Joshua Stephens is the Head of Commercial at Leyton Orient F.C. who also has a degree in Sport and Leisure Management from Loughborough University. Josh has had a wide array of experiences; he’s worked in entertainment, events and sales for the majority of his career. These opportunities led him to work for London’s second oldest football club, Leyton Orient F.C. We had an unmissable opportunity to interview Josh about his journey into sport to enlighten value for you sports enthusiasts to learn from one of the industries finest.
Q: How did your career in sport begin?
A: I left University about ten years ago; I began my career at theme parks and moved into the music industry for approximately five years. While working in music, I planned, delivered, and sold packages for numerous European music tours, NBA Basketball, Tennis, and premium seating across AEG Europe’s portfolio of venues in the U.K.
To continue developing my career, I found an opportunity at Saracens Rugby Club, which was a new challenge for me. I was there for a year as maternity cover and progressed onto a business development lead. I felt this opportunity was not for me long-term and decided to move on.
After lots of direct contact with multiple organisations, I eventually came across an opportunity at Leyton Orient. Working in football has been an insightful experience, mainly working with football fans as your audience; it has its pro’s and cons. I love it because we are a small, close-knit team, and I have regular contact with our chairman and board members who have a wealth of business knowledge. I feel I can make a difference every day despite the challenges that football presents.
Q: As you have entered the sports industry externally, how did you ensure your skills remained transferable?
A: I believe if you are an excellent digital creator, salesperson, marketer or finance director, no matter what industry you have worked in your skills are transferable. Clubs tend to work very differently. Furthermore, there was so much I could bring to Leyton Orient with my diverse experience coming into the industry. Since my involvement, we have made significant progress with revenue and have taken good practice from other sectors. Therefore, a focus has been on utilising our stadium for comedy galas, music concerts, potential boxing events, and just trying to drive revenue through non-match days.
Q: What was your strategy for building an active network to land that opportunity in the industry?
A: In terms of networks, there are specific sports recruiters you should sign up to such as Global Sports jobs, SRi and Recruitment Sport. These recruitment agencies have been a part of my network. In terms of contacts, I was fortunate to work for AEG at the O2 Arena as I got to meet lots of contacts in sport. The jobs I found in the industry were thanks to the recruitment firms I used.
Currently, I am equally using this time to reflect on where I want to be in five years and thinking about how I can take my portfolio of experiences to the next level. While reflecting, I wish I had started my own business when I was younger while I had fewer commitments. While you’re early into your career, do not be afraid to be brave and bold.
While working in the industry for two years at a very senior level, what are the values you have built to ensure your career is sustainable?
Having a real team ethos is vital; being willing to get your hands dirty reflects very well on you, especially lower down in the pyramid. I think it is essential to have confidence in your ability, make a bold choice and trust your instincts. Be open to ideas, creativity, and innovation, while maintaining a critical eye both on your commercial strategy and P&L.
Q: What does your role at Leyton Orient look like daily?
A: Each day is hardly the same. However, the core roles of mine include supporting marketing plans and strategies. Furthermore, I review my sales funnel to understand what deals and leads I have in the pipeline. Also, I would check out our sales figures to understand what areas of revenue are prosperous and where we can be improving. Once a week, I would sit with our head of Marketing to discuss messages I need to relay. Moreover, I will be keeping in touch with my clients regularly.
Q: What is the difference in the environment at Leyton Orient like on match-days compared to non-match days?
A: On non-match days, there are no more than 15 people in the stadium from a workforce perspective. Whereas on a match-day, there is around 150+ members of staff and over 6,000 football fans ready to make some noise. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful environment at the club, we are a small team, and the whole place transforms when match-day arrives.
Q: What advice could you pass onto to someone wanting to break into the sports industry?
A: Be open to sports recruiters and always think about how your skills are transferable into sport. Be brave and bold, think about how you can build up your career portfolio, whether that is freelancing or being self-employed, give it a go. Use resources close to you, such as local sports clubs, identify what value you can provide them and eventually you will build up credible experiences. Also, do not limit yourself to just opportunities in sport, be as open-minded as possible as sport is an ever-growing market.
Finally, nothing is ever given to you on a plate, get up, be hungry, work hard, and you will achieve.
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