How Prasad Malmandi Turned His Love of Cricket Into a Career at ESPN
Prasad Malmandi grew up in India "watching, playing, [and] breathing cricket." After completing his undergraduate degree, he moved to New York with the hope of working in the sports industry. He started working for ESPN, first on the technology side and then on the business side, where he collaborated with key partners to distribute ESPN content to mobile devices. However, he wanted to advance his career, and he knew he needed to further develop his business skills.
In 2010, he enrolled in Columbia's Sports Management master's program. He not only gained insider knowledge about the business of sports but also learned from premier sports leaders and an accomplished cohort who worked at companies including CBS Sports, Turner Broadcasting, the Red Bull Arena. He graduated in 2012.
About a year after donning his Columbia blue cap and gown, he was promoted to Director of ESPN ESPN Cricinfo where his job is to grow cricket for the American market. We met at his office at ESPN to discuss his career journey. Surrounded by several items of cricket paraphernalia, Malmandi sat at his desk where he had a view of the Hudson River and the New York City skyline.
Let's start from the beginning. What got you interested in the Sports Management program in the first place?
I've been with ESPN for about ten years. I started as a web developer and focused mostly on the technology and product development then moved into a role in which I managed partnerships. I realized that, ultimately, I wanted to be on the business side of things.
That's when I said, "Okay, maybe a sports management degree at Columbia might help." I started looking. What courses are available while I'm working? What fits within my work schedule?
I had a conversation with the program director. The program was still new at the time, but it fit my needs. That's how I got into Sports Management. I graduated in 2012.
Were there any courses that were particularly helpful for what you wanted to accomplish?
Several classes really opened my eyes: the leadership class with Neal Pilson and Val Ackerman; the Sports Media Marketing class taught by Ray Katz; and the Sports Marketing, Sponsorship, and Sales course taught by Michael Neuman. They all offered invaluable advice that I never could have gotten without this program.
How did you juggle the demands of the program and working full-time at ESPN?
Going to school and then advancing in my career is something that I had wanted to do for a long time, and I felt that it was either then or never. Yes, it definitely changed my lifestyle. I had to deliver at work during the day and then, instead of going home, I had to go to school. And after that, I had an hour of schoolwork to do at home.
I was able to structure my course load, which helped me balance work and academics and family. If it was the peak of the season at work – in September, football begins, basketball begins – I was able to choose which courses I could realistically handle. Then I could take the tougher courses in April and during the summer when my workload at ESPN was a little lighter.
What aspect of the program was most valuable to you?
The best part of that program was the guest speakers. We listened to the commissioner of the NHL and the NBA. Those are the kinds of people whom the program director at the time, Lucas Rubin, was able to bring together.
My fellow students were great resources, too. There were people from CBS Sports, Turner Broadcasting, the Red Bull Arena. It was a mix of people, and it became a family.
How does the program continue to help you in your career?
Overall, the program gave me the confidence that I would be able to get where I wanted to go in my career within a short period of time.
Once I learned the business aspect of sports, I started to think about what I wanted to do in the long run. In 2013, I pitched our senior management and said that we were seeing a lot of growth in the cricket market in the United States.
The U.S. is the second biggest market for ESPN CricInfo after India. There are roughly 25 million cricket fans who live in this country.
Back then, we weren't investing in cricket that much – and we were doing okay from a revenue perspective. But my pitch to the management was, we could create a strategy and invest further in cricket in order to turn this into a much more robust business. The executive management agreed.
In February, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 will take place in Australia and New Zealand. We have the rights to broadcast that. We're marching towards growing our cricket business leading up to that event. And it's looking healthy.
Were you a big cricket fan growing up?
I grew up in India watching, playing, and breathing cricket. I wanted to be in the sports industry when I grew up. But particularly to work at ESPN focusing on cricket is something that I cherish dearly.