Last Updated on October 13, 2022
Interview with Dr. Anthony DOnofrio
Sports Degrees Online had the chance to speak with Dr. Anthony DOnofrio, Director of the Graduate Sport Leadership program at Endicott College. In the interview, Professor DOnofrio offers advice on transitioning from being an athlete to the professional world, the importance of internships, and highlights some keys to success in the sports industry.
About Dr. Anthony DOnofrio
Professor Anthony DOnofrio is the Director of the Graduate Sport Leadership program at Endicott College. He earned a Master's in Sport Management from the United States Sports Academy and his PhD from Endicott College in Educational Leadership.
Prior to your career in academia, you had extensive experience working for several different sports organizations. Can you talk about some of the roles that you’ve had in the sports industry?
Professor Anthony DOnofrio: In professional sports I worked in ticket sales and marketing. At the collegiate level, I am currently, the Director of the Graduate Sport Leadership Program at Endicott College. In the past, I worked in facilities management in high school athletics, I was an Athletic Director, and a Physical Education and Health teacher as well.
Can you share a few of the lessons you learned from the different parts of the industry you worked in?
Professor Anthony DOnofrio: Sports is unique industry. Every day is going to change no matter which aspect of sports you’re in. It’s a new challenge and you have to adapt with the [changes and] challenges [that arise]. Something that is very valuable in the sports industry is networking and being able to network in the industry. I say it all the time “it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you”.
Networking and internships are often mentioned as two things that are very important as you just mentioned. What were some of the ways that you networked as you climbed the ladder to different positions in your career?
Anthony: I think for me, I was fortunate being a little bit older and seasoned. Fortunate not to have the computer era, so it kind of forced me to come up with a strategic plan for networking.
Some of the best conferences that I attended were the ‘World Hockey Summit’ the baseball winter meetings. I went in with the strategy of who I want to meet with and speak with. [When it comes to networking], I tell folks all the time [it’s important to] look someone in the eye, shake their hand, and always a follow-up. A handwritten ‘thank you’ note is going to go along a long way.
Internships were very valuable for me. I did several of them. They were all real-life and hands-on. And again it’s evolved [over the years].
Since it’s often so hard to get that first job in the sports industry, do you think it’s a good idea for young people to take a first job they are offered, even if it’s not something they know they want to pursue? Or should they wait for a role to come along that might be a better long-term fit? more specific opportunity to come along
Anthony: Well, there’s kind of two parts of that. That’s why the internship experiences, for me, were so critical.
One of the first internships I did was with the Las Vegas Stars and Thunder. The nice thing they did there was they allowed us to do a different component every day, whether it was PR, game day ops, etc. Every day we were selling, [the chance to also try different roles each day was great]. [That experience] kind of gave me a different [ideas about] what I wanted to do.
The beauty of the way [things work nowadays] is having access to Zoom. What I encourage students is to set up a 20, 30 minute call with somebody that’s working in the industry and kind of shadow them or talk to them and just get feedback to see what’s a day in the life or what’s a week in the life of working in that industry.
Another piece of advice I have to offer is if you are taking a job, say if you take a job in facilities management, for example, and you learn quickly that it’s not your cup of tea. Make sure that you’re not burning a bridge [on your way out the door]. You’ll [likely need] those contacts in the future. They may be a conduit for you for another job. So, all’s not lost [even when a position does not work out] – you had the chance to learn a skill set but more importantly [you established] those contacts and networks within the industry.
“Make sure that you’re not burning a bridge [on your way out the door]. You’ll [likely need] those contacts in the future. They may be a conduit for you for another job. So, all’s not lost [even when a position does not work out] – you had the chance to learn a skill set but more importantly [you established] those contacts and networks within the industry.”
Professor DOnofrio, this year you had the honor of presenting about career transitions for professional athletes at the 2022 National Cosmo Conference in Houston. Can you talk a bit about how you approach working with athletes as they transition from their competitive careers to the professional world, whether it be at collegiate or professional level?
Professor Anthony DOnofrio: Absolutely. Growing up playing all different types of sports, I knew [about the transitions that I had gone through myself]. I wanted to work front office, ticket sales, event planning… So, for me it was an easy transition.
But as I did my dissertation, I was lucky enough to work with a professional hockey players union. And noticing a lot of folks, not just hockey players, struggling to [figure out what their next move will be, because they] identify as a professional athlete, or a collegiate athlete [and they aren’t yet comfortable in other situations or roles].
So, for me, having been a coach for 25 plus years, [helping these former athletes find their way in the professional world] is something that is near and dear to my heart. A lot of the folks that are playing in sports, they don’t know what’s next because they’ve been in that world of training and playing in sports for so long.
