Wade Graf, Senior Director of Group Sales for the New York Mets, never thought he’d work in sales. But he did know he wanted to work in professional sports.
“I grew up loving sports,” he shares. “I even thought I’d become a professional golfer. But when that didn’t work out, I developed an interest in the business side of sports.” He became so passionate about making this into his career that he took some time off from college in order to intern for the Houston Astros.
“Getting an internship in an MLB front office is tough,” Graf explains. “I knew this opportunity to join the Astros would probably be my only chance to prove myself.”
When the internship ended, Graf re-enrolled in a different university because he liked their undergradute program in business administration. After graduating, he took a sales job selling season tickets and suites with the Texas Rangers.
“And, quite honestly, I had no idea what sales even entailed,” he says. “But I quickly realized how much I loved interacting with people. And, given I’m super competitive, I loved the thrill of closing a sale and driving revenue for an organization.”
So, Graf stayed in sales within the sports industry, overseeing Inside Sales and Staff Development with the Rangers, then leading Premium Sales with the Dallas Mavericks, and, most recently, to his current job with the Mets.
In his role today, Graf develops the strategy for Group Sales and Corporate Hospitality (private or semi-private areas of the ballpark where companies can entertain clients, business prospects, or employees) and manages 16 full-time employees and 12 part-time staff.
“I’m continuously looking to create new ways to enhance our fans’ and group leaders’ experience when they come to Citi Field,” Graf shares, “Ultimately, we want to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they talk about for the rest of their lives.”
But it’s not just the fans who are having fun. Graf’s job has taken him to four different World Series—one with the Astros, two with the Rangers, and one with the Mets. And make no mistake, it’s just as exciting to be there if you aren’t a player.
“Being part of a team that makes it to the World Series is surreal,” Graf says. “Owning a championship ring is a dream of everyone who works in this industry. All the hard work and emotions we experience throughout a season come down to one week in October.”
To hear more about Graf’s career journey, keep reading.
What’s Your Favorite Part of Your Job?
Helping my staff develop professionally and earn greater opportunities excites me, and it’s why I’m so passionate about my role. Being able to watch the process unfold—having former interns earn senior selling roles and leadership positions in this industry—is really rewarding to be a part of.
How Do You Achieve the Work-Life Balance You Want?
My family is my “north star”—what’s best for them is the driving force behind any job-related decisions I make. Although I want to have an extremely successful career and make a huge impact on the sports industry, I want to be an even better husband and father. I’d turn down an amazing career opportunity if it meant sacrificing time with my family. I’d rather have the opportunity to take my kids to school every day and be present at home than work so much that our relationship becomes disconnected.
So, bottom line? I work hard and be the best I can at my career, but not at the expense of the ones I love.
What’s Your Favorite Piece of Career Advice to Give Others?
Align yourself with strong influencers and brilliant minds in whatever industry you’re in. The book Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent hits the nail on the head. The author writes that, in every industry, there are always a few elite individuals who have the propensity to develop talent at an extraordinary level.
Do your homework and find a way to work for those types of people, as the managers you work for can ultimately dictate the potential impact you can make in your industry.