Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport. Our latest guest is Hunter Horenstein, who is Director of Fan Engagement for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Hunter Horenstein, I’m originally from Southern California, and I’m the Director of Fan Engagement for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (MiLB affiliate of the Chicago Cubs). In my role I oversee our promotional department and social media efforts. I started my career back in 2012, and since then I’ve done a little bit of everything. I’ve been on the grounds crew, done merchandise and ticket sales, community relations, and even sold sponsorships for a brief time. I’ve worked at the collegiate, the independent, and affiliated minor league levels.
What do you do in your current role?
My primary responsibilities include developing our promotional schedule, which is getting our giveaways ordered, theme nights set, and specialty jerseys designed. It’s definitely not a one-person show, I lean a lot on the great folks we have on our team to think of, develop, and ultimately bring to life the promo calendar. The second half of that is our in-game entertainment, which I help direct down on the field and in the seating bowl. Everything from mascots to our fire cannons in the outfield, I have some sort of hand in. On the social side, I oversee and run all our accounts, track our analytics, conceptualize and produce content, and really just make sure that our digital strategy fits within our overall team marketing strategy. It’s a lot, but I always call it the “fun stuff”, I’m being paid to make sure our fans have fun both in the ballpark and online. As is tradition in the minors, though, you wear a number of different hats but those two areas are what I mainly focus on.
What does a normal week look like for you?
One of the great things about what we do is that no day or week is the same, but there are definitely things that happen on a regular basis. One thing about this job is you have to be okay with juggling different projects, so a lot of the week is working on stuff that’s coming up in the immediate, or things that are coming up the next week or even the next month. I know this is probably a weak answer, and I promise it’s not a cop-out, but no week is really the same or “normal” when we’re in season. I’m either prepping for that night, or the games ahead in the week, making social content, or even doing some training with our bat dog. It just depends.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
So I originally wanted to be a broadcaster, I decided that in high school. I wanted to do play-by-play for baseball, it was always baseball. I went to school and got a degree in communications, with an emphasis in broadcast/production. So I guess that’s when I knew I wanted to work in sports, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year in college where I got an internship with an independent league team in the area and was exposed to the business side of the minor league operation. So I went into thinking I was going to be calling baseball on the radio and ended up never doing that and instead landing where I am now, focused more on the fan engagement side of things.
What’s been your favourite moment whilst working in sports?
It’s so hard to pick just one, but the one I’m most proud of is when we took our American Sign Language jersey to Cooperstown to donate it to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum collection. In 2018 we held Deaf Awareness Night in Myrtle Beach, and it was just a fantastic night that promoted inclusiveness, we touched a community of people, raised money for a local non-profit, and just really made an impact. Those kind of promotions are my favorite, where you see the work you put in pay off in a very real way. The Hall of Fame asked for a game worn jersey, which was a such a humbling request to receive. Myself and a few other members of the organization went up to Cooperstown to deliver the jersey ourselves, and that was such a great experience. It still remains one of, if not, the proudest moment of my career. Knowing that a piece of our team and the impact it made in the game of baseball will be preserved for generations still blows me away sometimes.
What do you think is next for your industry?
I know for social, athlete driven content is about to be everywhere. There’s such a treasure trove to uncover for athletes, beyond just the team accounts. We always talk about access, that access to things fans don’t normally get to see or experience wins, and I think that is a huge factor when you talk about athlete driven content. Letting the audience build those personal connections with their favorite player is such a game changer. So I hope teams take advantage of that, there is a lot of space to be creative in that regard. I think that spills over a bit to real life as well, when you come to the ballpark or the stadium, it’s all about the experience.
What is your number one focus when it comes to fan engagement?
Be authentic. Online and at the stadium. We want to be authentic. People know that brands aren’t run by robots online, and we don’t have a ton of red tape to get through at our level, so we lean into that. We want to be active in the community that we’re building online, our followers aren’t just numbers to us. We want to engage, create conversations, and hear what they have to say. We want that personal touch with our fans. The same goes for at the ballpark, I want people on our game day staff that genuinely care about the experience. From the moment our fans hit the parking lot, we want them to have a great time. My goal at the end of the night is for a family to walk out of our ballpark saying they had a great time, they’re going to come back, and ask who won the game or what the score was. That’s it for me. The baseball is going to happen, it’ll take care of itself, it’s the stuff around it that matters to me. The fans come first.
In fan engagement, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about enough or focus on enough?
Fan engagement isn’t just entertainment, but it’s also customer service, it’s community outreach, it’s a bunch of different things. All of it is connected, and they’re all important. It’s not good enough to just have fancy lights that change color and dance after home runs, or not good enough to have X number of followers on Twitter. There’s more to it, and it moves quickly. You have to be able to adapt and continue challenging yourself to be innovative.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
There’s plenty of advice out there, but for me it’s two things: know your why, and take care of your mental health. Your why is the reason you do this. It’s not good enough to just be a fan of baseball (or whatever sport), it helps, but it’s not going to get you through 15 hour days and 3 tarp pulls. The minor leagues, specifically, are a beast. Oftentimes you don’t have the resources of big league clubs, you have more responsibilities spread around, and you can’t just skate by. That can take a toll, so know why you want to do this. You’re not going to make a ton of money, you’re not going to be in front of 30,000 people, and you’re not going to be best friends with players. That goes hand in hand with your mental health. I hate this trend I see where we seem to glorify “hustle” culture. This job is hard enough as it is, the hours are long and you make sacrifices to do this, so we don’t need to expect people to be on 100% of the time. Take care of yourself. I’ve seen people who get so burned out, and it’s sad. That’s the kind of stuff that forces people out of the industry. It almost forced me out. I’ve been there. I love this job, I love the opportunity to do this on a daily basis, but I’m also cognizant that I need to take care of myself. If I need a break, if I need a rest or to talk to someone, I’m going to. It’s made me happier, better at my job, and healthier. Working in sports is fun, let’s do what we can to keep it that way.
How to follow Hunter Horenstein on social media…
If you’re so inclined to follow me on Twitter, I can be found at @h_horenstein. I try to keep it light, and tweet social media and promo things. There are a lot of baseball and football tweets in there too, and I love connecting with others so say hi! I’m also pretty open about mental health, and will always keep my DMs open for anyone who feels like they could use someone to talk to. My Instagram is the same.
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider with Hunter Horenstein! If you want to read more from the series, you can do so by clicking here.