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.

Nicole Allison

Nicole Allison, Director, Partnership Marketing

National Hockey League


Name: Nicole K Allison
Current Job Title: Director, Partnership Marketing
Company Name: National Hockey League
First sports job: PR Intern at USA Basketball
College education: Wittenberg University- BA in Political Science, Minor in English/Journalism
Executive most admired: Who Iíve worked with: Ron Ryan, former President of the Philadelphia Flyers. Who I have not worked with: Phil Knight.
Brand most admired: Ralph Lauren

Short Bio:

I currently work at the NHL overseeing several sponsor accounts. My first job was at USA Basketball- working in PR under Craig Miller. Was one of the best learning experiences for me- I moved out to Colorado Springs and basically was the ďhome baseĒ PR rep while everyone was traveling- so I dealt with all teams, worked at training camps, wrote press releases. That experience made me realize that the sports industry was something I wanted to be part of. From there I got an internship at the Flyers in PR and moved to Comcast SportsNet (for about 2 months) and then I worked in Arena Ops as an Assistant and then- finally got a job in Sales/Service which handled STHís, Partial Plans, marketing & promotions, etc. After 5 years, I was offered a job at the Phoenix Coyotes. I wanted experience working in a non-traditional market- and the chance to open an arena (Glendale Arena). I would not be who I am today without having that experience. After the lockout, I came to the NHL and worked in the Club Services Department where I worked with Clubs on business related issues like ticket sales and retention, marketing, corporate sales and service and other projects relating to Club business. I moved over to the Partnership Marketing Department about 2 years ago.

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

I wrote a letter to Ron Ryan at the Flyers. I had seen him speak at a sports career fair in Philadelphia. He talked about how he started at the bottom and worked his way up. He must have liked my letter- he called me in to see him. We talked for awhile- I told him I played lacrosse and field hockey in college and never had an opportunity to do an internship and wanted to work in sports to see if it would be a good fit. I told him Iíd work for free. I got a job in PR and basically volunteered for everything until they hired me as Manager of Sales and Services about a year later and then moved on to Director. I was there for 5 years. Everything I am now can be traced back to what I learned there. They are a great organization.

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

Itís a small community when you think about it- everyone knows everyone- or at least knows someone you know. And people are always willing to help a colleague. Most start at the bottom- usually in ticket sales and then move up. I love that because they all understand what it takes to run a team or a league or whatever agency they belong to and can honestly say that they done all those menial tasks that the staff often times has to do. The other aspect that comes to mind is that because itís a live sport, you donít know how things will go- unlike working at a company who has products, like Coca-Cola or GE. They know they have a great product so they can market it how they feel is best. Every year we go into the season not knowing the outcome and you have to plan for so many different results. Itís not easy!

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

Educate yourself on whatís going on, study trends and most importantly, when you do get your big break, donít be afraid to talk to people to learn what they do (especially the more senior people). Volunteer for anything- you never know who youíll meet and what youíll like. I will also say that most people getting into sports need to understand that itís a business and that is always a first priority. So being able to separate yourself from being a fan and being in the business is important. That said, having a passion for what you do gets you through everything, especially in sports. Doesnít mean you have to have grown up being a fan of the team you work for but you can be passionate about the game, of the fans, or of the organization. My final thought would be to be flexible- if you have to move- move. You can always return back to your hometown if thatís what you want, but those who have moved up the chain quickly worked at several places before landing at their current job. Its not just about the job, its understanding what people go through when they move, the issues that arise, meeting new people, adapting to a new environment. Those things help you learn and eventually make you a better leader down the road. Plus, you never know, you might actually really like the area! I felt that way about Phoenix- was a great place to live and I met so many people that Iím still close with today.

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

Be patient. The key is to get in- once you get in, you can easily work your way up. People see talent and typically donít let it go to waste. Also, you have to network. Seek out informational interviews.

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

There are definitely perks, depends on whatís important to you. You can take vacation- usually itís during ďoffĒ times. There are tickets occasionally, merchandise, discounts, meeting (or seeing) a sports hero, etc. Really depends on the team or where you work. I try to keep things in perspective. If Iím working at night taking clients to a game I know Iím lucky. Iím going to a hockey game. Itís not like Iím going to some business meeting for 3 hours! Iíve gotten to be a part of some really great events like Winter Classic, All Star Weekend, NHL Awards, and Premiere Games. Not to mention the playoff games Iíve witnessed in person. But that aside, the NHL is very good to its employees. They understand people need time and encourage us to take time when we can and the older I get, this becomes more and more important.

When hiring, what major traits do you look for in a candidate?

Honestly, when Iíve hired, Iíve looked for someone who is a team player- someone who says ďweĒ instead of ďIĒ. I look for someone who will roll up his or her sleeves and help out, no matter the task. It really depends on the position. If it is sales you want a go-getter, someone who wants to make that call. If itís service you want someone who thinks of others first and fights for things that they know will make fans or their client happy. I canít expect people to have a certain personality for everything but you can tell when you talk with someone whether they are a good fit. A lot of what we do is on the phone or via email. So being personable on the phone is a huge asset as well as being a good writer (and this is becoming more important). As the position becomes more seasoned like a Manager, Director, etc., you look for leadership capabilities. A person who looks out for the group as well as communicates the goals and needs of the organization will always be successful.

Where do you see hiring in the sports industry heading in the next 3 years?

This is just my opinion from what Iíve seen and talked about with colleagues but anything that has to do with ROI, whether itís in the service area, data analysis, finance and or sales and retention. Sales will always be important; thatíll never change. ďNew MediaĒ (social media, mobile, .com) is growing so fast and there is so much interest there from sponsors and fans; any experience in this area would be helpful. Itís an area where weíve seen a lot of growth at the NHL the last few years.

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