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Interview with Neil Horowitz

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Neil Horowitz is a young professional in the sports industry who has worked in social media for teams and service providers.  In this interview, he shares his experiences starting with his work as a college student through his time working with two National Hockey League teams to his current role.

In addition, Mr. Horowitz demonstrates the steps that can accelerate a career in sports including volunteering, seeking industry knowledge and actively creating and sharing content to bolster his visibility in the sports business and social media space.

As you read his story and comments, think about how you could take similar steps in your own career.  His path has applications whether you work in sports (or another industry) and for young professionals and college students who want to work in any part of the sports industry.

What is your role currently at Hopscotch? What does the company do?

Horowitz: I am the Customer Success Manager at Hopscotch. Our company is an open, mobile fan engagement platform, specializing in sports teams, leagues, and all sorts of live events. We're focused on enhancing fan experiences, monetization, and personalization. My job is to work with all of our customers from preparing to effectively launch their app, run the back end content management system and ultimately, utilizing the platform, and our technology partners, to: accomplish key business objectives, drive revenue streams, enhance fan engagement on all platforms, drive sponsor deals and value, optimize their loyalty program, counsel them on targeting and push notifications, and provide guidance on best practices and innovation.

Because we have so many verticals and there are so many solutions with which our platform can integrate, it requires me to have working expertise in all sorts of digital engagement, data and monetization solutions, as well as how to deploy them to drive revenue. In addition, we are working, successfully, to crack the code of monetizing mobile at the value it merits.

That's the big picture of what I do. There is also a lot of work in the background like sales support, writing playbooks and proposals, working with the product team, analytics, and, well...I stay busy!

Before you embarked on your professional career, you volunteered at the athletic department as a student at Yale. How did that start? What did it become? What would you advise students today seeking a similar experience?

My work at Yale happened very organically and turned out to not just be a tremendous opportunity to learn and gain experience, but also to form relationships I still maintain today. I was a college freshman with time to kill and a passion for sports. So I started writing for the Yale Herald (and boy was I a bad newspaper writer when I first started but worked with the Sports Editor to improve; I later became a Sports Editor myself).  I also got involved with YTV, the fledgling student-run TV network. Having no knowledge or experience with anything video, I made the naïve goal to create a TV show students couldn't get a better version of elsewhere – a SportsCenter for Yale sport I called “YSPN” (I liked the idea of saying 'This is Neil Horowitz, YSPN')

Fancying myself a future SportsCenter anchor, I taught myself video, editing, filming, and Final Cut Pro.

I met every coach and, well, everyone in the athletics department.  I was given the opportunity to borrow game video to cut highlights. I also went to every game possible and many practices, conducting interviews and shooting ancillary content and feature stories. I would spend hours cutting highlights, writing scripts, and then, often in a full room of computers and multimedia students, yell my catchy one-liners into a camera with the lens on to capture the audio that would go with my music sound beds and game highlights. I also built basic graphics for stats and box scores and other information. (I also had a sweet music video TV show!)

Through relationships with the Sports Information Department, my omnipresence at games and the athletics offices, and the realization that I was sitting on all this content that the Athletics Department could use, I began working with the Sport Information Department to put up game highlights and interviews.

From there, I led a project that culminated in live streaming of several sports (this was 2008-ish, so cutting edge for the time), including football, squash, swimming, volleyball, basketball, and hockey. I spent many hours taping down Ethernet line, running cameras, stressing over firewire codes and Windows Media Encoder. And I wouldn't trade it for the world. Now they have the Ivy League Digital Network and +ESPN-3. But I was there in the relative stone ages.

The skills I developed at Yale, along with internships, were how I got into sports. When my first sports interview involved cutting some interviews, highlights, and b-roll, well, I could do that in my sleep - I often did in college! - and very quickly. The lesson? Do something!  Just about every college has some sports going on, a newspaper you can write for, or some event at which to volunteer. College athletics departments crave talented student employees. Further still, it's never been easier to create content oneself on any number of platforms. Have dreams, but do something about them. There is no excuse for lacking experience or skills when opportunities exist right in front of you. Or, in my case, the platform to create opportunities exist!

What roles did you play previously with the Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes? What skills did you gain from those jobs that help you in your current role?

With the Ducks, my role was Social Media Producer. I grew up there with social media and sports (and website and app content, too), going from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Google Plus, and everything in between (not quite Snapchat). I not only learned a great deal about how sports business works and public relations in pro sports is executed and organized but also pretty much everything about a pro sport organization. As social media increasingly touched every department, I worked with every department, recognizing early the ability we had to amplify and enhance everything we were doing. I also learned a ton about fan engagement. This was the age of creativity, when the simplest ideas could take off. It was a lot of fun.

With the Coyotes, I was Manager of Social Media Marketing, taking on a role a bit more removed from content creation and charged more with content strategy and metrics. From working with the marketing team, communicating with PR on the intentionality and importance of brand and voice, working with corporate sales on reporting, executing, and pitching social media assets.  And, yeah, fulfilling some of those old school 3 Facebook posts/month kind of deals. u

We were also using social media contests and campaigns for both engagement and marketing goals, and even working with community relations and fan development on optimizing their social media, while amplifying it, as well. Definitely great to learn about the day-to-day execution of a sports team's business side. It was important to see what goes into planning marketing and sales campaigns and calls, allocating budgets and executing ad buys, the intricacies of ticket sales and service and what makes for effective sponsorship sales and reporting. I made it a point to go to lunch with as many people as possible (lots of Chipotle, BBQ, Yard House, and Which Wich), picking their brains about their role and department, their pain points and successes, and how social media could help and enhance their productivity.

My in-depth understanding gained in these roles, and experience in and above the trenches, is integral in my current role with Hopscotch. I am able to help customers across all of their marketing goals and utilize the Hopscotch platform to execute against these goals, and amplify their efforts on other channels. I also became a student of the space and active member and contributor of the sports business and smsports communities at this time. The relationships I have formed, the conversations I have had, the lessons I have learned...this continues to remain so important to everything I do.

What advice do you have for college students looking to work specifically in sports and social media? And in the sports industry generally?

Focus on the skills and experience you need to achieve the goals you have and acquire the positions you desire. Look at job descriptions and scrutinize your aptitude and skills to find gaps to fill by learning (so many resources on the Internet) and seeking opportunities to gain experience, whether voluntary, school jobs, internships, etc.

Get involved. Find any and every way to get experience – take a job with your athletics department, email or call local TV stations, radio stations, newspaper, sports teams. Be proactive and, at worst, you'll form a lot of relationships and have a lot of good conversations along the way. You'll learn a lot, too.

Finally, be a student of the industry. Soak up any knowledge, study as much as possible, learn what's up and coming, pay attention to what is going on with the industry and what teams and businesses are doing in the space. Gain an informed perspective of where the industry and where it is going.

Thank you to Neil Horowitz for taking the time to share his experiences.  You can follow him on Twitter @njh287.

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If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to access the archive of interviews with other sports business professionals.

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