Sports are such an amazing positive outlet to so many people and I am so lucky to help provide that opportunity.
Director of Promotions and Special Events
The interview with Haley Kolff was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Before we begin, give us a little update on how your job has changed since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Although baseball around the country has been put on hold, the world of sports is more than just the games.
It’s a sense of belonging, it’s a sense of pride, comradery, respect and more than just each person as an individual. As a member of a front office of a professional sports team, many elements of my job have changed, but the goal of my job has remained the same; to continue to bring people together and entertain all Tigers fans.
Although I am not able to hand out giveaways or select contestants for games, it’s important to continue to bring fun and engaging content to our fans. Baseball will be back someday, and when it comes back, it will bring people together even more, but for now, we rely on the digital and social media aspects of the game to keep us entertained. For those who are fans of sports teams in Michigan, we have been using the hashtag #TogetherDetroit to symbolize that while we are apart, we are still together as fans.
Tell us about your role as the Director of Promotions and Special Events of the Detroit Tigers.
In my role as the Promotions and Special Events Director, I oversee all special events hosted at the ballpark as well as provide entertainment and take-home opportunities to all fans.
To be more specific, my department oversees all special events from TigerFest (which is our fan fest in January) to special themed games/events such as Pink Out the Park (to recognize breast cancer awareness), Star Wars night, anniversaries and reunions, number retirement ceremonies, etc. We also oversee all promotional gate giveaways like hats and bobbleheads, and are responsible for the entire process from concept, to creative, to gate distribution.
The Detroit Tigers Kids Club is overseen by my department as well, creating the package of membership items and benefits, events for members and engaging content, database management, and marketing and promotions for the club as well. Other programs that fall under my department are the Mascot Program, Energy Squad, in-game promotional features, all pregame assets (such as first pitches, national anthems and pregame ceremonies) along with scoreboard messages during the game.
I have one Manager and two Coordinators who work under me, along with three interns. We manage the entertainment aspects of each game (in-game features, pregame ceremonies, fan contests, etc) along with post-game activations and games.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The best part of my job is that no day is the same. Each day has something different, whether it is a game day or non-game day, a new event or promotional item becomes the focus of each day. My department works all game, every game, as we oversee the pregame ceremonies, in-game activations and post-game fireworks as well. Days are long, but very rewarding, and only possible because we have fun! I sit behind a screen for a lot of my off days, but the content of work is very enjoyable…it’s sports, how could you not have fun with what you do!
When was the point you realized that you were meant to do this career? Take us through that realization.
Ever since I was younger, I have been an athlete. Sports were an everyday part of my life since I could kick a soccer ball. I was a collegiate athlete through my four years at Vanderbilt University, where I studied medicine. Towards the end of my Junior year, I knew that medicine was not the field I wanted to go into and graduated without a job. My first year out of college was the first time that I was not a part of an organized sports team. I knew I needed to get back into sports.
After a few internships and jobs out of college, I found myself interning for the Atlanta Braves (the city I was born and the team that I loved growing up). Over the 4th of July weekend, I volunteered to help the entertainment team with the activations on-field as I didn’t have any responsibilities that day. As a part of the celebrations, we were supposed to have a giant American Flag cover the outfield. Right before the rehearsal was to start, it began to rain, and all the volunteers who had signed up to be a flag holder (including my older sister) had to sit underneath the stands and wait until we had a free moment. We began talking to a father and son during the delay and came to realize the father was in the army and was home on leave for a few days. He decided to take his son to the game as a part of his break. During the delay, I ran up to my desk and grabbed as many Braves items I could find to give the father and son, and filled the sons’ backpack.
As it got closer to game-time, we got a call saying the military personnel who was supposed to throw out the first pitch hadn’t shown up, and we were in a bind to find someone in uniform. Ironically, the father had brought his uniform to the park to change into for the ceremony so he would be in uniform. I quickly informed my supervisors that there was someone who was already at the park to participate. Unfortunately for security reasons the son was not allowed on the field, so my sister (who had gotten to know the family well by that time) offered to watch the son while he held the flag and made his way into the stands to watch his dad throw out the first pitch. Following the father’s first pitch, he proceeded to the dugout, where he removed a patch from his uniform and presented it to the manager of the team.
After the pregame ceremonies had concluded, I met up with my sister, and the father and son duo. Because they had volunteered to hold the flag, they only had the nosebleed seats at the top of the stadium. I knew I had 2 seats further down so I gave them my employee tickets for the game. They wanted to all sit together to continue to chat, so I decided to ask the box office director if he could swing 4 tickets closer to the field together. Little did I know, our box office director also had served in the military, and when I told him the story, he handed me 4 tickets with great seats, and vouchers worth $500 to spend around the park. I brought them back to the father and son, and they were so taken aback by the gesture. It was then that I realized that I had the opportunity to provide life-changing experiences to people. I didn’t change the world of everyone in the park that day, but I knew I changed the lives of someone who had done so much for our country. It cost me no effort or money to provide this family with a great experience and something they will ALWAYS remember.
A few weeks later, the father messaged me that he was coming back to the park, but with his entire family this time. When they arrived, he pulled out a gift from his backpack. It was the same patch he presented to the manager on the field that day. He handed it to me as a gesture of appreciation, and I was so grateful. To this day I am still friends with the Filer family. Keith (the father) ended up going back to Iraq, and his flight crew flew an American flag in my honor. He sent me that flag which has since been framed with the patch that he presented me as well.
