Building Networks for Success

July 21, 2016

Todd FlemingExceptional Education – Building Networks for Success
Sport Business Program Prepares Students for Post-Grad Prosperity

The sport industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing economic enterprises in the world. Audiences from across the globe witness the competitions that take place in a host of different international venues. People from all walks of life come together based on their devotion to the team out on the gridiron, court or pitch of their choosing. The athletes take center stage and receive much of the recognition for their hard work, yet it is today’s sport business professionals who must adapt their behind-the scenes efforts to the field’s ever-changing culture.

The faculty and staff of the University of Mount Union’s sport business program, a part of the Department of Human Performance and Sport Business, recognize the need to prepare students for a number of different career options they may pursue.

Among the common career fields of the program’s alumni are: professional sport organizations, recreation, fitness clubs and YMCAs, event management and national sport governing bodies. Without diving into detail regarding specific occupations within the careers mentioned, one can see the diverse opportunities students are presented with after graduating.

As the program began to grow in popularity, Dr. Jim Thoma, director of the sport business program at Mount Union, was hired when the program was only three years old.

“My assignment was to add more depth to the program,” Thoma said. “After a couple of years at Mount, I realized that two tests, a research paper and a final exam were not going to prepare our students for life in the sport business field. That began the transition to experiential learning through a steady diet of practical projects, research, public speaking and improved writing skills.”

Although a love of sports is encouraged, the goals of the program focus more on the professional abilities and skills Thoma implemented early in the life of the program. Written and oral communications are benchmarks for much of the curriculum within the program, as employers from almost every field are focused on hiring strong candidates with those skills.

What may be most impactful for some Mount Union students are the lessons that do not come from a textbook or presentation. One of the goals of the sport business program is to prepare students for responsible citizenship, both in and out of the workplace. In most of the classes offered by the program, students are required to dress in business professional attire when giving presentations or speeches, getting them ready to become professional employees in any setting.

The program’s professors and speakers are seasoned industry professionals who are figureheads for best practices in the field. Armed with this experience, these individuals are well positioned to guide students.

“Dr. [Lori] Braa is my favorite professor,” said Sarah Heilman ’16, a recent sport business graduate of Howland, Ohio. “Her classes are always entertaining and worthwhile. She serves as an incredible role model for me as a successful, strong woman in the sport business world.”

The faculty of the program also understand the strong importance of the liberal arts. The program is designed to give students the option to potentially double major, earn a second minor or study abroad, all while still being on course to graduate in four years. Students and faculty members know the importance of being well-rounded while searching for a job right out of college.

“The benefits of an education grounded in the liberal arts are that you get to explore areas that you would never have thought of before,” said Kelsey Coleman ’18, a sport business major of Rittman, Ohio. “This type of education expands your horizons and your intelligence. I have been able to learn about classical music, the country of France and many other things all while learning about sport business.”

Brent Stehlik and AJ Gioglio

Experiential Learning

Much of the curriculum in the sport business program is rooted in hands-on learning. The focal points of such learning are numerous. The sport sales course taught by Dr. Jim Kadlecek, associate professor of human performance and sport business, provides an example of one of the focal points. The sales courses focus more on the concept of garnering skills by role-playing real scenarios in the ticket sales world rather than typical quizzes or exams. Each semester, students have the opportunity to sell tickets for the Cleveland Cavaliers as a part of the introductory sales course.

In the fall of 2015, Danielle Augustin ’16 of Olmsted Falls, Ohio, broke the class record by selling nearly $10,000 worth of tickets for the organization in less than three months. Results like Augustin’s are incredible and illustrate the benefits of the program. She made real sales with real customers and, in the process, made the Cavaliers organization some very real money.

Other focal point examples include creating and running events on campus, developing sponsorship proposals while working with and for professional teams, writing and presenting bid proposals for international events to professional experts and completing individualized projects that meet the needs of sport and recreation organizations. In reality, the list goes on and on and all of these opportunities prepare students to perform at a high level from the moment they start their careers.

