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  • Writer's picture Alysse Soll

Buffy Filippell, pioneer in online sports recruiting, shares her story with Alysse Soll

By Alysse Soll, President, NewModel Advisory and WiST Board Advisor

Buffy Fillipell, Founder and President, TeamWork Online

Meet Buffy, The Pioneer of Sports Recruiting

If you work in sports, chances are you have crossed paths with TeamWork Online, the brainchild of Buffy Filippell, Founder and President of this frontrunner in the sports recruitment industry. Buffy is a true pioneer, and many sports executives today have her to thank for their position.

Buffy founded Cleveland based TeamWork 30 years ago, deploying the traditional HR model, matching qualified executives with open positions specific to the sports industry. Twenty years ago, recognizing the need to scale and diversify the company’s offerings to both sports properties and candidates, she migrated to a digital platform and TeamWork Online was born.

TeamWork Online launched well before LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster or any of the now ubiquitous digital recruitment sites were founded. To date, with a database of 5 million sports industry candidates, the platform has connected over 130,000 applicants in roles across North American sports properties. In 2018 alone, 644,000 matriculating candidates applied for 15,000 sports positions through the site. No competitor comes close.

Professional Sports MVP (Most Valuable Partner)

TeamWork Online is a job portal that matches the demand side (sports properties) with the supply side (candidates). For properties, it powers their applicant tracking system (ATS) to review, apply and track candidates and gives it a broader reach to 5+ million of TeamWork’s candidates, schools and professional partnerships, through email or on to review, apply and track positions. For candidates, the site is a single source that provides access to positions across the sports ecosystem, enabling applicants to define their ideal job requirements by sport, region, role, and level.

Since its inception, Buffy has worked hand in hand with professional leagues, developing best practices to reach and secure top talent. Today, the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS, Motorsports, Golf, Tennis, Arenas, Minor Leagues and sports related companies depend on TeamWork Online to access, track and process their talent pool. 

TeamWork Online has also formed relationships with 300+ US colleges. Under this umbrella, the company provides data insights that keep College sports curricula relevant for matriculating students who, in turn, use for their job search: the very definition of a virtuous cycle.

Shout out to female techies, the sports world awaits!

While TeamWork Online’s corporate transition is a case study on successful digital transformation, it also serves as a roadmap highlighting trends and insight into today’s sports recruitment landscape. TeamWork Online’s data tracks the candidate population throughout their sports lifecycle.

Buffy notes that female candidates apply to service segment roles, like Community Relations, Public Relations, Events and Marketing at a significantly higher rate than technology segment roles. While this is a longstanding trend, Buffy believes that the next generation of digital native women will increase their participation in technology roles, explaining that, “as women learn they can use their technology skills to drive business revenues in service roles, more of them will deploy these skills in tech roles.”

Some Q and A with Buffy Filippell

To understand what Buffy thinks about recruitment trends across sports, opportunities for women in sports and technology, and what makes her tick let’s get into some Q and A.

WIST: Why did you start TeamWork Online? Did you have a master plan?

BF: I always had a master plan: to exceed expectations by disrupting the sports recruitment industry. I wanted to leverage this living, breathing talent pool by giving it a human touch that is so often missing in this sphere of transition, rejection, talent and luck.

We are a small team, but a smart and empathic team. We set out to form enduring relationships with sports properties who trust us with their applicant databases, and candidates who trust us with their futures. That trust has enabled us to drive the talent engine that seeds success across the sports ecosystem.

WIST: For 30 years, you have had a front row seat to the trends and changes in sports recruitment and hiring. What are the areas that you see as the most progressive and the most static?

BF:   Nothing I have seen in sports is more progressive than their collective initiative to embrace diversity. Sports organizations are showing their commitment to eliminating bias across a variety of fronts including their hiring practices. On the static side, sports still follow technology vs. leading it. This is the biggest pain point I see moving forward.

WIST: Speaking of technology, sports properties are increasingly dependent on scrubbed, relevant data for sales, marketing and fan engagement. Does it follow that there is a growing need to hire talent fluent in digital and CRM technology?

BF: Without question. A decade ago, a major league sports team had maybe one or two IT people. Today, a professional team averages about 12 people handling a variety of programming, market intelligence, data analytics and CRM requirements. That is nothing compared to, let’s say, consumer products who track the entire customer journey to thoroughly understand and predict future behavior. Getting ahead of the data is critical, but expensive and labor intensive; an expense only major league teams can afford which leaves the minor leagues at a disadvantage. Incoming talent will need to be digital natives deploying their tech skills across every role.

WIST: Based on your candidate career lifetime tracking, what’s the best way for women to gain traction and prove their worth at sports properties today?

BF:  Successful people in sports have a complement of soft skills and hard skills. Traditionally, women were strong in the soft skills, what I call “heart,” and engaged in service-oriented roles like Community Relations, PR, Events and Marketing. Men were weaker in the soft skills and engaged in traditional revenue drivers like Sales, Operations, and Finance.

Today’s collective talent pool is reflective of today’s society, more aware of inclusion and diversity and technically advanced which is changing the balance. Men are using their “hearts” and women are using their “minds.” I am a firm believer that women need to get out of their comfort zones, to embrace new areas of the business they are in. The more they engage, the more equipped they are for success. Earning money and driving revenue does not have to be at the exclusion of “heart.”

WIST: What is your absolute FAVORITE part of your job?

BF: I love face to face events. The meet ups, career fairs, and networking events. To this day, the joy of my job is meeting the candidates who are so eager to start or transition their careers in sports. Listening to people, sharing experiences and letting them know I have been in their shoes makes a huge difference, in their lives and mine. These candidates inspire me, and I hope I inspire them.

At a recent speaking engagement, a woman came up to me and asked my why I was so happy. My answer was simple, “I’m on the other side.” The journey, my journey, was long and it was well worth it.

If I leave any impression upon someone, let it be hope.

A special thanks to Buffy for taking the time to share her story with the WIST community. Buffy shared her desire to position “heart” as the soul of progress. Inspiration comes in all forms.

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