A few months ago, there was a new arrival to our Orange County business network. Introduced by some friends over at Orange County Soccer Club, we were immediately drawn in by his authentic passion and energy. Through our initial conversations there was a lot to like about his vision and innovative approach. What’s more is that we quickly learned he’s not just an idea-guy; he takes action. Having first-hand experiences at recent Orange County Soccer Club matches we saw the vision already coming to life, and it’s clear there’s so much on the way.
We’re thrilled to shine our August 2019 Thought Leader Spotlight on the new President of Business Operations at Orange County Soccer Club; Jeff Garner.
Was a career in professional sports always a goal of yours? Or was it a path that revealed itself along the way?
As a former collegiate student-athlete and a sports management major in college, I always had a passion for sports. Not only on the field but the positive effects it could have off the field. I’ve been very lucky to have worked for so many brands that have a strong dedication to their local and regional communities and that is really where my passion lies now. Positioning Orange County Soccer in Orange County and Southern California as a community leader.
What life experience(s) do you feel best prepared you for the leadership position you are in today?
That is a very easy question, playing sports! As a student-athlete in childhood, high school and college I learned life and professional skills that I have consistently used and to great benefit. Not only the idea of teamwork but more importantly creating diversity of thought within your team and finding common ground to come together towards a common goal or purpose. Hard work and believing in something greater than yourself. Perhaps most importantly, the value of a relationships which I forged early on with teammates and many of those still exist today.
Who has had the biggest impact on you throughout your career – in regards to professional development?
There are several people that I owe a lot to but probably the two that come to mind would be Chuck Greenberg and Todd “Parney” Parnell. I worked with that pair for a decade and we blazed our own path and had a great time doing it. Even now, I seek advise and council from both of them even though we have individually gone on to various different projects. I think there is also value in taking a little bit of experience from all of your colleagues and mashing them up into your own personal style and philosophies. I’ve learned so many things just by being open enough to want to learn from everyone.
Your resume includes positions across a variety of sports, leagues and competitive levels. In what ways does your leadership approach and mentality differ or remain the same within these unique environments?
It may be one of the biggest surprises to me through out my career that the approach really doesn’t change from brand to brand, team to team. Of course the strategic approach changes for each new situation but the fundamentals remain the same. Building a strong brand, a focus on the community and a customer friendly experience ring true regardless of what stadium you call home.
The emergence of data has certainly influenced on-field performance; from player training to coaching decisions. Throughout your career, how have you seen data impact the world of sports business in regards to strategic decision making and achieving organizational goals?
It has and continues to change dramatically. I was lucky enough to be in a position to start up a Business Intelligence unit at Penn State which lead us to many data-driven decisions. As much as we discovered about our business practices and our customers, we also confirmed a lot about our assumptions and our “gut” decisions. So it cuts both ways, it’s great to identify new opportunities yet in some cases data can refocus you on the fundamentals of your brand. It is one part of the decision-making process and doesn’t necessarily solve every problem you may have so treating it as a tool rather than a non-negotiable solution is strongly advised. Finally, I would add that the danger of data is paralysis, we value and gather so much data that it becomes difficult to process and turn into actionable strategies so making sure that we keep moving forward with fundamental processes and learnings to keep the timeline moving and therefore valuing time and timing as much as data.
Looking forward into 2020, are there any fan experience trends or engagement opportunities that have captured your attention?
It’s the continued advancement of mobile technologies and their merger with fan engagement. There are so many opportunities in front of us to engage with our fans in and out of the stadium via their mobile device. Let’s face it though, it’s a very crowded space so finding opportunities that enhance the fan experience but are simple and easy to navigate remain the most elusive and valuable. We need to embrace these technologies and provide customized engagement to various segments to enhance their personal experience and it’s difficult to deliver with such diverse fan bases. We like to start simple and easy, push the project or technology forward into fans hands and then work to upgrade and update the experience as we move forward, consistently asking for fan feedback and trying to deliver constantly evolving technology and functionality.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to establish a career in professional sports?
I think it’s very similar to most industries, in the beginning take every opportunity to get better, gain experience and build relationships. One of the things that has helped me repeatedly is valuing my peer relationships, not only the CEO or GM or someone else I looked up to or wanted to build a mentor relationship with but the person sitting next to me. The longer I’ve been in the industry the greater that network grows as we all evolve in our careers and the best leads, partnerships, and opportunities seem to come back to someone I worked with or for at some point in my career. Even my first job in sports came from a teammate and classmate who introduced me to the General Manager at the team he had just gotten a job at so it started very early for me to value those peer relationships.
What is your favorite quote?
While I’m not a big fan of quotes and I don’t necessarily have anything that stands out, I’ll share one that has always made me smile.
From a classic 80’s space comedy: “I’m a Mog, half man, half dog. I’m my own best friend”
If know of a Thought Leader that you’d like to like to see feature in our monthly spotlight, give us a shout!