Students show eagerness for sports business sprint
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
First, Tami Nealy joined the Sports Business Advisory Board in January, and it got her thinking.
Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) students at Grand Canyon University get to hear talks from advisory board members all the time. How good is that?
“The caliber of people on this advisory board … I wish I had access to this sort of people when I was this age. I really do,” said Nealy, Vice President, Communications and Talent Relations, for Find Your Influence, a Scottsdale-based influencer marketing company.
Then she became one of those people sharing their wisdom Monday when she helped transform a board meeting into a networking event – “What They Don’t Tell You about Working in Sports” – with nearly 300 students on the first day of full-time virtual classes. And Nealy, whose sports business resume includes stints with the WNBA, Arena Football League and NASCAR, was impressed all over again.
After she spoke for several minutes in her breakout session about the difference between being a sports fan and an industry employee, she opened it up to questions.
“They had a million questions about working in sports,” she said. “It felt good to me. I was super impressed with the questions the students asked.”
One student asked if she ever worked with a player or someone on the inside of the franchise whose ego got in the way. (Yes.)
A female student asked if Nealy felt as if she was facing an uphill battle as a woman in the industry. (Yes again – even in women’s basketball, although part of the reason was that she was fresh out of college.)
The positive first impressions didn’t stop there.
Several students accepted Nealy’s invitation to reach out on LinkedIn, and one of them spoke with her for about 30 minutes.
“I was super impressed with her,” Nealy said.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s a double helping of “super impressed” to go with the million questions. Win, win, win.
Nealy and Alexa Huchingson, Vice President of Business Development for Elevate Sports Ventures, gathered six other board members for the event and had the perfect keynote speaker – GCU strategic advisor Jerry Colangelo, namesake for the college.
Colangelo talked about how the industry has changed over the years, going from a group of do-it-all employees to specialized groups figuring out marketing, ticket sales, community relations, etc. He also shared why he is turning over control of USA Basketball to another Basketball Hall of Famer, Grant Hill.
Colangelo urged the students to listen closely to what the advisory board members told them, and Nealy uncovered this nugget for them: Don’t ever tell an interviewer that they’re a big fan of the sport.
If, for example, a job candidate talked to Nealy about being a season ticket-holder, this was her reaction:
“That was a red flag for me because if you’re going to work for the company you’re not going to be buying the season tickets anymore, so that’s one more ticket that the team has to go out and sell,” she said. “I’d rather have you as a season ticket-holder, to be honest.”
Instead, she advised students to choose a sport that doesn’t stir as much passion in them.
“When I worked in the WNBA and Arena Football, they’re great sports but I wasn’t a fan of them beforehand so I didn’t get burned out from it,” she said. “I’m a huge baseball fan, and I knew well enough then that I didn’t want to work in baseball because I didn’t want baseball to become a job or a chore or something that I didn’t enjoy.”
She also told the students a story. During her time at Phoenix Raceway, her uncle won a race at the track. She had to save her celebration for the end of the day – she had work to do.
The networking was yet another case of taking advantage of a key benefit of videoconferencing: It provides access to business leaders from all over the country. Students are finishing the spring semester with two weeks of online classes, a result of COVID-19 precautions instituted months ago.
“It was a great way to kick off our virtual classes,” said Dr. Mark Clifford, CCOB Assistant Dean and Director of Sports Business. “As we wind down the semester, this was a tremendous opportunity for our students to listen, learn and interact with some of the industries’ amazing leaders, as well as a legend and icon in Mr. Colangelo. I am overwhelmed by our advisors who are so willing to invest in the future of the industry … starting with our outstanding students.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].