Sports Management Industry Showcase Brings Top Pros

On October 16th at Faculty House at Columbia University, Sports Management students and alumni convened for an exclusive event, a panel of top sports industry professionals sharing their organization’s case studies and their own insights about launching a career in sports.

Each speaker offered advice on breaking into the business, and several themes emerged over and over again: the importance of storytelling skills, digital media and analytics skills, and a global perspective. The guest speakers hailed from the top brands in the industry: Justin Hergianto, Senior Director of Digital and Print Marketing for ESPN; Catherine Gaines, Vice President of Global Marketing Partnerships for the NBA; Brooke Eaton, Director of Digital Media for the Brooklyn Nets; Benno Ruwe, Senior Project Manager for FC Bayern Munich, LLC; and Chris Beeby, Senior Director for Wasserman Experience.

Storytelling, the speakers said, remained a crucial skill – not just in an organization’s marketing and advertising efforts aimed at fans, but also in communicating within the organization and the industry. Gaines said, “We tell you a story when we present our case study, we do it with our partners when we’re [pitching] and hoping to get new business, but we also do so internally.” Eaton added that if you’re negotiating with a stakeholder or a client, “Don’t give somebody a bar graph and expect them to change their mind.” The ability to influence others was a much-needed asset in the business, and one could achieve that through storytelling.

Hergianto and Eaton mentioned that sports management hopefuls must master digital technology. Hergianto had shared a case study about how ESPN used platforms such as Vine to showcase their client Dunkin Donuts during NFL games. He mentioned the burgeoning potential for other digital channels such as Snapchat. “The future of distribution,” he said, “is an exciting one because of technology. It’s one that we’re shaping now, and you guys could definitely be part of that.” Eaton approached the topic of digital media from the angle of analytics: she said that her team seeks “somebody who is a data geek, who loves to look at the numbers and understand the demographics of our fans.” The guests emphasized the value of being able to leverage new media and to measure its impact. Such talents, they said, can drive the organization forward – and advance one’s career.

Gaines and others said that sports management aspirants must offer a global perspective. At her organization, the NBA, professionals must think globally about how to deliver an authentic fan experience to international spectators. She pointed out one way that the NBA is engaging fans worldwide: “It used to be that [our global TV broadcasts] were just about the game, but now when we go to commercial, we’re actually going to the in-arena experience.” It’s one example of how the NBA serves its fans across the globe. Beeby, who is originally from England, suggested that international students who want to work in the U.S. should learn more about the sports industry in America. “I remember the first [pitch] meeting I went to in the U.S., and the client asked me who my favorite NFL player was. I couldn’t name one, and we almost lost the business because the of that.” Ruwe, who hails from Germany, offered words of encouragement for international students: “Stick to your skill set, and develop your intercultural skills, and you won’t have a problem in the United States.” Whether building an international brand or bringing one’s skills to a new country, the guests emphasized the value of offering a global perspective.

Throughout the panel discussion, audience members looked up thoughtfully at the panelists. At the close of the event, the students and alumni approached the guests for one-on-one conversations, eager to hear more stories from the field.