It was at that moment I realized how impactful my job could be and how small gestures can bring so much joy to so many around us. Sports are such an amazing positive outlet to so many people and I am so lucky to help provide that opportunity. That was my “ah-ha” moment, and will forever be the reason I love what I do today…bringing fun and entertainment to those around me.
Managing sport events almost always comes with challenges given the unpredictable nature of sport. Talk about how you overcome these challenges and have learned not to be hard on yourself for stuff that’s probably beyond your control.
It is incredibly important in my role to learn how to be flexible and patient. Not only are so many things out of our control, but when there are 40,000 fans watching, it’s important to be mindful of how you react to things around out as well.
We have experienced multiple rain-delays, no-shows, etc. and we have come up with a term called “Pre-Acting”.
You must learn how to pre-react to things that are outside of your control. Understanding priorities, solutions, and that the show must go on and will go on is always important, but again what’s most important is how you react to it and how you conduct yourself in front of people.
Do you think being an athlete prepared you for your professional career in the sports industry?
I think that being an athlete (Track and Field and Cross Country) at Vanderbilt University definitely helped me to prepare for my professional career. As an athlete, we are prone to think as a team and with a team mentality. We constantly ask ourselves what is good for the group rather than the individual. We know it takes a team to succeed rather than each working individually. Each person has to pull their weight in order to make the group successful. There is a sense of pride in being a part of a team, and that’s something you learn pretty early from being on a sports team.
As a collegiate athlete, it is also important to learn time management and learn to prioritize. You have to manage your schedule to figure out how to manage each day efficiently.
What are three essential skills you believe someone needs to succeed in the sport industry?
Patience: As said before, you cannot control everything in the world of sports. You cannot control weather, timing, wins or losses. It’s important to understand and practice patience to help you react to those incidences. It’s also important to demonstrate patience with fans as well. With each fan comes their own voice and opinion; some bad, some good. It’s important to hear the fans voice and address their comment, concern, suggestion or compliment with the utmost respect and patience.
Team Mentality: Even though you aren’t the athlete on the field, you are still a part of a larger team. You still have to understand how to work as a group to get jobs done and be successful as a group.
Communication Skills: In the world of sports, you communicate with so many different groups of people and it’s incredibly important to cater your approach to each of them. I speak with fans, executives, coaches, players and colleagues on a daily basis. It’s important to understand how you communicate with each of those to be successful.
Being a mentor to up-and-coming sports industry professionals, what advice would you give to those looking to work in sport at a similar level to yourself but just starting off in their career?
For those who are looking to get into the sports industry, make sure you:
Do the research. Research the team/organization you are interested, the history of the team, the owners of the team, etc.
Reach out. Reach out to professionals in the industry. Ask if they would help you with your resume, grab a coffee to talk, let you shadow them, or just be a mentor and help introduce you to other professionals in the industry.
Never be afraid to take an unpaid internship (if you can!). Unpaid internships on a resume show that a candidate is willing to put in the effort and make a sacrifice in order to get ahead. It shows their desire to learn more about the industry.
If you get an internship, ask your supervisor to shadow other departments increase your understanding of the overall company.
Stay in touch with professionals that have helped shape your career or who have helped advise you along the way.
What would you say are the biggest accomplishments in your sport career thus far?
Alan Trammell and Jack Morris Number Retirement and Hall of Fame Recognition Ceremonies: These ceremonies were some of the biggest events I have put on in my career. From managing the schedule of each Hall of Fame member to making sure the actual Hall of Fame plaque was at the park, to making sure they walked out onto the field for the ceremony at the correct time, was a lot of work but so worth the effort.
50th Anniversary of the 1968 World Series: In 2018 we put on an entire weekend celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers. We managed each alumni flight, hotel and itinerary along with each of the events of the weekend and the on-field pregame ceremony.
35th Anniversary of the 1984 World Series: In 2019 we put on an entire weekend celebration in honor of the 35th anniversary of the 1984 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers. Similar to the 50th anniversary, we managed each alumni flight, hotel and itinerary along with each of the events of the weekend and the on-field pregame ceremony.
Being Promoted to Director of Promotions and Special Events: In the summer of 2016, I was promoted to Manager, after my Director left the organization. I was the youngest manager at the time and had many responsibilities that I was learning along the way. In the spring of 2018, I was promoted to Director, and again was the youngest Director in the organization. I worked tirelessly as a coordinator and manager and was incredibly excited to be promoted, especially as a young female in the industry.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Haley Kolff’s story is quite unique. Coming from a degree in medicine, a job in the sporting industry was an afterthought. However, an internship with the Atlanta Braves changed her career path indefinitely. Haley continues to thrive in her current role with the Detroit Tigers, pushing the envelope as the youngest Director in the organization and creating lifelong memories for fans. After connecting with Haley, I quickly realized how passionate she is about sport. She mentors young sports professionals, sharing her accumulated knowledge with them in the hopes that they excel in their sporting careers. In her own career, she finds the long days the most rewarding. Haley’s passion for sport radiates through her work — I’m positive this will only advance her career even further! In Haley’s words: “It’s sports… how could you not have fun with what you do!”