By Sherri Middleton
One-on-One features an interview with an influential member of the community concerning a specific topic. This month J.D. Wood, the general manager of the new SFM-managed Panama City Beach Sports Complex, discusses his experience studying and working in sports management.
J.D. Wood was pursuing a degree in sports management at Texas A&M University when he secured his first internship in the athletic department. From there he interned with the Dallas Cup in Frisco, the Cotton Bowl, Super Bowl XLV, the NBA All-Star FanFest, Women’s Basketball of Texas and a sports industry conference while pursuing his undergraduate and masters’ degrees.
For Wood, the opportunity to intern in a variety of settings in the sports business was a way to differentiate himself from the competition while learning about his chosen career path.
While pursuing his degree, Wood worked three jobs and interned or volunteered as much as possible at a variety of sporting events to gain real-world experience and develop relationships in the industry.
It’s a practice he’s continued since graduation.
“I’m a firm believer that the more you work at your trade and craft, the more opportunities and experiences you will have.”
As a result, Wood has been known to use his vacation time to volunteer with other organizations during their events, such as the National Veterans Golden Age Games in Albuquerque, N.M., and the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.
His experience and connections led him to an immediate one-year contract upon graduation with the National Senior Games where he managed 13 sports with 13 interns. From there, he moved to Salt Lake City to work for Connor Sport Court International as its promotional and event coordinator where he oversaw events in basketball, volleyball and tennis across the U.S.
From there, Wood became the sports sales and services manager with the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau before returning to College Station where he became the lead athletic supervisor and tourism manager in the parks and recreation department with the City of College Station. From there, he took on his new role as general manager of Panama City Beach (Fla.) Sports Complex, managed by Sports Facilities Management (SFM).
During college, Wood said he developed strong relationships with college professors who have mentored him along the way. He maintains those bonds with former bosses, colleagues and peers in the sports tourism business.
Wood said that even after graduation and full-time employment in sports management, he continues to volunteer – he still thinks of it as interning – whenever possible. “I’m a firm believer in taking a vacation and going to work someone else’s event. It’s important to work at your trade and craft, and I believe the more experience you have, the more you will grow.”
After graduating from Texas A&M, Wood said he first volunteered at the Brazos Valley Senior Games where he met Kindra Fry and Dominique Powell with Experience Bryan College Station. He also knew others affiliated with the tourism office and senior games.
Throughout the years, Wood worked for many organizations and volunteered with many more, continuing to make connections and build relationships within the industry.
How did he juggle so many activities and build so many relationships?
“Spreadsheets. I kept spreadsheets from each event and scheduled in breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks with everyone I could. That led to a meeting with Connor Sports Courts once a month for three years,” he said. That company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, eventually asked Wood to join them in promoting events across the country.
From Salt Lake City, Wood had the opportunity to join a former mentor who offered him the sales and services manager position with the Dallas Sports Commission. “I loved it and had a great time there.”
Wood said all of those experiences early in his career helped mold him and allowed him to discover where he fit into sports management and tourism.
“I realized I was a mid-market, smallmarket guy who enjoyed operations and I wanted to be more hands-on in it with clients. I like to be totally engulfed in the experience. I enjoyed working the Super Bowl and with U.S. Youth Soccer in Frisco and at AAU events, and then the opportunity came for me to return to work with the City of College Station as its tourism manager because they were adding facilities.”
The City of College Station position led Wood back to Texas A&M where he worked for five years, starting with 22 events and building up to 100. “I didn’t think I would ever leave. I was so happy. I was home. I remember hearing Jason Clement, CEO and co-founder of The Sports Facilities Advisory/Sports Facilities Management (SFA/SFM) and I thought I want to work for him.”
Around that same time, Wood said he and his wife went to buy land near College Station and the deal fell through. Then all those relationships he built worked in his favor. He received a call asking if he was interested in a new position with SFM.
“I expected to retire in College Station. I loved being there, but my first boss at Texas A&M and others encouraged me.”
He started his first day with SFM in Panama City Beach before the opening of the sports complex on Sept. 3, 2018, moving his wife and two children to the coastal destination.
Six weeks later, a category-five hurricane, Michael, hit and changed everything.
“We live in Lynn Haven and were evacuated so we went back home to Texas,” he said. “I finally headed back to check on the house. We had two holes in the roof. The ceiling caved in and there weren’t any floors. One room was not damaged and I set up my operations from there with an air mattress.”
On his return, Wood was thinking about his new community and how his neighbors were suffering from the storm damage. He delivered water, food and gasoline, and then headed to his new job, leaving his family behind in the safety of their former home in Texas.
“People returned home and learned about us before I ever got back. Someone had already covered the roof and removed the sheetrock. People in the community came together in the new normal in the most hospitable, family atmosphere.”
As Wood was working to open the new sports complex, his new neighbors watched him on television as he gave interviews and promoted the new athletic facility that would bring thousands of tournaments to the area each year. That new normal was a hopeful sign for people living in Panama City Beach and the surrounding areas.
Wood said he was away so much that he would often return home to find that his neighbors were mowing his lawn, weed-whacking and assisting in other ways as they saw the need.
“That was my experience on paying it forward. I started with reinforcing this idea with internships. We already had Chris O’Brien with Visit Panama City Beach and J.D. Wood www.SportsEventsMediaGroup.com September 2019 15 two large and small colleges in the area, so we had a pool of students to draw from.”
Wood said his program is tailored to the student’s schedules or desires to help them grow and improve. At the sports complex, Wood uses two interns per semester during the summer, fall and spring, and each student gets hands-on experience in operations, marketing or administrative tasks. This semester, interns are from Texas and Georgia, and receive either pay or college credit. Volunteers may also work to earn credit toward their degrees or experience.
“One of my mentors once told me that the perception of working in sports management is that it’s a sexy business. The truth is that it is a lot of hard work and not always sexy. Bringing people in to see behind the scenes in a real-world environment gives them an opportunity to learn about the different jobs available.”
Wood said internships and exposure to a variety of people and positions allow students to differentiate themselves from the competition and he recommends taking opportunities as they come.
For Wood, relationships, experience and a drive to succeed have paid off in his career and life.
The new $37 million sports complex opened in July, offering locals and tournament-goers alike a place to enjoy multiple sports on its 13-field complex in an idyllic vacation destination.
The complex hosted the United States Fastpitch Association (USFA) World Series before the concrete was even dry.
The complex is already booked with 48 tournaments scheduled between July 2019 and July 2020, and a new skate park will be added to Chip Seal Parkway near the complex to add to the offerings.
The complex features nine turf fields, four natural-grass fields, dedicated tournament buildings, two championship fields with seating for up to 1,500 and more than 1,000 parking spaces.
The multipurpose facility will be able to host soccer, lacrosse, rugby, football, baseball, softball and more activities, and is anticipated to generate $867,000 in gross revenues in its first year of operation. Hotel bookings are also expected to reach 37,000 room nights, bringing an estimated $13.9 million to Bay County’s economy. The project is funded exclusively by tourism tax dollars and made possible through a public-private partnership with The St. Joe Company, Bay District Schools and the Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.
This month, attendees of S.P.O.R.T.S. The Relationship Conference will enjoy an evening at the complex with the staff of VisitPanamaCityBeach.com.
The official grand opening will be held Saturday, Oct. 5 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.