Sonoma State Alums Thriving in Sports Industry

Major ClausenContributor IFebruary 26, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 19:  San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum looks on during a news conference November 19, 2009 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. Tim Lincecum won the Major League Baseball National League Cy Young award for the second consecutive year.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Matt Chisholm and Nader Sherafat knew long ago that they had no shot at being paid to play sports.

So the two Sonoma State grads and sports fanatics instead used their degrees and job experience to do the next best thing: get paid to work for a professional sports team.

And now Chisholm and Sherafat are not only living their dreams, but also thriving in one of the most competitive industries in the U.S. despite them both still being in their 20s.

“I love it, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do it,” said Chisholm, the Senior Coordinator of Media Relations for the San Francisco Giants and a 2002 graduate of SSU.

“It’s as close as you can get [to being a pro athlete],” added Sherafat, a 2005 Sonoma State grad and current Giants Senior Accountant.

Chisholm (a native of Petaluma) used two internships with the now-extinct Sonoma County Crushers minor league baseball team and the SSU athletics department to get an internship with the Giants in 2004.

He then proceeded to get a full-time job with the Rockies in their media relations department in 2005 and worked with them for three years before being named to his current post with San Francisco in 2008.

Sherafat (who grew up in Marin) graduated from SSU in 2005 with a degree in accounting and also spent time as treasurer for the school’s accounting forum.

He accepted a job offer from KPMG right after graduating from SSU in 2005 and came to the Giants three years later after stumbling upon a job posting for the team on the internet and realizing that its responsibilities and requirements matched up well with his resume.

Who has the more exciting job between Chisholm and Sherafat is a matter of preference.

Chisholm interacts with the likes of Tim Lincecum on a daily basis for his job, which largely consists of setting up interviews with players and the media in addition to writing game notes and portions of the team’s media guide, while Sherafat’s duties include estimating future attendance figures and creating budgets for the team’s departments.

He also helps out the baseball operations staff from time to time by calculating stats that the team uses for contract negotiations and deals directly with players through working out any issues that they have with their paychecks and allocating their meal money for road trips.

Both get tickets to every home game (Chisholm also goes to every road game) and World Series rings in the event that the team ever ends its 56-year championship drought.

And while some might be impressed by Chisholm getting to fly on the Giants’ charter plane and stay at the same hotel as the team while on the road, Sherafat has perks that will impress you too, as he was not only at AT&T Park for Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter last July, but also once shared a moment with a Giants fan favorite.

“I was walking down some stairs one time and I bumped into Will Clark, like genuinely bumped into him,” said Sherafat.

“We got to talking, and he shook my hand and said he was Will Clark, and we sat on the bench [not the one in the dugout] and talked for a half-an-hour about baseball and hunting and life, and a couple of hours later, he autographed a baseball and had it sent up to my desk, so that was pretty great.”

Sherafat and Chisholm do admit that there are some downsides to their jobs, as Sherafat has some monthly accounting duties that he doesn’t look forward to while Chisholm works long hours during the regular season.

Chisholm is the first to tell you how much he likes working for a professional sports team, but he cautions that not everyone who likes sports may like working in the industry.

“You really have to like it (working in sports),” said Chisholm. “You don’t get paid a lot and you have to work long hours. I work 13-14 hours a day (during the regular season) and for some jobs you might work 40 hours a week, and I work 70-80 hours a week, I work twice as much. You really have to love what you’re doing and have a passion for it and like being around it. There’s a difference.”

He said that interning for a minor league team is a great way to determine whether you’d like to work in the industry or not.

“Start low and try to get an internship with a minor league team; football, basketball, minor league baseball,” said Chisholm. “I think that kids working in minor league baseball is a great thing because there’s only a couple of people working in the front office, so you’re doing all sorts of things.

“You’re selling tickets, you’re helping with promotions, you're drying off a bench in left field, you’re doing a lot. That’s a good way for somebody to pick and choose whether they would like to work in sports."

Certainly not every graduate of Sonoma State who wants to work for a pro sports team will experience as much success early on as the 26-year-old Sherafat or the 29-year-old Chisholm, and the competitiveness of the industry may scare some people away (Chisholm says that the media relations department receives over 50 resumes for internships. He says that resumes which mention experience in media relations and/or the sports industry are those that he singles out).

But the success of these two Seawolves should tell any SSU student that breaking into and advancing in sports is possible if you work hard enough and take advantage of your opportunities.

When asked about what advice he would give students trying to break into the industry, Sherafat mentioned networking, being ready, and getting involved in extracurricular activities.

“First off you have to believe, but I’d say the biggest key is networking, if you know anyone in the industry,” Sherafat said.

“Put yourself out there, present yourself well, prepare well, because it is hard, it’s not easy, so presenting and preparing yourself well is a key, and also I’d say that you should try to do as many extracurricular activities as you can, something like the [SSU Accounting] Forum, writing for the school’s journal, writing for the school’s newspaper, working for one of the college teams, stuff like that.”

Making a name for yourself in the sports industry may be difficult, but Seawolves can do it.