When Jason Penry suffered a bad injury during his second year of college baseball he thought he’d never step into a batter's box again. “Luckily I did,” Penry says. But that injury was a blessing in disguise. “It changed my life,” he says. “It made me focus on life after ball. The sports business industry naturally was my calling.”
His first taste of the biz was an internship for a franchise in the Regional Football League. Never heard of it? Most haven't. The team and the league didn't last. Unfortunately for Penry, they both folded. But instead of stewing in discouragement, Penry filed away some valuable marketing insight: “For the most part, an independent professional team is a tough sell,” he says. “Most people do not want to spend their discretionary income watching second-tier players, especially if the team does not create a fan-friendly atmosphere.”
He was soon on to another internship with the Shreveport Swamp Dragons, a Texas League affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. “Eventually the attendance dwindled to nearly nothing and the franchise moved to Frisco, Texas,” Penry says. “I was out of a job in about a month.” Again, instead of discarding his sports industry dream, Penry left with more knowledge. “I was fortunate to learn real quickly from my first two job experiences that the sports business industry is business first, and then sports second.”
Then a decision.
After finding a job he really liked with Baseball USA in Houston, Penry faced a dilemma. Should he stay put or take a lesser job with Texas A&M? He weighed his options and ultimately picked the Aggie route. As a result, he went from attending senior staff meetings at Baseball USA to picking up the mail at Texas A&M. Why did he do it? Besides getting the opportunity to earn his Ph.D., “my main reason for leaving was that my real love has always been collegiate athletics. I made the decision and have not looked back. The decision paid off.”
And what exactly does he do for the 12th Man Foundation at Texas A&M University?
”My job is primarily working with the donors who contribute to our capital campaign, The Championship Vision,” Penry says. "The funds raised through the capital campaign for athletics address immediate and urgent needs throughout the athletic program. Generally, the greater the funding for a program the more apt a program is going to be a success on the field. This is where the 12th Man Foundation's major gift group comes into play. In addition to handling major financial gifts for Texas A&M University's athletics program capital campaign, I also manage the 474 available naming opportunities for campus athletics properties. Most recently, my biggest project is coordinating the Outdoor Tennis Center facility dedication ceremony for business icon and Aggie, George P. Mitchell."
And if you were to walk up to Jason and ask him for tips, this is what he’d say: “My career advice is to set specific career goals with time components. This has been tremendous in my career development. It has served as a road map for me. Secondly, I feel like you need to meet as many people, from all areas of the sport business industry, as possible. In order to learn, ask these people as much as you possibly can without being a pest. (As a side-note, I feel like e-mail is the most unobtrusive way to contact someone.) I have been blessed to meet some outstanding individuals who have helped to pave my way to my current position. There are many sport business executives who would love to help; it is a matter of finding them. In closing, I could not have worked over 75 hours a week early on in my career without strong support from my family. [So] my last bit of advice is to make sure that your family knows the type of struggles you will experience before starting in the sports industry. If you know going in that an abundance of free time and money are highly unlikely, then you will be better prepared to deal with those issues when they arise.”