Sports marketing is a fast-paced, unique, and exciting field (pun intended). Behind every favorite sports team or player is a marketing team sharing their stories, building the brand, and helping create an incredible fan experience. For many marketing students, working for a sports team is the ultimate dream, but it can be hard to know where to start or how to break into the industry. We were thrilled to welcome the Seattle Mariners’ Director of Marketing, Mandy Lincoln, to learn more about how to nab that awesome sports marketing job and what it’s really like behind the scenes.
Photo courtesy of the Mariners
This recap has been lightly edited for length.
How would you describe sports marketing?
Yes, we’re a sports team, but we say we’re in the business of entertainment. We can’t control the product on the field which is the team, so it’s about what we can do around the ballpark and in the community.
What exactly does your job entail?
It’s a little bit of everything. I work a lot with advertising, whether it’s radio, TV, print ads, or online. I even get to assist with the shoots for our commercials. We also brainstorm how to reach out to fans, whether that’s through targeted Facebook ads or offering free light rail rides, or doing promotions at events like trivia nights around UW.
I also work on creating game entertainment. Whatever you see on the monster digital board, any live entertainment, I get to be involved in that, whether it’s in conception in the off-season or being flexible figuring things out day of, like when James Paxon threw a no-hitter. Our team store created a no-hitter t-shirt, and he’s known as the Big Maple so the next Friday we sold Maple dogs (hot dogs down the middle of maple doughnut).
How much of your job in-season is reacting to events that happen during the week?
It’s a good portion of it. You’ve got your core players like Felix and Nelson Cruz, and then there are other stories that evolve from there. New players have really come forward and it’s a question of how we really capitalize on those stories as they become faces of the team.
What is sports marketing like when a team is struggling?
That’s when you really have to put on your creative hat and it becomes a challenge. The team will sell itself if they perform, but otherwise it falls on me to figure out all the different reasons people come. Maybe it’s foodies, maybe it’s diehard fans, maybe it’s a family event—we just have to figure out how to get fans in here. It goes back to how we’re in charge of controlling the experience, not the game. We celebrate all the small victories.
How do you manage marketing to so many different audiences, when the team fanbase can be everyone from families to college students?
We do micro-events, like College Night where we have dedicated Facebook ads, or we have an Italian Heritage night coming up that we hope reaches the Italian community here in Seattle. We hope that these little communities will be really drawn to these and talk about them amongst themselves. Social media has helped us get more granular and reach very specific audiences. Every year we have 81 parties (home games) and we try to make each one different.
Photo courtesy of the Mariners
What’s the size of your team? How many people and roles are you working with?
We used to have about 8 people in traditional marketing, but with social media that simply isn’t enough people to create enough content. So now we have a huge arm making social content, graphic content. Social content used to be a part-time one-person seasonal position but obviously not anymore. Our department has ballooned in recent years and I think that’s almost entirely due to the online space.
We do have groups that cut videos for us, more high-profile pieces, and we’ve also worked with an advertising agency for 20+ years.
With social media, what channels have you guys tried, which ones are successful, and which ones do you want to grow?
With Twitter, we’ve branched out so that it’s not just the Mariners account, but the Mariners Moose has its account and there’s Safeco Foodies, Safeco Field has its own account, and the Team Store has its own account, and they all fall under the Mariners voice. We try to expand within some of those bigger spaces, of course including Instagram and Facebook.
Who or what are you trying to compete against for attention? Other baseball teams, other sports teams, other entertainment options?
People here in Seattle have so many options on what to spend their money on—snowboarding on one hand, sailing on another—so competition is really everywhere. The thing is, after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, millennials here had their first big championship win experience, and we actually saw a lot of new fans at the Mariners games following that. As a city we want to be successful, so we’re actually excited about the NHL coming and the NBA coming because we can succeed together.
What does your job look like in the off-season?
My off-season is pretty much October. That’s wind-down, doing recaps, reflecting, and decompressing. But within 3 weeks of the season ending, we’re already brainstorming for the next year. It’s a pretty abbreviated off-season, and by November we’re already starting to create content and get back in motion. Spring training comes so quickly in the beginning of February and by then we’re already working with an agency to create commercials. We’re just trying to get ahead of it because it goes by in a blink.
How do you break into sports marketing?
Make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. Sports marketing in general is very demanding, a lot of hours, not incredible pay, so at the end of the day make sure you love the product. It is very competitive because it’s a recognizable brand and people want in, so my advice for anyone who is trying to break into sports is:
1. Don’t limit yourself to professional sports; there’s also minor leagues and college athletics and recreational sports.
2. Don’t limit yourself to one particular sport, just get experience in sports.
3. There are multiple avenues in, like working in an agency or a broadcast partner who are involved with the sports community. These are things you might not think of, but these make up sports marketing—not just the official teams.
What advice do you have for someone in an entry-level sports marketing job, once they’ve ‘broken in’ to the industry?
The biggest thing I notice about people trying to break in is that their communication isn’t the greatest. They’re behind their computers, so the face to face conversations can be a little uncomfortable. Especially if you’re in marketing, there’s that aspect of selling, so make sure you’re comfortable with people one-on-one or even a group. That’s something to work on to set yourself apart.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that once people get the job and they’re in through the door, they feel like they don’t have anything left to prove. Don’t coast once you’re in the door—now it’s time to prove yourself. I love people who come with ideas, so ask questions and putting your own spin on things. I’ve been here 11 seasons so sometimes I’m looking at something through a certain lens, so a fresh set of eyes is great.
Thank you so much, Mandy! If working for the Mariners sounds like your dream job or internship, keep an eye out for opportunities here.