Interning in the Sports Business: A case study of my time at Queens Park Rangers Football Club (Sport Business International June 2014)

Australian Blair Hughes turned his back on teaching and the music industry to pursue a career in the sports industry. He gives his account of travelling across the world to intern at a London based football club.

FROM A YOUNG age I was always the one in my group of friends to plan days out at a sporting match or think up creative entrepreneurial ideas to make pocket money. I think, therefore, that sports event management and fan engagement have been in my blood before I
even knew what those two skills were.

Over the past seven years I have worked as a high school teacher and as a venue, tour and
artist manager in the music industry, where I ran a successful PR and events business.
Postgraduate study in sports management – or any field for that matter – should be applauded
as it demonstrates a person’s ability to be a lifelong learner and invest in their career.
The approach I have taken – to proactively trek across the globe seeking out practical experience through internships – has proved to be very beneficial for my own career.

Let me set the scene for you. It’s early 2013, I’m a year away from turning 30 and I’m in
a teaching job in Australia that I’ve become disillusioned with. I knew due to the stress I was feeling after seven years as a teacher that I needed to change paths, follow my dreams and
find my true passion. I knew that my diverse life experience and unique skills developed
from years of working in the education and music industries would hold me in good stead
heading into the sports industry, but it would still be a very big challenge to secure a job.

Progress through Persistence
In 2013, I sent e-mails and letters and made calls to London at 1am from Australia to over 40 football clubs across the UK – including West Ham, Tottenham and Chelsea – and set up
meetings with 17 of them. This kind of proactive enthusiasm has got me everywhere over the years and is what I continually teach my students: if you want to reach a goal, you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. You need to get off your butt, put yourself out there, never stop
learning, market yourself as the best in the game and search out who you want to professionally emulate. Discover what your passion is and do everything you can to reach your career goals.At the end of a meeting with QPR (Queens Park Rangers), I asked about the possibility of an internship, and to my astonishment they agreed to take a punt and have me come back at the end of the year to learn from them.

While at QPR I was able to work on some exciting fan engagement and operations projects ranging from helping design new incentives for membership packages, investigating e-cigarette and vaping policies in the English Football League as well as researching ticketing and loyalty schemes. I was also able to sit in on the action in the control room on matchdays against Leicester City, Doncaster Rovers and Huddersfield Town to learn from the experienced football police squad about serious crowd management issues such as hooliganism and flares. I participated in pre- and post-game briefings with key stakeholders such as stadium operations, and a Hammersmith and Fulham Council safety meeting that looked at all the factors that go into creating a successful and safe matchday.

The English Premier League gave me an insight into the issue of pyrotechnics, and I learnt about the current awareness campaigns and dangers around the use of flares and smoke
bombs, including how women and children are being used as flare mules in grounds across the UK. Along with this, I had a chance to learn a deeper understanding of hooliganism from chief superintendents of the Metropolitan Police Service’s football division.Last but by no means least, I was privileged to be able to spend a couple of days with the QPR Community Trust, helping teach football to kids with Down’s syndrome and meeting the players as they signed merchandise for charities.

All through the QPR internship I tried to be the first into the office and the last to leave, talked to everyone from the cleaners to the owner Tony Fernandes, and networked with clubs back in Australia, mentioning that I was talking up their initiatives…all to get my name in their minds.The internship, though, was not without its challenges or anxious moments. For instance, there was a financial risk in taking the internship in the first place, and I had to save up enough money to last me a few months in London as I wasn’t being paid. Getting a UK visa was also a hassle, and I had to pay an immigration lawyer to sort it out.Then there were other anxieties. Would I be out of my depth, or too old for the internship, given it would usually be reserved for a high school graduate? Would there be a structured programme for me? How much freedom would I get at the club to develop? Would I actually learn what it was like to work in fan engagement? Would I make good contacts?

As it turned out, everyone at QPR gave me their time, experience, advice and ideas and the placement greatly helped guide my understanding of exactly where I wanted to go with my career in the sports industry. I also networked every day I was in the UK, attending over 20 Premier League and Championship matches and having meetings with key fan engagement staff at these clubs along the way.

The rest, as they say, is history. Fast forward to mid-2014 and I’ve completed an internship
at QPR and now currently work in fan engagement for a London start-up, whilst also running the social media for a major sports conference and teaching event management and marketing to teens one day a week. I will also be gaining some US experience at the end of 2014 with some high-profile sporting teams over there, and would like to return to QPR to work full-time in fan engagement or operations somewhere down the line.

In many ways I’m living the dream, but I didn’t get there overnight; the last nine months have been long days of calculated risks, relentless networking and seeking out practical experience in the sports industry through internships.

This story appeared in the June 2014 edition of Sports Business International

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