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SBJ/July 28-Aug. 3, 2014/In Depth
Checking in with the sports class of 2005
Published July 28, 2014, Page 20
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Praveeta Singh was at a small software company, putting to work undergraduate degrees in marketing and information systems, when she was bitten by the bug.
Turns out, the school at which Singh got her undergraduate degree, the University of Central Florida, had started a sports MBA program that fall. Singh applied and was accepted. In her second year, she was a graduate assistant to Bill Sutton, who then ran the program along with founder Richard Lapchick. Sutton connected each student with a mentor. Singh got Scott O’Neil, the Philadelphia 76ers/New Jersey Devils CEO who a decade ago ran team marketing and business operations for the NBA. It was O’Neil who introduced Singh to Brett Yormark, the CEO of the Nets, which is where she got her first job.
Singh started as a marketing coordinator with the Nets, but after two years she and her husband decided to return to
“I wouldn’t have been afforded the opportunities and met the people I met along the way and found the mentors I have if I hadn’t gone into that [UCF] program,” Singh said. “The MBA was mostly for if the sports thing didn’t work out. But it has been very important as I’ve progressed in my career.”
When Keri Boyce landed a plum internship at the NCAA offices while a grad student at the University of Central Florida, she promised herself she’d use that time not only to learn how the organization operated, but also to plot a career path.
“I know that college athletics is a business, but that really wasn’t the part that I was drawn to,” said Boyce, now the assistant commissioner for compliance at the Big 12 Conference. “Having been a student athlete, I was more geared toward things that might change young students’ lives. That was it for me.”
While at the NCAA, she mined the staff for advice.
“I loved it there,” Boyce said. “I told everybody how I wanted to stay and try to get a job at the national office. And every person there said you need to work on campus first if you want to work anywhere in college athletics. And then if there’s ever an opportunity at a conference office, grab it.”
Boyce’s first job was as compliance eligibility coordinator at Texas Tech, a role that enabled her to work with athletes and learn the inner workings of the program. After a little more than a year, she was able to jump to the Big 12 office in Dallas as director of compliance. After three years, she was promoted to assistant commissioner.
“You look at what I’m doing now and it may not be obvious where the MBA matters,” Boyce said. “But it’s great to have and I think it will assist me even more in the future.”
Like many in his shoes, Brad Sexton knew he wanted to chase a dream but had absolutely no idea what that might entail.
While at the University of Central Florida, he worked on projects involving the Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves, NASCAR and the school’s own athletic department. He took a shine to ticket sales. When UCF recruited Seattle SuperSonics executive Matt DiFebo to start a ticket sales department, DiFebo hired Sexton as sales manager.
“I’m selling an 0-17 football team, playing in the Citrus Bowl, 30 miles from campus,” Sexton said. “I agreed to do that for a $15,600 base, plus commissions. You come out with two masters’ degrees — talk about being grounded pretty quickly. But I learned that I enjoyed it, and that sales didn’t have to be about who was the loudest person in the room. I had my career path.”
Sexton’s next stop was at South Alabama, which hired him to create a sales department for its new football
“Grad school gave me the chance to see real-life examples that got me thinking about how you could do things better,” Sexton said. “Without a doubt, the reason I’m here today is the real world experience that the program gave me and the network that it opened up to me.”
That Zaileen Janmohamed ever ended up at the University of Massachusetts’ sports management program was a bit
“My initial year there brought in a business element that I hadn’t really thought about in terms of sports,”
Janmohamed said. “I realized that I could do more than just go back home and work in college athletics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But my vision opened up.”
As only the second group ever to work toward a dual MBA/MSA at UMass, Janmohamed and her classmates found ways to bring sports to the MBA program, building projects on topics such as the NHL lockout and payroll allocation.
“Until I got here, I questioned whether I really needed the MBA, or if it would have been better to get out in the workforce earlier,” Janmohamed said. “But I get it now. At Visa, my whole job is problem solving. I analyze our portfolio and look at ROI. I use the MBA now. And as I go for the job at the next level, thank God I have it.”
