Mike Sundheim is vice president for communications and team services for the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his job, social media and the team’s outlook for the 2016-17 season.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. One of the best sports books out there is Ken Dryden’s “The Game,” and one of my favorite parts is when he describes the rhythm of the season. Essentially, days of the week are irrelevant, and our lives are dictated by whether it is a game day or a practice day and whether we are home or on the road.
On a home game day, I arrive at work around 7:45 a.m. and leave about an hour after the game ends. During that time, I am responsible for media access after a morning practice, two hours prior to the game and five minutes after the game, as well as rights-holder interviews throughout the game.
Beyond handling media access, there’s plenty to do at my desk, from writing news releases or letters for executives to fielding media calls, monitoring social media and working with all of the other departments in the company regarding communication needs. A few years back I also took on team services, which includes handling hotels and bus companies for team travel as well as meeting the everyday personal and scheduling needs of the players and coaching staff.
I split the travel with my co-worker, Kyle Hanlin, so my quietest days in-season are typically when he is with the team on the road and I am home. But even those days can fill up quickly, taking care of everything I didn’t have time to deal with when the team was around.
Q. What role does social media play in your work?
A. When people ask what the biggest change to my job has been since I started, social media is a clear number one. Look at it this way, when I came on full-time in 2000, Mark Zuckerberg was a 16-year-old high school student. There was no social media, and the news cycle was much more structured.
Because of social media, everything is immediate. That affects how and when we send news releases, the ways in which major news is delivered and, more than anything else, our ability to turn off our work brains. I can be sitting at home playing with my kids at 8 p.m. and start getting texts about something a player tweeted or an impending personnel move. This job has always had a bit of an always-on-call element to it, but social media has significantly intensified that.
Q. During your time with the Hurricanes, the team has been to the Stanley Cup finals twice, winning in 2006. But Carolina has missed the playoffs the past several years. How do the ups and downs of sports affect what you do?
A. There is no doubt wins and losses affect those of us who work in sports, from general office morale to our company’s bottom line. When we won the Stanley Cup, we were playing in front of standing-room-only crowds, and I could hardly keep up with the flow of media requests for our players.
After seven consecutive non-playoff seasons, we have understandably smaller crowds and I spend more time pitching stories than fielding requests. Our major local newspaper didn’t travel a beat writer on the road last season.
When you’re winning, you can’t wait to get to the office, and when you’re losing, it is much more of a grind. The positive for us is that we feel like we are very close to turning a corner on the ice, and we are already seeing some positive business momentum based on that optimism.
Q. What advice do you have for students considering careers in sports communication?
A. Your classes are important, and there are plenty of things I learned at UNC that help me every day in my job. But I would not be where I am had I just gone to class, graduated with straight A’s and started looking for a job.I spent two and a half years at The Daily Tar Heel, which helped me in many ways including the development of my writing and my understanding of deadline pressure.
I then spent my junior and senior years working for the Hurricanes as an intern and UNC’s sports information department as a student assistant. It was in those positions that I learned how to actually do my job and gained the connections and experience to land full-time work after school.
The last time we had an open position — a part-time, hourly job that only paid about $15,000 for the season — we had more than 300 applicants in a few days before we closed it off. I wrote about the experience on my blog for our website, and pretty much everything I said in there still stands. I eliminated 75 percent of the resumes instantly because they had no sports experience.
Also, a lot of people hear “sports PR” or “sports publicity” and picture all of the glamorous aspects of traveling with a team and working with media. But most entry-level sports communications positions are heavily based in writing, working with statistics and preparing game notes. If you don’t love writing or you can’t truly geek out on sports stats, this isn’t the right career path for you.
Q. Let’s look ahead. How do the Hurricanes look going into the 2016-17 season?
A. This is the most excited I’ve felt about the future of our team in a long time. Ron Francis has done a phenomenal job of staying patient and rebuilding the right way — collecting prospects and draft picks and building from the defense forward.
Our defense last season included four players who were 23 years old or younger, including Noah Hanifin, who was just 18. The ages of our top seven scorers were 23, 27, 23, 21, 23, 24 and 25. And we have 10 picks in this year’s draft – seven of which are in the first three rounds. That gives us a ton of flexibility to either continue to collect prospects, or wheel some of those picks for players who can immediately jump into our lineup.
The idea isn’t just to compete for a year or two and then suffer another playoff drought. It’s to build an organization that is a factor in the playoffs every single year. That’s exactly what Ron is doing.
Students interested in internships with the Carolina Hurricanes can contact Sundheim via this page.