Started From The Bottom, Now She’s Here (at the NFL)
By Nicola Karasik
“I was one of those people that knew they wanted to work in sports no matter what,” said Lisa Youngentob, the Loyalty Program Manager for the Washington Redskins.
A Muhlenberg College graduate with a Sports Management degree from Georgetown University, the Potomac, MD native began to professionally pursue her passion from a young age, never venturing too far off from home. Having held positions for the Washington Wizards, the Washington Nationals and the Redskins, Youngentob has not only acquired extremely valuable professional experiences throughout her years in the industry, but she has spent well beyond enough time in the sports realm to impart esteemed advice about its benefits and pitfalls, and how to traverse its unwieldly ins and outs. Today, she shares her own story of navigating through the sports industry.
Unlike most others, Youngentob had her mind set on a career within the professional sports industry from the get-go. But since she was always better at watching sports than playing them, she sought an alternate way to break into the business. Youngentob recalled one day she and her family had been invited to a Wizards practice and seeing all the players interact with the employees, which is what sparked her inspiration to go into sports.
So, when she heard that the Washington Mystics were hosting the 2007 WNBA All Star Game, she knew she had to be involved in some way. Youngentob ended up going to their practice every single day that summer, eventually becoming a ball girl and interning for the Mystics as a junior in high school. Wanting to get a taste of the NBA, though, the front office connected Youngentob with Brian Sereno, head of Wizards’ Public Relations (who also works in GW’s athletics’ department). She started working game nights for the Wizards during her senior year, and, after 11 seasons, still works for the organization today.
Transitioning to a small, Division III college where professional sports teams were sparse, Youngentob decided to maintain her sports career by doing PR for Muhlenberg’s athletics’ department. But she wanted to do more.
Borrowing high tech cameras from her father, a freelance still photographer for NBC Sports Washington, Youngentob started shooting all the big Division III college sporting events, as well as the NCAA Tournament, and became Muhlenberg’s official sports photographer. Each summer when she wasn’t in school, she was interning for major sports companies including NBC Sports Washington, the Nationals and Monumental Sports & Entertainment. In fact, Youngentob partook in the first ever WNBA jersey deal as a sponsorships intern in the Business Operations department at Monumental.
But Youngentob didn’t stop there. After graduating in the spring of 2012, she returned to her home base, continuing to study and intern. Knowing she wanted to work in professional sports, and knowing she only wanted to be in D.C., Youngentob started the Sports Management program at Georgetown that fall. During the year-long program, Youngentob took up internships with the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman, Octagon Sports & Entertainment and again at the Nationals. After interning a year for the Nats, Youngentob got hired by the team and stayed there for about a year and a half before landing her current position at the Redskins.
“My whole story has gone from mopping sweat to working at the Redskins,” Youngentob said. “I feel like I started from the bottom mopping sweat and doing laundry in professional sports standards, and now I’m at the NFL.”
But Youngentob warns that a job in professional sports is not all fun and games. What she once viewed as “cool,” “glamorous” and “easy” is actually a lot of work. Once surpassing positions as a ball girl and an intern, she realized the true inner workings of the industry. She has learned to expect working holidays and weekends, dealing with angry fans yelling on the phone, managing difficult personalities and traveling lots of nights throughout the year.
“It’s still hard,” Youngentob said. “Not everyone on the outside understands. People always assume that it’s easy, that we get to go to all these games. Even if you’re at a game, you might miss a walk-off home run or a no-hitter. At the end of the day, it’s still work.”
What makes the work easier, though, is the relationships she’s cultivated along the way. Reaching out to mentors and people that have been through the same things that she has and taking advantage of the people she’s met and networked with has immensely helped enhance the progression of her career. Connecting with people and continuing those relationships are two of the most important keys to succeeding in the sports industry.
This held true for Youngentob when she wanted to intern for the Nationals while taking classes at Georgetown:
“My professor at Georgetown was the VP of Sales at the Nationals. I went up to him after class one day and told him I applied to be an intern in the sales department doing virtual ticketing and asked if he minded putting in a good word for me with HR. So, I was interning for him while he was my teacher, and then he became my capstone advisor, and then the Nationals hired me. For me, our relationship always stayed more like a mentor-teacher-student relationship.”
Youngentob places a strong emphasis on networking because it really does make a difference, especially because there are so many people trying to get into the professional sports industry.
“Just enjoy the little things and really appreciate the opportunities you have working in sports because it’s not always easy,” Youngentob said. “Knowing how competitive it is and the fact that I got there…I knew this is what I wanted to do and now I’m doing it.”
Youngentob’s biggest piece of advice? Don’t give up. Lots of people want to work in sports, and it can be very challenging to establish a meaningful presence, but there are so many benefits to it.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Youngentob said. “Where else can you have a work discussion about the trade deadline, and where all your friends can talk stats and exactly what happened in the game? That’s really hard to find.”