By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
The game plan for Sports Business students at Grand Canyon University is simple and clear: They just need to keep showing up.
And showing up.
And showing up.
That’s how they’ll win. Darby O’Leary and Mikey Chavez sure did.
Both took advantage of the numerous opportunities offered by the Colangelo College of Business through its alliance with Position Sports, a national sports marketing firm based in Mesa that regularly utilizes GCU students in the operations of major events.
Jerry Colangelo, the Phoenix business icon for whom the college is named, opens many doors for students with his numerous sports connections, and Position Sports opens doors and then shows students exactly what needs to be done.
O’Leary recently worked at Hoophall Miami, a Basketball Hall of Fame event featuring eight major college teams, and a week later was back in Phoenix to work at the inaugural Jerry Colangelo Classic, which featured GCU and three other teams at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The work included serving as a team liaison to make sure they had their gear and knew where to be when … running shootarounds … getting them to the right locker room.
“All the stuff behind the scenes,” she said.
But those are just two events on her list of what she calls “a ton of volunteer experiences.” She also has worked at the Hoophall West high school basketball tournament in Scottsdale (twice), golf tournaments sponsored by Colangelo and the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Oakland Athletics and the Arizona Coyotes.
It has left her with one very clear idea of the path to success: “GCU is the place to be if you want to have any sort of experience in the sports world at all. With Jerry Colangelo, you can get all sorts of opportunities.”
It also has left her with a very clear goal: to work in events and promotions for the Diamondbacks. “I’ve found that I definitely love working in baseball,” she said.
Chavez, who graduated in December with his marketing degree, parlayed his volunteer experiences into a coordinator position with Insight Digital Marketing.
Like O’Leary, he worked at Hoophall West twice and delved into a variety of gigs with Valley sports teams – the Diamondbacks, the Coyotes and the Cardinals. He also is familiar with Position Sports – he won an essay contest in his Introduction to Sports Management class during his freshman year and earned the opportunity to work with the company in Las Vegas at a basketball fantasy camp and a tournament sponsored by Houston Rockets star Chris Paul.
“These events go off very well because they’re planned so well,” he said. “It’s great to see how it runs so smoothly, and it’s also a great chance for networking.”
Position Sports representatives, he said, are “very inviting. If you’re willing to put in the effort, they’ll be there to assist you.”
They do that for a simple reason: They’ve been there.
“Our staff members have all been in their shoes back in the day, so we can appreciate the drive and desire to find the right career path,” said Kevin Foley, founder and President of Position Sports. “Our team regularly visits classes, extends multiple internship opportunities each year and most importantly, provides opportunities for students to attend some of our events as an extension of our team to gain first-hand experience.”
Thanks to the partnership with Position Sports, more than 100 GCU students have worked at events all around the Valley, all over the country and as far away as Paris.
The Colangelo Classic basketball event in early December was particularly noteworthy because the GCU Sports Business Club set up committees that got to work with Position Sports during the planning of the event, and the 30 students then worked it as well.
In addition, a Sports Event Planning class used Hoophall West as its event for the semester and based homework assignments on the event.
“They get their feet wet and at least understand the scope of the work that has to be done in something like that,” said Dr. Mark Clifford, GCU’s Director of Sports Business. “It’s everything from setting up water bottles on the sideline to setting up the locker rooms, making sure all the T-shirts and giveaways are there, making sure the practice facility is rotated, getting coaches to where they’re supposed to be, getting teams in and out of the facility.
“Position Sports has done a great job of getting our students involved as much as possible.”
CCOB Dean Dr. Randy Gibb said Clifford has been instrumental in advancing GCU’s footprint in the sports business world since taking over the program last spring: “Mark’s leadership of our Sports Business program has been phenomenal, as he has created a Sports Advisory Board consisting of the major sports businesses in the Valley. His enthusiasm and energy has taken our already strong program to the next level. Another great example of his work is the relationship with the MLB’s Cactus League — not just one team, but all 15 of them, and the Valley cities that they play in. Mark’s work has created access and opportunities for our students to learn firsthand about the industry.”
The students volunteering at Hoophall got an inside view of the challenges that can arise for an event coordinator: LaVar Ball was there.
Ball, as most basketball fans know, is the outspoken father of three top players, including Lonzo Ball of the Los Angeles Lakers, and draws attention wherever he goes. He came to Hoophall because his son LaMelo was playing for one of the teams.
“It got really chaotic,” Clifford said. “There was a camera guy pointed at him while his son played. The students got to see how the events staff tried to corral people. The Basketball Hall of Fame folks also were there. That’s part of the learning process — things you don’t get out of a textbook but you can see first-hand.”
There also were two GCU students working last month at the Hall of Fame Classic basketball tournament in Los Angeles. It’s just another example of how the Sports Business connections stretch far and wide.
“We’ve got great relationships with the Coyotes and Diamondbacks,” Clifford said. “The PGA Tour the last two years has had full-time interns who were GCU students. We have the Cactus League (baseball) here. We have all these sports entities in the Valley. The Chief Operating Officer of the Phoenix Mercury (Vince Kozar) is on my board. Blue Media, which does wraps for the Super Bowl, is right down the street.
“It’s just a matter of getting the right people from the right organizations to support our students. You do that and you open the door.”
But it’s up to the students to show up.
“The only way students are going to differentiate themselves,” Clifford said, “is by having internship and volunteer opportunities on their resumes.”
That’s the game plan. And as any coach will tell you, it’s all about execution.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.