“To an extent, this is what I saw myself doing when I was growing up” says Ross French, Director of Athletics Media Relations for the University of California Riverside. “When I was in high school, I had a very good teacher who told me that whatever you do in life, wherever you want to go, just make sure you do something that you love.”
French did not always love his work, and that advice is what pushed him to work in the sports industry. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in English in 1992, he spent two years as an intern with the UC Santa Barbara sports information office. It’s what happened in-between that made French realize where he was headed.
“Getting the internship was a very fortunate occurrence because I had just tried to work in the real world as a technical writer for about two months. I just couldn’t stand it. I was wearing a coat and tie to work and writing about stuff that nobody cared about.”
Ross quit that job and was unemployed in Santa Barbara. Around Christmas time, an intern who was working at the UC Santa Barbara SID office left for a position as a sales rep somewhere else. “They were in need for an intern immediately”, said French. “This person had been doing softball and the season was starting in three weeks. I stayed in contact with Bill Mahoney, the SID at Santa Barbara, and he told me he could hire me, but he couldn’t pay me because he had already given the other person the rest of the money in the budget. However, he told me if I wanted the experience and opportunity, it was mine. I jumped at it and did softball for two years, did some soccer stuff, some public address work, and then in the summer of 1996, it was time to move on.”
From there, French joined the University of Redlands in September, 1996, and served as Sports Information Director for the university's 20 sports. He also assumed roles as scheduling coordinator, game manager, promotions coordinator, and cheerleading advisor. While serving as SID at the University of Redlands, he proceeded to earn his Master’s of Arts in Management.
The next step was joining the staff of UC Riverside in 2000. While his position is identified as Director of Athletics Media Relations, French calls himself the “utility infielder of the athletic department.”
“I do a little bit of everything here. On the surface, my job description is to be the marketing and public relations to the media for our seventeen sports. That involves keeping stats, doing the media guides, doing the website and updating everything. In addition to that, I am the computer troubleshooter. If someone has a problem like a jammed copy machine or if they need pictures, they come to me.”
Another part of his job is to hire people, and when he is talking to people who want to “Work in Sports”, his advice to get experience where ever you can. “. I am actually hiring right now, and the one thing I am noticing is there are a lot of people that want to get into the sports business, but they don’t know how or what they need to do. They need to find a school or team, and just start doing stuff for them.”
He is one who has practiced what he preached. “I was a sports writer, but it took me a couple of years to get involved. I knew I wanted to do it but I didn’t know how to get involved. I started off by doing an internship with the Pasadena Star News in Southern California.”
Another thing Ross says is not to expect a large paycheck. “Realize that you are not going to be paid much. When you are working in athletics, unless you are one of the athletes, you are not going to become a millionaire. It is more of a labor of love, something that is fun to do.”
The main point that French makes is that you have to get out there and work. “Get yourself an internship somewhere. Learn how to write game notes and realize that you are not going to make a lot of money early on.”
While your education may carry you well, the experience is something that may be the final determining factor in getting a position. Ross has someone in his office that has benefited from experience. “I have a guy right now in my office who graduated from Cal State Fullerton last year. He is very good at what he does, he is just raw in a few ways. Next year I think he’ll be ready for a full-time assistants’ position somewhere. Someone will be lucky to get him. He actually applied for this job, and even though in my opinion, he probably wasn’t ready for it, he was still middle of the road in terms of the applications we have gotten because of the experience he has. He was willing to come in here and get some hands on experience. Since he came in, I have let him be in charge of two different sports, soccer in the fall and softball in the spring, and he has done a great job; he has run with it. The key is to go off and get experience wherever you can.”