Indian Football needs more individuals who can passionately promote the sport by connecting commercial brands to the game, and building a greater sports culture for the coming generation.

Yash Chugh, our next pathbreaker, Commercial Manager at Odisha FC, brings in sponsors through outreach and sales in order to market the Odisha Football brand through strategic partnerships.

Yash talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about a “Once in a lifetime” experience of pursuing his FIFA Master degree in three universities in 3 countries which are among Europe’s most sports oriented countries – England, Italy & Switzerland.

For students, you don’t need to be a player to excel in a sports career. You just need to love sports well enough to bring about a change in our attitude towards sports !

Yash,Your background? 

I grew up in a bunch of cities and schools by virtue of my parents moving a lot. As a result, i started playing sport in all it’s formats, Tennis, Football and Cricket. Soon Football took over and I was training and playing more than the others. 

During my school days I always had a natural inclination towards playing and I realised that my best time was on the field. It also gave me some bragging rights in the classroom, of being one of the better players in the school team.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation? 

I took a gap year after school, something which my parents allowed me to do. For the majority of my life I had been a science student who loved chemistry, mathematics and physics. At the end of class 12 and after writing my board exams, where my performance was average, it was clear to me that I couldn’t put myself through more years of this and didn’t want to be an engineer. 

The gap year allowed me to explore what I wanted to do. I found myself playing and focusing so much on sport that I started researching a career in the sports industry that was not related to playing. The industry was still at a nascent stage and no undergrad degree in India existed where I could study sports management. So I studied a basic course at Delhi University (Political Science & Economics), at a college with the best football team so that I could focus on interning, working and experiencing sports management alongside playing for the college team. 

My out of class experiences: an internship at a sports event, a football research project for a tier A MBA College in India and travels to Brazil for the World Cup taught me more than any classroom could. My inherent curiosity towards sport, sport culture and what it means to be around it kept increasing. 

A few years into the sports industry I did my first Post grad: Post Grad Diploma in Sports Management from an Indian University. It was okay, the experience wasn’t special but I did know that I wanted to study the subject abroad as well. I researched and made dossiers on the top colleges, fees and scholarship options, knowing that I wanted to study in the best one. 

I got selected for the FIFA Master in 2019 and completed it in 2020. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career? 

I think falling out of love with science was important as it became very clear that I didn’t want to be an engineer. I also think a couple of rejections from a few organisations that I remember clearly lit a fire inside me that made me want to be successful at the business of sports. 

My parents supported me. Rest was all inherent curiosity and figuring out the best steps to develop this career. 

Also, a senior industry professional for whom I had worked for in the past has guided me in almost every step. 

Internships during college and travel experiences also shaped my sports career. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path 

I started my journey knowing I wanted to work in sport. Now, for anyone who knows what this industry is like, it is essentially divided into many different sub industries, out of which I didn’t know what I liked most/least. 

So I started working in Sports Tech, then moved to Sports Facility Management, then Sports Events/Marathon races and then to Grassroots and finally to Commercial Division in Elite Sport. Each of these categories allowed me to tick off or decide if I liked it or not. Of course, skills learnt in each one of those areas helped me execute and deliver projects across the board so none of these experiences was ever a waste.

In sports tech I was in a sales role, where my initial duty was managing content, but I was soon in the sales space. I realized my sales numbers were good. Even though I didn’t like the company strategy, I was good at my sales role, something that’s helped me throughout. 

The facility management role I took on, was in a football location where I had to manage bookings and come up with new engagement ideas. Even though some of them didn’t go through, it helped me connect with many partners and led me to my next step in Marathon Races/Events and that was important. There again, I was put in a sales role and had a lot of outreach activities. Again, my sales numbers were decent, but I was learning more about myself and the type of work I liked. I always wanted to be in football. 

After my first graduation, I got hired by a European Football Club’s India operations. It was great, I was in football, again in sales and client management, also coming up with engagement ideas. I only left because I made it to the FIFA Master. 

Sounds very cliché, but even knowing what you don’t want to do is a step towards finding out what you want to do. 

Early on, during my college research, I figured out that it was the program for me. It is a sports management degree more inclined towards football. I researched their alumni, read their website often and tried my best to figure out the best time to apply. Most indian students don’t make it to the program because they think it can be compared to an Indian MBA to get a job. That’s not what the FIFA Master is, it is an experience in itself for which you have to be ready. That involves having worked in the past (sports industry or not). 

It is a multi-disciplinary degree where you study Sports Humanities, Management and Law in three locations in Europe, each taught by a different University. 

How did you get your first break? 

Pure luck and a little networking. I was out of undergrad, driving to a squash match at my friend’s house with another friend. We noticed a lady drive next to us, open the window and say that she needed help. We stopped the car, got out and helped her reach home. On the way we ended up speaking about the sports industry and how she had a sports tech company. 

She ended up being my boss for the year after that and still helps me from time to time. 

My first job after FIFA Master was also due to networking. After FIFA Master, I networked hard with everyone in the industry/space that I potentially liked to work in, sending them messages through linkedin, whatsapp networks. I also reached out to people I had worked with in the past. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them? 

Challenge 1: Nascent Industry 

I think the industry itself was still evolving when I was getting out of college. I knew I wanted to work in sport. I just didn’t know how to network to reach the people who could get me the opportunities. Once I got around to being in the right networks by researching over facebook/google, things started moving better. 

Challenge 2: Lack of clarity 

I didn’t know which sub-industry I wanted to work in, for that I just had to do trial and error until I reached here. 

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do in Sports Management

I work at Odisha FC as Commercial Manager. 

I bring in new sponsors, maintain relationships with old sponsors and market the Odisha Football brand. For my role, it is essential to be good at outreach and sales, two skills that any business requires. As a club whose core business is football, it is important to have the right partners on board, as we are a platform for the brands to reach our fans. 

The usual day starts with following up leads and checking if there was any interest from the brands I had already reached out to. If there is, there is preparation for the pitch to the brand, in which I work on a presentation, and develop what I want to ask from the brand/partner and what are things we can provide.

Example: We are looking for partners for a campaign in November for whom we can provide a lot of digital deliverables, for which I will have to reach out to different brands and find out what they are willing to offer in return. Some might pay, some might want a barter deal. 

What is it you love about this job? 

The fact that I sell sports for a living. Sport is one of those special things, it brings people together and touches a part of your soul like very few things on the planet. 

How does your work benefit society? 

Our country’s sports system needs more individuals who speak well and can connect commercial brands to the game. If our partners help in building a greater sports culture, we will be a commercially successful sports industry, which is a parameter for judgement of a country’s development. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you! 

We recently brought in a fantastic Lifestyle brand to give all of our players and staff some lovely products. I cannot wait to see the players’ reactions once they receive it! 

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

Follow what sets your heart on fire. It’s easy to say follow your passion but if you don’t know what your passion is, keep looking! 

At the end of the day, Charles Darwin, who is credited for the theory of evolution only ended up collecting and researching animals and plants because he was inherently curious about them. His father wanted him to be a doctor and then a parish; he went against him, travelled on a voyage for 5 years and discovered his love for this topic.

Also, read whatever format you enjoy reading in, whatever topic you enjoy reading in, it can be crime, drama, sport, new topics or even just how-to books. Whatever format you like: hardcover, kindle, kindle apps or even pdf on your phone. If you can read you can absorb, if you can absorb all you have to learn is how to write your thoughts well. This is something very important to learn in college. 

Future Plans? 

Bringing football to new heights, and closer to the people. I want to be a key driver in the commercial success of Indian football.