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Pulling back the curtain on sports salaries: Part 3

Hi friends,

We’re back with another edition of our transparency series, designed to shed some light on what entry-level sports salaries and early-career roles really look like.   


I’ve already told the story of leaving ESPN and, after connecting with a fellow Blue Hen, ending up with the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League. What I haven’t shared is how I took a significant pay cut at first.


While my official title was Communications Manager for the Soul, everyone in our roughly 10-person front office wore many hats. I oversaw communications, public relations, media events, community events, player and mascot appearances, and more.


After my first season, the league welcomed an expansion team, the Atlantic City Blackjacks. The team shared an office with the Soul staff, and I was promoted to Director of Communications for both teams. That meant balancing more responsibilities and even more travel, both to away games and back and forth to Atlantic City for in-person meetings with the Blackjacks’ local media and partners.


My initial salary was a whopping $34,000, roughly $12,000 less than what I had been making at ESPN. Yet I was so thrilled to be back in the Philly area near my family and out of the toxic environment that was ESPN, that I didn’t even care. I viewed it as a stepping stone and an opportunity to start fresh.


After my promotion: When I was offered the role of Director of Comms, my salary increased to $50,000. Again, I didn’t try to negotiate, partly because I didn’t want to jeopardize what I felt was an amazing raise/promotion and partly because I had no idea how to do that, lol.

Work-Life Balance

Working for a smaller professional or minor league team is a unique experience. You get a lot more freedom, tons of hands-on experience, and plenty of opportunities in areas that may be outside your comfort zone. You also work a lot. Having a smaller team means an all-hands-on-deck mentality. That’s why Sam, as head of social media for the Salem Red Sox, routinely ended up arriving at the ballpark hours early to help pull the tarp over the field.


Now add in the fact that when I first started with the Soul, my apartment was about an hour away from our New Jersey-based offices. For the first few months (until I moved to a slightly closer Philadelphia apartment), I would leave at roughly 7 am each morning and get back home around 7 pm during the offseason. In-season, I typically wouldn’t get home until after 8 pm. While that doesn’t sound super late, I was always exhausted. I’d typically make myself work out, make a quick dinner, and then end up mindlessly watching TV until I fell asleep.


My work-life balance significantly improved a few months into the role when I finally moved into an apartment in South Philly. As a result, I was only half an hour away from the team’s offices. Plus, my then-fiancé (now-husband) and I were now living together, as he had left ESPN and started a role with MLB in Philadelphia.


After my promotion: Not gonna lie, the promotion was tough on me from a work-life balance perspective. I was traveling more (often driving over an hour each way to go to meetings in Atlantic City) and I found myself taking work home with me more often than I ever had. Even when I wasn’t physically working on a project, work was occupying my thoughts.


Mental State

I’ll admit that after my very first day with the Soul, I cried the entire hour-long drive home. Dramatic much? Yeah, absolutely. But at the time, the reality of leaving my “dream job” was finally setting in, the Soul’s offices seemed tiny and depressing, I was nervous about bonding with my new coworkers, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and was in over my head. I was second-guessing my decision big time. Thankfully, that uncertainty only lasted about a week. After that, I started making friends in the office. And while the commute was long for the first few months before I moved, I really enjoyed the work I was doing. In fact, I found that the seven or so months between moving and being promoted were the sweet spot for me. I loved my job, my coworkers, and my life outside of work and felt like I was really hitting my stride both personally and professionally.


After my promotion: As I mentioned, this wasn’t the easiest transition for me. I was stressed out trying to manage my new responsibilities and craft communications for two unique brands, all while reporting to two different team presidents. While both were great, their personalities and working styles could not have been more different, which led to its own set of challenges. I started applying to other jobs a few months into my promotion because I was having such a difficult time balancing two different teams and setting boundaries. Thank goodness I did, because the Arena Football League folded that offseason. Fortunately, I had started consulting for the Philadelphia Eagles and was able to move into a full-time role right away.


So that’s the very condensed version of my time with the Soul (and Blackjacks). While it was my lowest-paying job, it ended up being one of the most rewarding. Still, there were ups and downs, as there are with any role. Hopefully, this helps you as you navigate the early stages of your career.

And remember, you’re awesome and you belong here.

Stay tuned for the next edition of our Pulling Back the Curtain series coming soon!

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