenix Coyotes VP of marketing the week I returned from college," she says. "He said he would call me in a few weeks to give me an update on the position. Apparently they were desperate to get someone into place, as I received a call two days later asking if I could start Monday."
Sounds like Staley is being modest. Perhaps the Coyotes realized they had a quality individual on their hands and didn't want to let her get away. But still, Staley says it was great timing.
"It was a break, a big time break," she says. "I am very honest when telling people about my start in the industry…a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time."
According to Staley, it's what you do after the break. "Once you get your foot in that door, it is up to each person to prove him or herself in an industry that never seems to have a shortage of resumes on hand from prospective employees. I had an amazing journey with the team; everything from helping launch the franchise in 1996 to being a part of five playoff seasons featuring the infamous WhiteOut in the desert."
Staley looks at her time in the desert as crucial to her professional development. "The most significant and memorable part of my career in Phoenix, aside from the thrill of helping launch a professional hockey franchise in the desert, was the opportunity to work with Shawn Hunter and Brenda Tinnen. Both to be considered some of the best in the business; I was fortunate to have started my career under their leadership. I quickly adopted many of their business practices and philosophies, and found it to be a perfect foundation for the higher standard of business they conduct each day. I will continue to integrate these values into all of my future endeavors."
From Phoenix, it was on to Los Angeles and AEG or Anschutz Entertainment Group.
"Shawn has since become the chief marketing officer of Anschutz Entertainment Group," Staley says. "AEG is one of the largest and most innovative sports and entertainment presenters in the world. As one of the largest owners of sports teams in the world, AEG also owns and operates the STAPLES Center (home to the NHL LA Kings, NBA LA Lakers and Clippers) The Home Depot Center (official Olympic Training Facility), as well as operates the Kodak Theatre (home of the Academy Awards) and Colosseum at Caesars Palace (Celine Dion Show).
Sounds like a pretty great place to be if you're into sports and entertainment.
In February, Shawn asked if I would join the AEG team as the director of marketing, AEG Events. To be a part of an organization with such vision and forward thinking was definitely the opportunity of a lifetime. As far as the day to day stuff, here's what Staley says about her job:
"I started with AEG in February as the director of marketing, AEG Events. My role was to assist with the marketing efforts for the various events AEG owned (track & field Invitational, WTA tour championships, women’s World Cup, MLS All-Star Game). Each of these events differed in many ways, and it was up to the core marketing group to build event awareness, create impactful in-market drive to retail programs and most importantly, fill the seats. I have now transitioned into my new position, director of corporate sales services. Similar to what I did in Phoenix, I am now overseeing the servicing and implementation of all contractual aspects for the LA Kings corporate sponsors, as well as STAPLES Center and The Home Depot Center Founding Partners.
"Every day is different. That is one of the greatest things about this job. Nothing is really 'mundane.' New projects and challenges prove to keep your outlook fresh and energized. I have been lucky to work with such forward thinkers in the industry over the years. It is necessary to continue developing new ideas in order to create a fresh and exciting product each and every day."
And finally, what does she tell people who want to work in sports?
"Always be willing to get your hands dirty," she says. "Whether you are an intern or in management, heavy lifting is a must if you want to stay in tune with your clients and fan base. Holidays and weekends are no longer a way of life. Brenda Tinnen oftentimes reminds me ‘this is not a job, this is a lifestyle.’ There is nothing better than being in the entertainment industry, because your job is helping to create stimulating and enjoyable moments for other people to experience on a daily basis."