It is not impossible to work in the sports business without any prior experience, but it sure does help to have it. “It is something that you cannot teach in a book, you cannot express it in words, it has to be experienced first hand,” says Chris Hughes, the Sports Information Director for Cal State L.A. Athletics. “Any type of hands-on experience people can get will certainly aid them.”
Chris conducts the typical day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a Sports Information Director. These typically include writing and distributing press releases, producing media guides on each sport, maintaining the athletics web site, pitching stories to the media, coordinating all media activities related to the athletics program and maintaining a historical archive of athletics history at the institution
However, Hughes not only handles the publicity for CSULA Athletics but also the marketing and promotions. This added responsibility includes the production of schedule cards and posters, in-game promotions, gameday giveaways, and coordinating the public address/message board operations on gamedays.
Experience is something that he obtained as early as high school. The real test however, came while he was working as an intern at Northwestern University the year after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies.
“My intern year was the Rose Bowl year for the Northwestern football team. I can’t think of a better hands-on learning experience than that season,” said Hughes. “We started out on Labor Day weekend and pulled one of the biggest upsets by going into Notre Dame Stadium and beating them. That started the ride.”
That particular experience taught Chris a lesson in dedication. “It was not uncommon to get to the office at 8:00am, and not get home until literally midnight. Then we would get up the next day and go do it all over again. It was like that almost every day from Labor Day all the way through New Year’s Day.”
The sports information side of things is not the only part of the game that takes that sort of commitment. “It is going to take a lot of dedication to work in sports, period. You have to accept the fact that this is not a 9-5 job. In this business, you do not clock in and clock out.”
The road to Cal State L.A. started in high school when Hughes got involved in journalism. Growing up in a town of about 25,000, Chris picked up a job at the local newspaper. By his senior year, Hughes said he was essentially the whole sports department.
“The paper was published two or three times a week depending on budget and management decisions and I was the only one writing sports. Unfortunately, we had two high schools in that town. With me attending one of them, that made it a little more difficult for the other school. However, the other coaches and I had an arrangement, and we worked it out so nobody was getting slighted on coverage.”
Chris entered Northwestern as an engineering major, but said his interest in sports led him to the sports information department. “I looked at working for the student paper there (NU), which is well renowned among college student newspapers. They win awards all the time. Then, I looked at the sports information office and decided on that. Over the first couple of years in college, I grew to really enjoy it. I made a conscious decision that this is what I really wanted to do after college.”
Upon graduation, Hughes was hired on at NU as an intern. After working the Rose Bowl season, he stayed on for three more years as Assistant Director of Media Services before relocating to California. “After taking a couple of months off, Caltech had just created a full time job as a sports information director. I was there for a year and helped start up that office, and then the position at Cal State L.A. came available.”
Through his first couple of years in college, Chris said he learned a little more about himself and what he wanted to do. He realized that sports information was his calling. “This was the most appealing to me. I began actively sinking my teeth into anything I could.”
If you are looking to “Work in Sports”, Hughes suggests you do the same thing. “Try and learn as many aspects of the business as you can. Give yourself options. If you’re a student, seek out the athletics department at school and latch on in any shape, form or fashion, paid or unpaid. Get in there and just be around it and soak up the day to day knowledge.”