WISE SF Bay Area Chapter
The leading voice and resource for professional women in the business of sports.

An Athlete on the Business Side of Sports

Guest post by Allison Whitson, Partner Services Coordinator at Pac-12 Networks and former student athlete

I knew from a young age that sports would always be a part of my life.  Volleyball, basketball, soccer, swim team, attending countless Stanford games with my family; From playing sports to watching sports, I loved it all. Growing up as an athlete, I thrived on the challenge and working as hard as you can for your teammate next to you. As a fan, I loved the atmosphere and watching other athletes compete.

After a successful career as a student-athlete on the UC Davis Volleyball team, I signed a contract to play professionally in France. It was in France where I got a taste of sports sponsorships and the business of sports (nothing compared to the NBA or NFL, but we did have sponsors on our jerseys!).

When people asked me what I wanted to do after I was done playing volleyball, I always said I wanted to combine my passion for sports with my economics degree. I kept hearing over and over that the sports industry was “so hard to get into.” I considered pushing my career off another year to play one more season of professional volleyball. But the time came to hang up the volleyball shoes and enter the working world.

One of the things that doesn't go away when you hang up your jersey is your athlete mentality. So it was only a matter of time before I landed a job at a company that appreciated the competitive, hard working, driven, coachable, goal-oriented, team player who was eager to learn the industry and prove herself.

I knew the athlete side of sports inside and out.  What I needed to learn next was the business side of it. Plus, I wanted to live in San Francisco. So, I got a job doing sales at Yelp. Making a million cold calls everyday was not always was fun, but I was learning sales and made the most of the opportunity. I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone and thriving on the challenge.

After spending time at Yelp and a small marketing technology startup, my door to the sports industry finally opened, and I joined the Partner Services team at Pac-12 Networks. Finally, I was able to combine all my sales and marketing experience into helping manage sponsorships.

As I continue to pave my path, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that I like to pass on to other young athletes and aspiring young professionals:


  1. Teamwork. Grit. Resilience. Goal-Oriented. Driven. Use that athlete mentality to your advantage. All the key traits  employers love are already ingrained into an athlete’s brain and lifestyle.
  2. Network network network. Start with your network of fellow athletes. They once sat in your shoes and are more than happy to return the favor. Talk to as many people as you can, get an idea of what people do, and what they like about their jobs. Aim for one coffee date per week. And for every informational interview you have, make it a goal to leave the interview with one or two more people to talk to.
  3. And lastly, as my middle school coach used to say before every game: work hard and have fun. Once you get your first job, even if you’re making 65 cold calls a day (and yes this was my first job), find the fun in going to work everyday.