The nice thing for me of working at Endicott College, I can tell them [these things] as they’re playing. Getting them set up now and similar to this is just networking, helping them with the transferable skills. But that goes across the board with college, professional and high school athletes – [your time as an athlete] is just one small segment of your life. [With that said], you can always stay connected to the game whether it’s teaching, coaching or working in a sports business setting.
Everybody knows it’s no secret that launching a career in sports is more competitive than other fields. What advice do you have for soon-to-be graduates who are trying to find their professional footing in the sports industry?
Professor Anthony DOnofrio: Strike while the iron is hot. While you’re a student now, start reaching out to folks, reaching out to owners or ticket sales or again let them know who you are. And I go back to that same saying, I say over and over “it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you”. Have a strategy.
“Strike while the iron is hot. While you’re a student now, start reaching out to folks, reaching out to owners or ticket sales or again let them know who you are. And I go back to that same saying, I say over and over “it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you”. Have a strategy.”
One of the best free tools out there right now is LinkedIn. And not utilizing it for asking for a job but building that networking pipeline, it’s so critical in the sports industry, it’s not like plastics engineering or something else where once you’re done, you kind of mainstream in. In the sports industry, [everyone relies] so heavy on the networking side, so [it’s so important to just get] your name out there.
I always use that analogy, you’re trying out for a new team, and you have to get recognized with that coach. So, you have to out-hustle those other folks that are going for that one ticket sales position with the Boston Bruins, or the Celtics, etc. So, you have to prove yourself and show your impact value which is huge in this industry. [This includes proving what you are], where is your impact, what are you going to bring to the organization.
“I always use that analogy, you’re trying out for a new team, and you have to get recognized with that coach. So, you have to out-hustle those other folks that are going for that one ticket sales position with the Boston Bruins, or the Celtics, etc. So, you have to prove yourself and show your impact value which is huge in this industry. [This includes proving what you are], where is your impact, what are you going to bring to the organization.”
Professor, there are many sport management/sport leadership programs to choose from these days, it can be overwhelming for prospective students to choose which program is best. What factors should students keep in mind as they’re trying to choose a program, and what makes your Sport Leadership program at Endicott College stand out?
Professor Anthony DOnofrio: I think for any program its customer service and that’s one of the things we pride ourselves here at Endicott College is our customer service. My tagline is “shop us, go check out other schools and find out are you going to get advising seven days a week, 24 hours a day [somewhere else]? If we have a student, maybe [based overseas] who will send us an email or a text [late at night or on the weekend – we always respond as quickly as possible.
We have an external advisory board from professional to college, high school to independent that work with the students [in our program]. We have all real-life practitioners teaching in our program. We have Sue Burn – the Athletic Director from Harvard, Paul Krapelka, who is General Manager of the Florida Panthers.
And big thing is I tell our students is once you’re done with the program, you have a connection for life. You can come back three or four years, whether you need a recommendation or some sort of network within the sports industry. At the end of the day you need those networks and contacts. It’s so critical and paramount to working in the sports industry.
“And big thing is I tell our students is once you’re done with the program, you have a connection for life. You can come back three or four years, whether you need a recommendation or some sort of network within the sports industry. At the end of the day you need those networks and contacts. It’s so critical and paramount to working in the sports industry. “
What are some of the benefits of studying a degree like a sport leadership degree in Massachusetts, generally in Boston, specifically as compared with other places?
Professor Anthony DOnofrio: A lot of the teams and the contacts and resources we have here in Boston, obviously the professional teams with the college athletics in this area, [are a huge asset.] There are also a lot of the non-profits, [for example] we work with the Cam Neely foundation, those guys are fantastic. I think that the networks, the contacts and the opportunities working in this industry, we probably have more opportunities than elsewhere in the United States.
Part of our goal at Sports Degrees Online is to help young people become aware of some areas within Sport Leadership and Sport Business where opportunities are growing. Can you share a few thoughts about some areas that might be worth pursuing for young people?
Professor Anthony DOnofrio: I tell folks that if you want to crack in the industry, especially in the sports industry, you’re not going to go wrong in the sales part of it. I know sometimes folks kind of shy away from that but the biggest thing is, wherever you go, if you’re going ticket sales facilities, as you’re growing and learning, you want to kind of grow what is your impact value.
So, when you go to that next step you can kind of translate that of alright, I work with this organization and I increase sales, here’s my contribution margin. So, if you can quantify but a lot of transferable skills, your leadership skills. But again, go in an area that you are passionate about.
And the biggest thing is wherever you start at is try to have the best listening skills. Listen and delve right in and try to help out as much as possible. There’s so many opportunities that I’m posting on LinkedIn. There are a tremendous amount of opportunities but just getting out there, find what kind of your skill set is but again take all those skills and translate into that, as you move on what your impact value is.
“And the biggest thing is wherever you start at is try to have the best listening skills. Listen and delve right in and try to help out as much as possible.”