Building a career in sports management: the power of education and connections

 08-30-2021  Ellen Forman

From his Venezuelan childhood through his high school days in Broward County, Rafael Cabrera was a passionate sports fan. In college, he turned his passion into a career.

In locker rooms and press boxes, Cabrera sought out volunteer experiences and engaged with all those he met, building a career in sports management. After earning an MBA at the Universidad Europea – Escuela Universitaria Real Madrid, Cabrera leveraged what he learned into a job as senior manager of communications and content for Inter Miami CF, the Major League Soccer franchise now making its way into the hearts and minds of fans amidst the challenges of the pandemic.

And while he’s still a fan, Cabrera stressed that it takes more than love of a team to succeed in the competitive business side of sports. Skill development, a passion for networking, high-level education and a knowledge of what you can offer to an organization are all key to a successful career.

“It’s fun, but it’s also a business,” he said. “We have to be able to sit down with a player or coach and explain the business purpose of everything we do.”

Amanda Hendrickson and Rafael Cabrera

Cabrera shared his story, as well as his thoughts on how to build a career in sports management, at a virtual talk presented by FIU Business’ Chapman Graduate School of Business, its Professional MBA Online in Sports Management program and the partnership between FIU and Real Madrid Graduate School – Universidad Europea.

The Real Madrid sports management graduate program was, in fact, an important stepping stone in Cabrera’s career. As an undergraduate, a volunteer gig at an Orlando City soccer game brought him in contact with the team’s vice president for communications, whom Cabrera later connected with for an internship. He opted for the Real Madrid MBA program to gain a European business perspective, experience Spain’s passion for the sport, and learn directly from team leaders.

“It wasn’t just sitting down and reading a book about partnerships,” he said  “It was learning about how Real Madrid closed a deal, and speaking to the partners who did it – that real-world, in-the-moment experience.”

Cabrera brought that knowledge back to his communications role at Inter Miami. Every day, he and the team meet what he called his greatest challenge, promoting Miami’s new expansion team virtually as it started its life in a pandemic. Players made virtual visits to hospital bedsides and brought specialized memorabilia to the offices of corporate partners. On game day, virtual watch parties picked up some of the energy the sport generates in anticipation of the day packed stadiums will watch the team, and fan loyalty remains strong.

Cabrera shared advice for those starting out in the field: volunteer for a low-level job, show your work ethic and talk to those you meet about their jobs. If you’re applying for a position, he said, look to LinkedIn to make connections with employers and ask questions about the skills they’re seeking.

“The biggest thing for me was understanding what people do day to day, to see if I would like that job,” he said. “If you can do that with different departments and different clubs, you’ll have an idea of what you want to do.”

For more information about the FIU Business Professional MBA Online in Sports Management program, visit the website.

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