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Advice to Recent Graduates Who Dream of Working in the Sports Industry

a photo of Terry Pluto at the Kent State bookstore.
Mark Arehart
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto talks with a young fan during a library book signing event at the Kent State University bookstore.

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto has been a sportswriter and columnist for more than 40 years. And he says it’s harder now more than ever to break into the industry, whether it’s as a journalist or as a team executive.

Pluto decided to change up the conversation again this week and shift the focus away from those who play sports to those who dream of working in sports.

Is a sports management degree the ticket?
Pluto says it's important to keep in mind that a college degree in sports management or communications doesn't guarantee you a job, especially in the changing landscape of pro team front offices, which are increasingly made up of business majors from top schools.

Looking at the Browns, the so-called "Ivy League three" is made up of two Harvard graduates, General Manager Andrew Berry and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta. The head coach, Kevin Stefanski, graduated from Penn State. Cleveland Indians President Chris Antonetti graduated from Georgetown and General Manager Mike Chernoff has a degree from Princeton.

You have to persevere. I sent out 50 resumes and I had good qualifications and it still was a struggle.
Terry Pluto

"It tends to be people who were not necessarily former players, and in fact, most of the time it's not even people who have sports management degrees. It's [degrees] in business, math [or] computers," Pluto said.

Pluto says it's tied to analytics being at the center of sports.

"Every time a trade is made in any sport right now, whether they have a salary cap or not, they're talking budgets and they're talking how to structure contracts. So, maybe you have a sports management degree and maybe you know every trade the Browns or Indians ever made. It means nothing."

A second specialty
So, Pluto says it's important to major in something in addition to sports management or communications. "Something like in marketing, business or IT. You have to have a wide variety of skills."

Pluto also emphasizes the value of internships. "Put yourself in position to get to know people," he said.

He points to Cleveland Indians President Chris Antonetti, who started as an intern with the Montreal Expos. "This is a guy who could have walked into a big business job." The challenge, Pluto said, is that Antonetti had to learn the inner workings of baseball to tie into his business knowledge.

"If you're working for a minor league team, you're going to be eating the hotdogs leftover after the game."
Terry Pluto

Pluto, who's been a sportswriter and columnist for more than 40 years, doesn't have a journalism degree. He majored in secondary education and social studies with a minor in English at Cleveland State University. He worked as a high school student teacher in Cleveland for six months get his certification. He was also working part-time at The Cleveland Press and wrote articles for The Plain Dealer Sunday magazine.

"I wanted to be able to get a job. What if the writing thing doesn't work out? At the very least, with that education degree I knew I could substitute teach. This is why I say get a secondary major in business or marketing. You may need a full-time job."

Prepare for part-time
Pluto says many people who work in sports journalism, whether it's as a writer or broadcaster, work full-time doing something else.

"The idea of the old days, when I started in newspapers that 'this is a union job, cradle to grave'...Even people that you see their bylines in different places, they're being paid by the story or they're on some type of part-time retainer."

He says starting out, expect to work hard and not be paid much. "If you're working for a minor league team, you're going to be eating the hotdogs leftover after the game. So you need something else on the side."

"You have to persevere. I sent out 50 resumes and I had good qualifications and it still was a struggle. This isn't 'don't do it.' This is 'do it' but know what you're doing," Pluto said.

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