Sports Career Spotlight

We've been featuring executives from the sports industry since 2001. Naturally, some of these executives have moved onward and upward in their sports careers. We believe these profiles remain relevant and valuable because they highlight the hard work, dedication, brilliant successes, and lessons learned in a variety of career paths through the sports industry.

Matt Cunningham

Matt Cunningham , Coordinator, Coaching Education Program

USA Hockey


Name: Matt Cunningham
Current Job Title: Coordinator, Coaching Education Program
Company Name: USA Hockey
First sports job: Summer Sales Associate (Phoenix Coyotes)
College education: Minnesota State University, Mankato – B.A. Mass Communication, Marketing minor – M.A. Sport Management
Executive most admired: Don Maloney
Brand most admired: Patagonia

I have been working with USA Hockey for a year and a half. My main focus right now is curriculum development and special projects related to our Coaching Education Program. I also get to assist with Regional and National Player Development Camps, on- and off-ice clinics and social media initiatives. I’m always looking to expand my skill set and hope to learn more about video technology for educational and scouting purposes.

I also worked in Hockey Operations with the Central Hockey League, where I managed all daily transactions, immigration issues and the salary cap. I assisted with disciplinary issues, collective bargaining negotiations and supervision of officials.

In addition to my hockey experience as a player, coach and administrator, I’ve worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Boxing, the Minnesota Vikings, Phoenix Coyotes and Minnesota State, Mankato athletics.

Tell us a little about your first job in the sports industry. How did you land it?

I worked with the Phoenix Coyotes as a Summer Sales Associate. I was still in Minnesota and had my Dad (in Phoenix) call the office a few times to find out about internships. He got connected with the Director of Ticket Sales and helped set up a phone interview before I came home for the summer. It was a great experience and solidified my desire to work in the sports industry.

How does working in sports differ from working in other industries?

The sports industry is unpredictable and is great for people who like change. I’m someone who gets bored with routine. I love the ever-changing atmosphere and the opportunity to work on new projects. I believe working in our industry allows you to find new talents you might not know you have. The camaraderie and teamwork are great traits of working in sports.

What advice would you give to students looking to make sports their career?

Diversify your skill set as much a possible. Be prepared to do what the job description says and brace yourself for the countless other duties that come up.

Reach out to people you admire and step out of your comfort zone.

Much like being an athlete, working in this industry requires incredible mental toughness. Don’t get discouraged by rejection….use it to fuel your creative energy and desire to succeed.

Be prepared to multi-task and manage your time effectively.

Read books, publications, websites, blogs related to the field.

What advice would you give to people in established careers trying to make the transition into sports?

Find the attributes in your current role that would translate with relative ease. Be patient and prepared to adapt your style, routine, etc.

We all know that working in sports generally involves long hours. What are the perks that offset this?

I cherish the opportunity to work with interesting and like-minded people. We work a lot of events at USA Hockey – at these events I get to work with people I might not ever have a chance to interact with. We are fortunate to have somewhat flexible hours when we are home……because of the long hours and weekends we often have to work on the road.

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