Gina Antoniello always knew that she wanted to work in the sports industry when she grew up. During her undergraduate years at Wake Forest University, she gained experience with several sports-related internships including one with the Sony Ericsson Open.
After gaining some marketing experience after college, she decided to apply to a Sports Management master’s program. She got into Columbia’s M.S. in Sports Management program, but this entailed uprooting herself from Florida to New York. However, the allure of the program made her choice an easy one: "There was no question in my mind that that’s where I wanted to go to take my career to the next level."
The education and network that she gained through Columbia ultimately helped her land her new role as Director of Team Sponsorships and Community Relations Fundraising for the Santa Cruz Warriors. Of the Sports Management program, she says, "As far as really taking me to the next level professionally, I can’t say enough about Columbia."
What brought you to Sports Management?
Through college and immediately afterward, my internships were focused on the business side of sports. I wanted to take that to the next level and supplement my practical work experience with an educational program.
Columbia’s Sports Management program was far and away one that stood out. The faculty were industry leaders, executives whom I had heard about and looked up to. I thought, “Wow, this is an opportunity to have them as my professors!” That was what attracted me to the program.
I met with Lucas Rubin, who was then the director of the program, to hear more about the curriculum. Unlike a typical business or law program, Sports Management is designed to meet your specific needs. I took business classes through Columbia Business School, I took a law class, and I took my core classes through the School of Professional Studies. So it was a three-pronged educational experience that fit exactly what I wanted to do.
There was no question in my mind that that’s where I wanted to go to take my career to the next level.
You were working part-time for the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) while you were doing the program. How did you balance school and work?
It was difficult because the classes are at night, and I also had game night responsibilities. If I had to miss class for a game, the teachers were very accommodating; they were always available to give you supplementary help. So were my peers.
The program is tailored to working professionals. For the most part, every student in the program had a job in the industry. But there were always opportunities to get extra help. Sports Management was about building your skills, not penalizing you for missing class.
What were the highlights of the program for you?
One of my professors, Joe Favorito, became my mentor. He’s a leader in sports business communications, and he introduced me to a lot of people. Meeting these industry leaders was a highlight, but so were the entire two years that I spent at Columbia. It was easily the best thing I ever did for my career.
Can you tell me a little bit about your new job?
I just relocated from the East Coast to California. Joe Favorito told me that the Golden State Warriors are one of the most exciting teams in basketball. They have a wonderful front office. Through connections that Columbia established for me, I was able to meet with my now-boss, Jim Weyermann, who is the president of the Santa Cruz Warriors and the vice president of new franchise development for the Golden State Warriors.
I spoke with him about my emerging expertise, what I was interested in doing, and whether there were any gaps in the team that I could fill. It turns out they were missing a team sponsorship director and a PR and community relations director. They were gracious enough to combine those roles into one and offered me the position of Director of Team Sponsorships and Community Relations Fundraising.
Is there anything that you wanted to mention about the program or your Columbia experience?
I have a lot of gratitude for two people in particular. That would be Joe Favorito, whose mentorship has taken me so much further along, and also the former program director Lucas Rubin. Plus, they’ve brought in Vince Gennaro, the current director of the program, whom I met through SABR [Society for American Baseball Research] and who’s going to do a wonderful job.
As far as taking me to the next level professionally, I can’t say enough about Columbia and the program. It’s unrivaled.