There are moments in our lives that can alter our careers. Sometimes it's by chance bumping onto someone on a plane, at a conference or perhaps it's a friend of a friend. But I am really certain that100% of the time, it's because we made a decision to show up.
As the career development mentor for our sport management students I was asked to chaperone a group of students to Orlando for the 2019 ProBowl. I was going to make certain that we not only showed up to work the ProBowl Experience, but I was going to jam pack their schedule from morning to night and make this trip as close to what I experienced in 27+ years of running events for the NFL and the Walt Disney Company. Essentially my worlds were colliding to one big perfect storm.
Pre dawn flights are always rough, now add in unexpected extra long security lines caused by disgruntle TSA agents who haven't been paid in a month and oh yea it just happens to -9 degrees outside. Welcome to the sports industry, expect the unexpected.
After we landed in the land of warm sunshine in swaying palm trees, a quick tram ride and welcome from Orlando's Mayor Buddy, we headed off to our rental, piled in, rolled down the windows and set off on our adventure.
Before we made our first stop, I wanted to spend time with the group before it gets hectic to get to know them more, have our first meal together, set my expectations for the week and frankly hear what their expectations and goals were for the trip. Plus we were all starving!
Day 1: First Stop Orlando City SC
Our host, Cheif Revenue Officer, Chris Gallagher could not have been a more gracious host with his time, tips and practical advice on breaking into the industry. "What the University of New Haven has provided you guys on this trip, is unique and so valuable to your career growth having exposure to teams, facilities, executives and seeing first hand all the opportunities within a pro sports organization. I think that is amazing". Asked about his style when managing young sales professionals. "I don't believe there is one way of selling, the old days of 100 calls just doesn't work anymore. A young sales professional has to be able to use a mix of cold calls, emails, social selling and face to face networking at events". He explained. "Guys the numbers don't lie, either you can sell or not, it's rather simple".
Day 1: Second Stop Orlando Magic & Amway Center
Our wonderful behind the scene tour of the Amway Center and Magic operations, was lead by the talented and sports industry rising star, Manager of Business Initiatives Kayla Chesanek. The students were able to get a sense of running an NBA team out of a county owned and operated facility. Understanding what the business structure is like for a team tenant having to share assets, inventory / hospitality space and event dates with other teams. Totally different dynamic and business model coming from the Orlando City who own and operate their facility. But not without it's challenges. "Being in a building that you have to share space, not always having full access on non game nights, can be challenging at times but we seem to make it work." Says Kayla "We continue to look at ways to monetize spaces not just in the arena but within our neighborhood. Because there is so many entertainment options in the Orlando area, we have to constantly look at ways to make the overall experience of attending our game memorable".
Exploring one of the Magic VIP hospitality spaces and the future "Orlando Live" expansion.
Day 2: ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World
ProBowl Experience, Mascot Gets Crushed & Disney Springs
Guest Engagement and Data Capture. In order to participate in any of the Skills stations or get your picture taken, each participate had to download the ProBowl app and opt in. The opt served as a participation waiver, media waiver for use of your picture as well as captured emails and cell phones.
The "Come on Man" award goes to Dad NOT letting his 3 year old win in the 40 Yard Dash
Students attended the Live taping of the NFL Shills Challenge on ESPN. Watched how Live TV programming is produced in a format other than a game which other than time outs, doesn't stop. This delayed broadcasted event took 4+ hours to get 1 hour of footage. Plus the controversial hit on the Patriots mascot.
Day 2 End of the day
Disney Springs for dinner, shopping and sightseeing.
Day 3: ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World
Pro Bowl Experience, NBC Golf Channel & Seafood Buffett
Students worked a second full day at the The ProBowl Experience event. The event is free and open to the general public. An estimated 20,000+ fans per day attended the 4 day event.
Day 3 Afternoon stop NBC Golf Channel
A visit to the NBC Golf Channel was courtesy of Programming Coordinator, Kevin Van Dyk a 2018 alumni of the University of New Haven sport management program. Kevin shared with our group, some of which former classmates, how he landed at the Golf Channel in Orlando. "I did my internship at NBC Sports in Stanford, Connecticut and once I got my foot in the door I had access to other opportunities in the company. When this opportunity presented itself, I just said yes". He explained further "I was focused on going into facility operations with a team, or at least that is what I thought, programming was not on my radar. But I love it, It goes to show you that there are hundreds of doors to walk through in this industry. Even though the one you think you want right now may not open, just say yes to the one that opens and figure it out from there".
Watching behind the scene live broadcast production taking place.
On set at Golf Central.
Advice and plenty of stories from a legend "Kenny" our studio guide for the afternoon. Kenny shared his stories of a 25+ career and the rich history of the Golf Channel. He was hired before the first broadcast and spent the majority of his career as an in studio cameraman and later on production director. A real industry character who certainly had the students laughing with an endless supply of dad jokes. We asked him if he was passionate about golf before he started work there. "Not really, I am not a golfer, but I am really passionate about the people and the product." His advice to the students. "Just figure out what you like doing first and if you are good at it and stay positive. Heck I even joke and go into the on-air talents hair and makeup studio and the only thing the girls ask me is if I want paper or plastic. I still don't think they believe I'm actually retired because I keep showing up!"
Day 3: Dinner With Charger Football Alum Jeff Hazell
Jeff shared his story with the students of how he build his career and business coming out of the Disney College Internship Program. How he started the largest New England seafood distributors in the state of Florida along with the legendary Boston Lobster Feast restaurants in Orlando and Kissimmee.
Day 4: NFL ProBowl Experience at Walt Disney World
NFL FLAG Championships, Player Practice & Flight Delays
USA FOOTBALL hosts the 25th NFL FLAG National Championships
Students attended the ProBowl Player practices were able to engage with players and get autographs. More importantly was for the students to see first hand how the NFL used this opportunity in a family friendly setting to open up access to everyone for free and provide added goodwill value to fans with over 40 hours of one on one consumer activation opportunities for partners.
Despite a slight panic from the students when the original flight got delayed for 12 hours because of TSA and air-traffic control shortages, we quickly changed planes and rerouted to Tampa for an earlier departure time, a quick bite and a great ending to a very busy and educational trip. Expect the unexpected, take a deep breath, be flexible, figure out solutions and change plans without panicking. This was the students final trip lesson.
Until Next Time...See ya real soon!
Let us know your your thoughts on your industry immersion experiences.