Front offices should reflect diversity of fans, athletes
I’ve realized that “waiting for change,” “trusting the process,” and having a “someone else will eventually do it”-type attitude will not get us to where we need to be when it comes to diversity in the front offices across America’s professional sports teams, leagues and agencies.
I grew up in the Greater Boston area and went to high school in a town called Randolph, which was ranked as the most diverse city/town in Massachusetts as recently as 2019 (according to MassLive). I am also a first-generation Indian American whose parents immigrated to Boston from Kolkata, India, in the 1980s and built a great life here in the United States. It is because of their support that I have been able to become an accomplished business executive on the commercial side of American professional sports.
When I reflect on my 10-year career, there is always one thing that I continue to be curious about — and that is the realization that the least diverse interactions of my life have always come during the time that I’ve spent in the front offices of the sports teams and organizations that I’ve worked for. Now, if I had worked in either the tech or legal industry, I might have an easier time understanding this reality, but I work in professional sports. Professional sports is a multibillion-dollar industry that is literally built on the talents of many Black and Hispanic athletes. Professional sport is a multibillion-dollar industry that is literally monetizing off the fandom, ticket purchases, merchandise purchases, social media engagements and TV viewership from a very multicultural audience. So why is a disproportionately large majority of sports business executives across America — those who run our professional teams, leagues, and make decisions on how to engage with such a multicultural audience — white?
I truly believe that a large majority of white colleagues that I have worked alongside throughout my career are not intentionally setting up our industry to operate this way. The truth is, however, that we all have something called unconscious bias, a prejudice or unsupported judgment in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another — in a way that is usually unfair. This is a normal byproduct of one’s upbringing, social circles, and life experiences. Whether intentional or not, unconscious bias leads people to feel more comfortable surrounding themselves with what they are used to rather than exposing themselves to something new. The reality is that most sports business executives in America’s professional sports landscape do not come from the diverse backgrounds that their industry reflects — and this does influence the complexion of front office staff.
My many years of exposure to people from many walks of life — be it white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern — has definitely given me a greater awareness in my understanding of how to interact and engage with the different types of people that we do business with on a regular basis. However, this is an awareness that should exist for all professional sports teams and leagues across the country so they can authentically represent their multicultural groups of players and authentically engage with their multicultural audiences.
Not only is this lack of diversity in front offices simply unsatisfactory, but it is also bad for business. A lack of diverse perspective in a diverse industry means that we are not maximizing our potential in how we are interacting with players, fans, partners, and our communities across America. To drive change and put the trend in the right direction, we all need to play our own part in our own worlds. Perhaps you can mentor a young student of a different background to help guide them to be a future contributor within the industry, or implement a policy that prohibits nepotism with simple things like internships within your organization, or just simply be more conscious of the demographic makeup of your front office compared to the players and fan bases that you represent. I have continued working with my employers and my alma mater to implement initiatives and processes that encourage a more diverse representation within the sports industry, but we need help.
Progress and change have been made — but it has not been quick enough.
The time has come to do our part. Get uncomfortable.
Preetam Sen is a senior director at Excel Sports Management.