The very first ball game Chris Taylor worked during his internship with the minor league Memphis Redbirds left him a bit “shell-shocked.” Trot Nixon stood nearby. Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Bud Selig passed him in the hall. His inaugural day turned out to be the day of a national MLB event to commemorate the civil rights movement. Taylor’s first minor league experience became his first major league experience as the St. Louis Cardinals took on the Cleveland Indians at the Redbirds’ field in Memphis. The field where civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
After being awed to see professional athletes warming up nearby, Taylor only got to see about two pitches of the actual game because he was busy running around getting folks what they needed. Welcome to the world of sports management internships.
When Steve Sands ’11 interned last spring with the Washington Redskins, he quickly went to work on projects for Draft Day, a headliner recruitment event. He also attended key meetings to plan the event, giving him the behind-the-scenes look at operations. On the actual day, he led tours of the 92,000-seat Redskins stadium, one of the biggest in the NFL. The tours are designed to impress guests by showcasing prominent areas like the coveted “owner’s box.” He also supported sales booths by fetching supplies and tracking people down.
“I felt pretty lucky to get the experience,” Sands says. “But I had to remain professional; I couldn’t act like a fan, which was trying at times. I had to stand beside players while they were giving autographs.” He also had to remain pretty tightlipped – Sands signed a confidentiality statement saying nothing could be disclosed from the business meetings.
Sands applied to the Redskins after finding an online posting for the sports marketing and public relations opportunity. Soon he was on a plane headed for Washington, D.C. He found an apartment nearby and got settled in for a semester immersed in the business side of professional sports.
More than 30 students are currently enrolled in sports management studying everything from sports marketing, sports law, sports and society, to facilities management and event planning under the tutelage of department chair Dr. Sue Kelly. Professor Lisa Ahearn provides oversight of the program and works one on one with all students in the major. An internship is not required, but most students take advantage of the opportunity for 180 hours of real world experience.
“A lot of students ask ‘What if I find an opportunity that’s far away?’” says Ahearn. “I tell them that we’ll make it work. If it fits with your career aspirations, we’ll make it happen.”
The sports management program helped to secure Taylor a permanent position in New Orleans at Zephyr Field, a 14,000-seat arena that stayed dry enough to serve as a FEMA and National Guard staging area during Hurricane Katrina.
This spring Taylor is busy in the operations department with the Zephyrs, a minor-league ball club. Aside from sporting events, the facility also hosts concerts and other events. This kind of unique, multiuse facility keeps Taylor working overtime.
Taylor’s journey began in April 2006 when he interned in Boston near his hometown of Hingham, Mass. (Taylor decided on St. Joe’s because his sister was enrolled before him; now his younger brother calls SJC home, too. “For the past 13 years there’s been a Taylor at St. Joe’s,” he says.)
As a student, Taylor ate a steady diet of sports-related experience and logged many miles across the country. In January 2007, he interned with the Memphis Redbirds, a minor-league baseball team. The following year he did a stint with facility operations at a stadium in Albuquerque, N.M.
Professor Ahearn helped Taylor cement his current career with the Zephyrs. In hindsight he says he owes St. Joe’s a lot of credit. “They know what they’re doing; it’s a program that hasn’t reached its full potential yet,” he says. Taylor was offered the job in March of 2008, two months before graduation and with the help of Ahearn and other faculty members, he was able to accept the position.
Andrew Kaherl ’11 is currently knee-deep in the program, interning locally with Portland Pirates hockey in game operations, where he supports ticket sales. With a passion for hockey, the Maine native from Jay, Maine, ultimately has goals in the fast-paced world of the NHL. In early winter, the Pirates and Cumberland County Civic Center hosted hockey’s AHL All-Star Game, a night that took eight months to plan and one that left a distinct impression on Kaherl because he got behind the scenes.
“Folks from New England Sports Network were there broadcasting,” he recalls. “I had to set up the room where the players’ wives watch the game.” At the more typical hockey events, Kaherl will do everything from throwing T-shirts into the crowd to picking up players at the airport.
The Portland area is a good example of how the sports field is growing. A new professional basketball team, the Red Claws, is in its first season here, and St. Joe’s has already built a relationship with them. Ahearn wanted to integrate the real world into the sports marketing class, so she had her class team up with the Red Claws, along with Nick Mirabello ’03, coordinator of student development, and Kristen Jewett ’05, director of alumni and parent relations, to provide the St. Joe’s community a night of fun and basketball. The class helped to coordinate ticket sales (to more than 250 people), game promotions and community service events. Before the game, co-owner and general manager of the Red Claws, Jon Jennings, spent 30 minutes with the sports marketing class discussing the business aspect of bringing the team to Portland. Ahearn states, “It has been a wonderful experience for the class to see a project from start to finish. It provides an insight into the dynamic nature of sports marketing and event planning.”