Could On-Demand Labor be the Future of the Sports Workforce?

How one company is trying to make that happen

Tanner Simkins
Tanner Simkins
Apr 22, 2014 at 9:58AM
The Business

There are 400+ sports management degree programs across the country, which means thousands of eager students looking for experience. In such a competitive space, these students are willing to volunteer for free, intern for credit, or work for low pay in return for industry experience. Then there are the recent graduates from these same programs also looking for experience and jobs. Then throw in those that come from all backgrounds looking for sport opportunities just to be around marquee athletes, world-class venues, and so forth. Simply put, there is a very large workforce with limited job supply and the competition is fierce. Unfortunately, that situation caused an epidemic of unpaid internships, which because of recent legal challenges (various class action suits) are rapidly declining, if not disappearing. But this can all be changing with the efforts of Talent League.


Longtime sports executive and media guru Tom Richardson identified an opportunity with the labor gap in sports. As a result Richardson and co-founder Gregg Trueman built Talent League, a sports-tailored version of traditional freelance platform models. Richardson used his 20+ year career in corporate sports media -- which includes roles like Convergence Sports & Media president, AOL Sports GM, NHL digital president, NFL publishing head, as well as his teaching experience at NYU and Iona -- to fuel the idea.

This is how it works

Other competitive industries like media and entertainment use traditional internships to connect with a labor force. But in many contemporary capacities the internship is outdated, a relic from "an often flawed and unproductive system when business was simpler, and in many ways, easier than it is now," said Richardson in our recent interview. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have a profile on the Talent League website.)

Ready-to-work sports business students. Source:

Instead, Talent League builds upon success from digital communities like Elance and oDesk (who merged last year), and other contingent labor services that use freelance markets to fulfill labor requirements. The order winner here is that Talent League assists in placements, whereas services like Elance make recommendations but still rely on users logging on to finding job opportunities.

Here's an example: Let's say WWE is conducting an economic impact study on how its marquee events affect the host city. Qualified Talent League student members are then selected by the service and contacted for this opportunity. Talent League takes care of the details. The students are able to show up on site, learn a bit, make some money, and a have a cool experience. WWE is stress-free too; no scrambling for researchers in an unfamiliar market.  In short, Talent League actively pursues work/workers for its members as opposed to passive user browsing.

Students of the participating universities, which include NYU, Syracuse, and Georgetown, join the digital community and identify their knowledge and skills areas like social media, marketing, analytics, tech, video production, event management, and more. Richardson calls this "dormsourcing," a branding distinction from the popular crowdsourcing model. Companies then can access this millennial labor pool to make hires or assign freelance tasks.

Effect on sports business

Since the beta was launched only a few months ago, Talent League labor is just starting to be seen in firms across the industry like the USTA, Five Star Basketball, WWE, Cinesport, and more. In all, 25+ sports-focused businesses belong to the Talent League network.

Employee benefits: Increased visibility to a wide array of HR departments and hiring managers in the field they want to work in. If hired for freelance work, they still get paid, network, and build relationships with their employers, a line on their resume, and the unique ability to move on to another company or area much faster than is possible with an internship. They also have the opportunity to be hired on full-time should circumstances allow.

Company benefits: Direct access to qualified, vetted, and highly motivated work force. Project-based payments cut costs. If interested in full-time employees, the recruiting expenses are heavily reduced via Talent League platform.

Talent League benefits: Earns commission on the wages paid to each student. Also acts a contingency recruitment firm for seasonal internships and full-time positions. A future revenue stream under consideration is membership fees for schools and other talent-sourcing partners.

Industry benefits: Funnels quality personnel with relevant skills into the organizations without adding headcount. At the bottom line it's a viable way to effectively expand a company's workforce with freelance help, interns, and junior-level full-timers.

Final take

So, can on-demand labor could be the future of entry-level sports positions? Placement services like Talent League, a social network like LinkedIn, or traditional website job boards facilitate the process. Yet, there will always be a need for the human element in the job search. Progressive companies embrace how technology can increase efficiency, like using Skype or Google Hangout for interviews, for example.

Yet, complete digital recruitment isn't quite smart enough. It pools together applicants that meet certain minimum qualifications. But now, skill curation is key and there still needs to be human judgment to select the best from the vetted candidates.

The most obvious suitors for a service like Talent League are sports events, tours, teams, agencies, and early-stage companies. Whether it's the Super Bowl Host Committee (which used Talent League labor for NJ/NY Super Bowl), the PGA tour, USTA events, All-Star games, fundraising events, or tech start-ups, etc., they are all in need of part-time staffers. Because these tours and events are constantly moving locations it is difficult to find event staff in unfamiliar markets. They resort to a shotgun approach of press releases and media buys to solicit volunteers or workers. Not only is this expensive, it is ineffecient. Instead, with dormsourcing, there is a turnkey method to bring on qualified laborers in regions all over the country.

Also, as "digital natives," the millennials in Talent League offer unique digital skills. A company like Cinesport, for example, can have a freelancer edit the latest highlight reel to improve production time.

Richardson reminds us that more is possible with "creative partnering to develop both sides of the equation." For example, a student from Africa-based youth empowerment non-profit — and Talent League partner — The Seed Project can be assigned to a cloud-based project, removing the travel barrier and doing social good in the process. These specific areas are where companies like Talent League can thrive "on the growing WaaS (WorkforceasaService) trend, which is all about using flexible, on-demand labor."  

The movement is impacting business. According to the 2012 global business survey conducted by Elance, the majority of companies using online work believe that talent online is equal or better than local talent. Nearly 85% believed that hiring online gives them an advantage over their competitors. Businesses slashed costs by an average of 53% by hiring online. Ramifications like these increase with scale and will continue to add value for businesses using online labor.