In Canada there are no National Football League teams, so the way fans choose who they will support is by following in the footsteps of their family or friends, or by becoming in awe of a certain player that leads them to a team.
For Vanessa Matyas, marketing & media manager for NFL Canada, the former is how her journey with the NFL began. Growing up Canadian, Toronto teams like the Toronto Raptors and the Maple Leafs were all she really knew.
That is until she got older and became a student at McMaster University, where football became a part of her social life. But it was not just the social aspect of football that caught her attention, the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees did too.
“I started falling in love with Drew Brees as a person because he just seemed so nice and personable, and that really got me more interested in the New Orleans Saints,” said Matyas. “The year that the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans was the same year they won a Super Bowl, and it really brought back so much joy to that city. That is when I started really to see the magic behind football and really get into the battles in the on-field action and the whole story around everything.”
Though Matyas knew that she had a new-found love for football, she was not entirely sure what she wanted after her undergrad in communication studies at Mac. This uncertainty led her to apply for her Master of Arts in communications and new media at McMaster.
“Part of the reason I decided to do my master’s was because I wasn't sure what my next step was going to be,” Matyas said. “So I thought getting a master’s would help set me apart from other job candidates.”
Following her master’s, Matyas got the opportunity to move to Geneva, Switzerland to work for a non-governmental organization. Although it was an amazing opportunity and everything she thought she would love, her mind kept going back to how much she loved sports and how amazing it would be to work in media or sports. When she returned to Canada, she applied and was lucky enough to land a digital marketing job with Rogers Media.
“While I was there, I was very vocal with my boss about how I wanted to take on other brands if I had the opportunity,” said Matyas. “So just from being partially in the right place and the right time and also being my own personal advocate, I got to expand to other brands which were two sports brands.”
In Matyas’ three years with Rogers, she focused on working on the skills that would help her do a great job in the sports world. Instead of worrying about not having that dream job of working in sports, she focused on getting the skill set that she needed to apply that to her passion later on.
This ability to focus on the big picture is something she credits McMaster for giving her. Along with education, connections, lifelong best friends and memories, she left with a valuable lesson that ultimately got her where she is today.
“Looking at the big picture of things is what Mac really showed me. I think when you're here, you're so focused on looking at the task at hand, but you don't really see what it is leading towards or what you're working towards,” said Matyas. “I think Mac really showed me the value of the big picture and not sweating the small stuff along the way.”
When she applied for the role with NFL Canada, she had not only the passion for the role, but the actual skills the job required. Now she wakes up every day working for a company that not only she loves, but one where she deserves to be. Matyas works with NFL Canada’s media partners to further promote the NFL in Canada and marketing initiatives such as influencer and public relations programs, player marketing and social and digital campaigns.
— Vanessa Matyas (@vmats14) February 5, 2019
But one of her most rewarding tasks is that she gets to bring little pieces of the NFL to Canada, so people can bond with the players and ultimately start following teams. One of her most memorable moments so far has been the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta. Not only was being in ‘NFL-land’ surreal for her, being able to bring Canadians to experience the joy of football was something that will stick with her forever.
“The experience and bringing [fans] down is very special for them, but it will always be such a big memory for me too,” said Matyas. “To see what the passion of sports does, helps us to remember why we do what we do.”
When the game becomes more than just a game! 🙌
— NFL Canada (@NFLCanada) March 3, 2019
To those who look at Matyas’ journey, it may seem like she had it all figured out, but she constantly reminds those who are just starting out that there are always going to be challenges along the way, and to not let them discourage you from your goal.
“My career wasn't a clear path of sports, so getting back into what I wanted was hard when I was ready to leave Rogers. I was looking for other jobs which was very discouraging because there were many nos before there was a yes,” said Matyas. “That can be really hard to take in especially when you feel like you're prepared for the role and you have a skill set that you need, but you can’t let it get you off your path. Just know that you're working towards something better and all of those nos and let downs are going in a direction that you're supposed to be.”
Matyas’ journey to the NFL is an example for all of us, those who want to work in the sports industry and those who do not. If you work hard, even when it is not what you love, eventually you will see the return on your investment and find the way to be rewarded for your passion.