The great majority of sports fans never think about what happens behind the scenes at an event. They show up at a golf tournament, drink a cold Heineken, watch Tiger birdie the 18th and go home. But who made sure Tiger teed off on time, the Heinkens were cold, or the banner advertising the Heineken was in the appropriate position?
In other words, who’s keeping order?
Jill Royster, that’s who. She knows exactly how to run an event smoothly. And for Royster, it did begin on the links.
“I started working in the sports marketing industry at Advantage International (now Octagon International) in the events division,” Royster says. “I was hired to be the volunteer/hospitality coordinator for a couple of Advantage's key golf events, but I worked on all golf events in the division. I did everything from determining food menus to determining pro-am foursomes to determining how to hang sponsor banners on the greens. I learned a lot about golf, but more importantly, I learned what it takes to run an event.”
It’s one of those great skills that can’t be learned until you actually do it. Seriously, can a text book ever explain how to handle an overflow crowd if the tournament goes to an extra sudden death hole? What about handling a concession shortage during a rain delay? Again, any type of event with fans and sponsors needs sharp people to run the show.
Realizing Royster was one of those sharp people, the company moved her from golf over to sailing and bigger and better things.
“After a couple of years in the events group, I moved over to the properties division and worked on an international sailing tour,” she says. “What had been individual sailing events around the world became a worldwide tour with sponsors, prize money and a uniformed approach. My team developed the relationships with the events, sold and serviced the sponsors, and created all of the publicity and promotional materials for the tour.”
It was great hands-on experience, especially when you consider there was no tour before Royster got there. Thus, she got a chance to see how something was built from the ground up.
“The tour was built from scratch, and it was challenging because we wanted to uphold the individual flavor of the events while creating a worldwide tour overlay.”
One of the key things Royster learned in this particular endeavor was the importance of flexibility.
“It was truly a joint effort amongst the tour staff, the events and the sponsors. The ability to customize, be flexible and listen to all of the partners was essential in building the tour.”
From the sailing tour, she then anchored at the biggest name in sports journalism.
“I moved to Sports Illustrated in February 2001 to work in the Sports Marketing Group. The department was solely responsible for accessing sponsorship, hospitality and merchandising programs for the magazine's advertisers.”
Since that time, Royster has rolled with the publication’s slight changes--and even thrived.
“The landscape of the magazine has evolved since I started, and SI is now developing brand-specific initiatives in addition to establishing third party relationships. I'm currently overseeing the Sports Properties Group that includes SI's 50th Anniversary Tour and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search. It's an exciting step for the magazine, and we're going to be careful to stay on strategy and keep SI's core assets in mind.”
In order to balance all those tasks, it helps to have an extensive background like Royster. That way she’s able to handle “everything from research, to power point, to selling, to sponsor-servicing, to setting up on-site display areas, to working in display booths. It's a mixed bag of responsibilities, but it keeps things interesting.”
Royster says the classic line about expecting the unexpected is true at SI.
“Expect anything,” she says. “You need to be able to work hard, prioritize and be passionate about your job as no day is ever the same.”
In terms of advice, what would she say to somebody looking to enter the sports industry? “Get as much sports-related experience as you can and lose the ego. Sports
marketing is glamorous, but it's a business, just like finance or health-care or politics. We don't throw the ball down the hallway at the office, we think about what we can do to keep people interested in throwing the ball. Do an internship, get involved with as many projects as you can, volunteer to work weekends, network and be proud of the salary that's pennies compared to your investment banking friends. Sports are a thriving business, and if you prove that you've got the passion, you too can thrive in the business of sports marketing.”