As mentioned previously, one of the cornerstones of today’s sport business professional is the ability to adapt to any situation. Because of the constantly changing professional climate, the faculty of the program are always pulling current events into their classroom lessons. New training techniques, rule changes in a given sport and many other observations can be pulled right fromthe news headlines into useful tools for students.

The utilization of some of those new tools and technologies in the industry make it very easy for most of the program’s courses to fulfill the project-centric mindset that Thoma created years ago. In a field that may change with new information daily, the faculty has recognized that hands-on projects have the potential to be incredibly valuable, keeping students up-to-date by the time they are wearing their caps and gowns.

Sport Sales WorkshopConnections for the Future

“I believe our University provides real-world experience,” said Dr. Lori Braa, assistant professor of human performance and sport business. “In sport business, our curriculum is based on giving students situations they will face in everyday life. Our students graduate with experience on their resumes that many programs do not provide, thus making them more marketable in the workplace.”

If you were to walk into the office of any one of the sport business faculty members and ask them what the biggest takeaway is for a sport business major’s future, they would say one word: networking.

Mount Union’s sport business program is one of the most successful programs in the nation when it comes to alumni connections. There are currently more than a dozen Mount Union alumni who hold management-level or higher positions with professional sports teams. All of those alumni have attended the Sport Sales Workshop and Job Fair (SSWJF) as either students or trainers; some have even attended as both.

The SSWJF is in its 12th year and is organized by Kadlecek with the help of the Cavaliers organization, as the host site is Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The purpose of the SSWJF is to connect students with professionals in the sport business world. The 2016 event featured representatives from more than 40 professional organizations and had more than 100 students in attendance from institutions across the country.

Much of the day-long event consists of the professionals giving students special training sessions. Job and internship interviews take place during the day for the upperclass students, potentially helping those students obtain positions within the field immediately after graduation.

Mike Dellosa ’07, director of season ticket sales and inside sales for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has attended the event as both a student and a trainer.

“It’s not just the quantity of students that attend, it’s the quality. Both seem to get better every year,” he said.

The program also offers annual trips to the Robert Morris University Conference to help network with other members of the sport world. In addition, Kadlecek takes a small group of students each year to New York City to tour the NBA, NHL and New York Yankees executive offices, as well as Madison Square Garden. While in New York City, the groups have connected with Ed Kiernan ’96, president and founding partner of Engine Shop Agency, a sport marketing agency headquartered in New York City.

Other trips organized include Braa’s student trip to the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she worked for five years, and a behind-the-scenes trip to the athletic and recreational facilities at The Ohio State University, hosted by Mount Union alumni Rob Jech ’01 and Joel Swaney ’11.

Mount Union faculty, staff and students travel far and wide to help bolster success for all students, and the sport business program does a great job of bringing impactful alumni back to campus with a speaker series each year. Experienced alumni in diverse fields as well as recent graduates who have taken their first steps to meaningful careers come to campus to talk to students about best practices to succeed and reach their goals.

During the 2016 Spring Semester, the program presented talks from the likes of Brent Stehlik ’99, chief revenue officer and executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns; Todd Fleming ’00, vice president and general manager of Legends Global Sales; and Jennifer Keurulainen ’03, former vice president of sport for The Special Olympics World Games. Industry experts are a resource students can use for future career advice.

“I still get daily emails informing me about available internships or job opportunities in my field from the sport business faculty,” said Heilman. “My professors have given me guidance to get ahead of the game. Mount Union has also provided many leadership opportunities on campus that I have taken advantage of, preparing me to be a leader in the future.”

When asked about the direction of the program moving forward, Thoma is optimistic about the faculty’s ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape.

“[My hope is] that the faculty continue to learn from industry professionals about what we need to do in order to prepare our students to excel in their chosen profession, be it sport related or not,” he said.

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