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Rising Stars: PR Guru Brings Hockey His 'A' Game

By Andrea Calabretta

Tom knew he wanted to work in sports from the very beginning, and his dedication and charisma got him noticed first in sports retail then as an intern with two professional teams. Now, he regularly works 16-hour days with the San Jose Sharks, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

Name: Tom Holy
School: Bowling Green State University
Major: Sports Management
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Media Relations Manager
Company: San Jose Sharks
First Steps

Tom's first few months after graduation were really stressful because he didn't know what would happen. But he had interned at the Cleveland Indians while in school and one day got a call from his old boss. "[He] let me know that the Barons were looking for an Account Executive, a role that was 100% ticket sales. Even though I didn't have any experience selling tickets, I went to the interview and while answering questions, found myself relating all of my answers to my experiences."

"I didn't get the job, but a week later [the Barons' Vice President of Hockey Operations], called me back and gave me the chance of a lifetime. He explained that the Barons, just one year into their existence at the time, had never had a public relations position and thought that I would be a good fit in the role that they were creating.?They offered me the position of Public Relations Coordinator."

"I spent three seasons with the Barons. We were owned and operated by the San Jose Sharks, so I worked with their PR and hockey departments on a daily basis. It was the best first job in the world for two reasons. First, I was intimately involved in every aspect of the business. I wrote our game notes, maintained our website, designed art for various publications, sold tickets and even had a big hand in the largest corporate sponsorship! Secondly, I really got to know a lot of people in the NHL and specifically with the Sharks. Without that experience, I wouldn't be as well-rounded or networked as I am now."

After three seasons, Tom moved a natural step up the hierarchy: "I never really had to consider my next job, because I was on a natural path that led me to our parent company."

From Then to Now

"I began my college career thinking that I wanted to be a sports agent. After doing several research papers on that career, I realized it wasn't for me. The biggest thing that stood out to me was that there were 850 or so registered agents in the NFL and only 630 or so players."

In college, Tom was required to get practical experience. He met two recruiters at a sports career fair: one from the Indians, big-name national team, and another from a smaller team. Offered an internship by the smaller team, he held out for one from the big name: "I still look back and can't believe that I turned down a sure-thing internship. But it was the biggest break of my life. During my internship with the Indians, my student advisor introduced me to the Indians Media Relations Manager" who brought Tom on as an intern for the next season.

"The Media Relations Internship with the Indians was also a calculated risk. It was not for school credit as it did not meet the time requirements needed for the credit hours, and it did not pay. I took the position, but I still needed an internship for school."

To find an internship for credit, Tom went back to the sports career fair his school hosted. He chatted with someone manning the Fox Sports Net Ohio (FSN-O) table, but "I didn't stop there during the day because I thought it was for aspiring broadcasters. Even when I talked to him, we didn't talk about the positions that they had available, but it was a lucky meeting." On opening day of the Indians season, Tom was working in the press box and ended up running into the same guy he had met at the career fair which led to yet another internship offer.

Tom's unique set of internships ended up clinching the deal for his first job. Tom says, "It all seems to fit because when I interviewed with the President of the Barons, it turned out that he worked for both the Indians and SportsChannel Ohio as it was known at the time. Everybody I worked for, he worked with at one point in his career. Instead of calling the references that I gave him, [he] called people off the list that he knew. The kicker was the General Manager at FSN-O [who] gave me a sterling recommendation even though I had limited contact with him. In fact, the only reason that I think he remembered my name was because I wrote him a thank you letter for giving me two tickets to Michael Jordan's return to Cleveland with the Wizards (every intern got to pick a pair of tickets to any event). The day he got the letter, he came over to my desk, thanked me and asked how my internship was going."

"So I guess I had a few big breaks along the way!"

Challenges Faced

"Money was tough to come by. Throughout high school, I always had money because I worked a lot. But when I was working two internships with the Indians and FSN-O at the same time, I didn't get paid a dime. When I got my first job, I wasn't making enough to really live the way I wanted to. At this point, I am starting to get to where I want to be financially, but it has taken five years. Really, it was just a sacrifice, but my support system was strong and they knew I had a plan."

"In San Jose, my biggest challenge is not knowing the local landscape. At first, it was information overload trying to get to know who everyone was and what outlet they were from. But now I am more comfortable and have a better grasp of the who's and what's of the Bay Area.?