Joe Smith didn’t have to tap into the University of Massachusetts network for his first job after getting his MBA. He landed it through a classmate.
“I not only knew the sport, but I had this relationship with Zaileen where I could pick up the phone at any time and say, ‘Dude, make our logo bigger,’” said Smith, who is now senior vice president of global sponsor marketing at Bank of America. “We still joke about it. But that relationship really helped me at the agency. She might say they couldn’t do it, but she’d also say why. When you can go back to your client as the agency guy with a real answer, that’s a good position to be in.”
Smith, who played soccer at Gonzaga, soon added responsibility for Pepsi’s MLB and MLBPA sponsorships. When
“I’m not sure the MBA really matters in sports, but it does help if you make your way into a position like the one that I’m in,” Smith said. “It’s not like I’m taking things directly today that I learned 10 years ago and applying them. But it’s allowed me to think differently than I would have if I had just done the sports [master’s] program. It allows you to think about how what you’re doing might better the broader enterprise of Bank Of America.”
Frank Lamattina was 33 years old and working as an engineer when he ditched that path to pursue a master’s in sports management at the University of Massachusetts.
“Working in sports was just one of those things that was always gnawing at me in the back of my head,” Lamattina said. “I had to give it a try. When people ask me now if I regret it, I say no. My only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier.”
“The trouble with getting into sports at that age with a family is that you’re starting at the beginning,” Lamattina said. “And it’s hard to support a family on a single income as an assistant golf pro.”
Lamattina’s foray into sports lasted less than two years. He returned to engineering. Today, he is a senior manager of supply chain development at Lego.
“The good thing is, I use some of the things I learned all the time,” Lamattina said. “People have a passion for sports. That’s the reason I wanted to do it. I love that people have that same passion for Lego and our brand. We tap into something that’s very similar.”
Eric Sudol came out of a small Iowa college qualified to do precisely what he’d planned to do from the time he got
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“I was going to be a teacher and a coach,” Sudol said. “I had zero desire to be a teacher and a coach.”
Sudol still wanted a career in athletics, but his interest was in athletic administration, not coaching. So he applied to grad school at Ohio University, known widely as the cradle of college athletic directors.
While at Ohio, Sudol realized that his skills might be better suited to pro sports, something he’d never been exposed to. He took the step that many at Ohio take, cold calling executives he found in the alumni directory. He reached Mike Redlick, then an executive vice president with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Redlick offered Sudol an unpaid internship, then gave him his first job, working in corporate sales. Two years later, Sudol moved to the Dallas Cowboys, selling suites,
“I had one focus coming out of Ohio, and that was on who I was working for, not what I was doing,” Sudol said.
“I’m forever grateful to the people who have given me a shot, probably mostly because of Ohio. Coming from where I came from, I needed access to the keys to unlock the doors. And Ohio was the program with the most keys.”
Brent Braden was 26 years old, married and working in finance for IBM when he approached his wife, Katherine, with a revelation.
“Honey, I gotta do something different,” Braden told her.
A dozen years later, Braden is global sports marketing director at Nike. He can’t retrace his path without tracking back to that day, and his wife’s response.
“The coolest thing she ever said to me was, ‘Tell me what we’re going to do,’” Braden said. “When my wife said that, I jumped on the Internet and started looking into the program at Oregon.”
Because of his work experience, he was able to take an accelerated path through the MBA program, finishing in
“One of the greatest things I’ve done in my life,” Braden said. “That reaffirmed that working in the business of sports was definitely what I was put on earth to do.”
Braden hoped to work for a team after graduating but couldn’t find a job in the region. So he took a temp job in IT finance at Nike. It was as far as you could get from a sports marketing job, but it gave him a chance to show his skills and meet people. When a finance job opened in sports marketing a few months later, Braden moved over. In 2011, he made the full transition from finance to marketing.
“IBM offered me more out of grad school than anything I could’ve gotten in sports would have paid,” Braden said. “It was much higher than what I took at Nike. But it was the right choice for me.”