"When I was in Cleveland, working for the Barons, a big issue was trying to get attention from the community. Poor attendance was our problem throughout the five years in Cleveland, and trying to drum up media support was a tough sell. But I stuck to it, was told 'no' or 'not right now' more than I could imagine. But the one time you are told yes, it makes it all worth it and keeps you doing it."

My Experience

"On a game day, I get into the office at 7am. I pull off stats and newspaper clips and make copies. I update my game notes and get those printing. Once the stuff is printed, I get all the game day info to the coaches from both teams (around 9am). At 10am, we have our morning skate. During that, I sit in the stands and talk to the media, pitching story ideas or just talking hockey. Our first player usually gets off the ice at about 10:23 and we open the locker room to the media. For the next hour or so, the media gets their quotes from the players and coaches. After skate, I go through the email that has accumulated since I went out to the rink at 10. Usually, there are about 30 messages. Once I'm done, I go to lunch with a couple of the guys in the office. After that, I distribute game day materials to the referees' room and a few lounges, set up our post-game coaches banner and update stats all while balancing my day-to-day things. The players come back to the rink at 4:15ish and miscellaneous needs always come up that I attend to. It is also a time to remind them of the media requests during the day."

"At 5:30pm, we have a media-availability time period for a half hour. So I hang out at the locker room and set up any necessary interviews. From there, I go to the media lounge at 6ish. At 6:30, I join one of our players in the hallway for his warm-ups. It started last season, and I basically just joke around with him. It's his way of getting relaxed for the game. At 6:45pm, I take our TV camera into the locker room to get B-Roll footage to air in their open. We usually do a bench interview during warm-up and I am on the bench with the TV personnel coordinating it with the player. During the game, we have a walk-off intermission interview, TV timeout bench interviews and an occasional off-camera coach interview that I coordinate. The rest of the time, I am in the press box watching the game and trying to uncover statistics (i.e. point streaks, franchise records, recent trends) for the media. Once the game ends, the locker room opens to the media five minutes after the game ends. I open up the room and set the media up with the players that they want to talk to. It ends with our head coach doing his post-game press conference outside the locker room. Following that, I update some statistics that I keep, straighten up my desk and head home around 11pm, which makes for a 16-hour day."

"On off days, you prepare for the game days. One person from our three-person department covers practice (usually my boss). That is the person who handles all media requests for the day. I typically get the game notes ready for the upcoming game and stay away from practice. Random tasks come up as well, and you just stay on top of them as best you can. Plus, I travel with the team to about 75% of the road trips (somebody from our department is on every trip) which, even though we have an itinerary, is always hectic and unpredictable."

"The off-season starts with the NHL Draft, which I travel to and sit at the draft table. But on a typical day in the summer, I am at the office from 9-5. I am in charge of our media guide and yearbook. Those two publications are a summer-long process. It stays pretty busy, with the free agency period attracting the most media activity."

Next Steps

"I see myself continuing my way through the company here. Basically, the only thing that I don't have a hand in is making our budget. That would be the next step here. But I don't believe that grad school would help me in my position. I feel that in my career, you either know what you are doing, or you don't. There isn't a school course that details exactly what I do.?I am all for people going to grad school; I just don't believe that it would make me better at what I do."

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

Tom has worked really hard for a long time now, so it's hard to be surprised at where he's ended up. "I formed my work ethic and gained management experience by starting as a sales kid at Champs Sports. I worked my tail off and by the time I was graduating high school, I was the only teenage keyholder in the three-state district. They actually offered me an Assistant Manager position to not go to college. I am really happy that I didn't take it, but it was still nice to hear. That is when I started my preparation for the real world. Two years later, that experience helped land me my first internship."

Though Tom didn't take any courses that directly trained him for his current job, ever since his sophomore year he knew that he wanted a job like this. Still, Tom says that "when I graduated, I didn't know a thing about hockey. Now, I can sit back, watch a game and know more than most fans. So I guess that would be the biggest surprise of where I am right now. I see the game on such a different level than I did when I started."

Advice for Others

"I had a professor tell me that I shouldn't try getting an internship with a major league sports team. That was the worst advice that I received. I took a little pride in getting two internship with the Indians after I was told that I wouldn't have a chance. Although, from a certain point of view, I see why that advice was valid.?There aren't many positions available and it is very competitive. But, you shouldn't limit your aspirations because of it."

"The funny thing about every job that I have ever had is that all of them are connected somehow. I followed a path and one thing just led into another. While some people might say, 'Oh, it's not what you know, it's who you know,' I would counter by saying, 'You're partially right. It is who you know, but you won't know those people if you don't know anything.'"

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