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Oklahoma State sports management students visit the Fiesta Bowl headquarters in Phoenix.

Sports Management students benefit from Phoenix trip

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

PHOENIX, Ariz. ­– Ashley Austin strode into the conference room inside Chase Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks, and immediately recognized her future.

Highlighted within a glass case was the uniform jersey of the Kane County Cougars, the Class A minor league affiliate of the Diamondbacks located in Geneva, Ill., where Austin, an Oklahoma State University senior, will spend the summer as an intern with the Cougars.

The moment, however, was a surprise for Austin, who wasn’t there to talk about her near future with the Cougars, but her ultimate future, joining 19 other OSU students on a spring break study trip for sports management credit with Spears School of Business professor Bryan Finch.

Over the course of five days in the Phoenix area, the group met with a number of professionals in the sports management field, learning the many avenues into the workforce, touring facilities and discovering a variety of potential jobs that fit under the sports umbrella.

The spring break trip wasn’t all business, with each day offering seats in the stands at games involving teams from the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

“I think there was a great balance of fun and being serious on the trip,” said Zoe Randall, who is majoring in sports management and marketing at OSU, “because during the meetings with the different directors and representatives of the sports team, everyone took it seriously and asked lots of questions to gain a better understanding of what that person does and about working in sports in general.

“Also, there were fun times at the sporting events we got to go to, and just getting to know everyone on the trip.”

Gila River Arena
OSU sports management students listen to a representative of the Gila River Arena, home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes.

The itinerary was full, with the students on the go early every day, trekking across the Phoenix area in two large passenger vans bound for discoveries about the business of sports.

A visit to golf giant Ping revealed the company’s modest beginning through founder Karsten Solheim – a major donor and supporter of OSU golf and the name behind Karsten Creek – through its growth into an industry leader.

The students toured Ping’s expansive facilities, as well as Gila River Arena (home to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes), University of Phoenix Stadium (NFL’s Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl) and Chase Field (MLB’s Diamondbacks). They met with representatives all along the way, adding sit-down conversations at the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Fiesta Bowl headquarters in Scottsdale.

“My biggest goal is to have the students gain a greater understanding of how diverse sports really are, from professional to collegiate to amateur to manufacturing,” Finch said. “I also want them to see how connected sports are inside of the community – fans, youth clinics, volunteers for the Fiesta Bowl, running events through town, etc.”

The message was delivered, and well received, with the students tuned in closely to all the advice and tips offered.

“The best piece of advice that I received was from Matt [what’s his last name, and title] with the Arizona Diamondbacks,” said Cordell Jackson, another sports management major on the trip. “He said just being able to talk to someone and carry on a meaningful conversation is the biggest attribute to have when looking for a job or when trying to climb the ladder.

“This advice really sets will with me because I already have a job where I interact with customers every day, and that will help me continually grow as a communicator and as a person.”

For Randall, she valued a bit of advice offered by Scott Leightman, senior director of communications for the Fiesta Bowl.

“He said to always be thinking about where you want to be two years from now and to be doing things right now to the quality of that goal,” Randall said.

The trip is part of a course led by Finch that requires a project presentation, followed by a paper – all good for three credit hours. So the benefits are many, beginning with the knowledge gained from an inside look at the profession and the networking, to the class credit, to the fun and games.

“I enjoy getting to know the students in a deeper way,” Finch said. “Being together outside of the classroom lets us share our personalities, stories, and experiences in more depth. I also enjoy seeing the students get a behind-the-scenes view of how the sports business operates.”

Said Jackson, “My favorite part of the trip was meeting other students that are as passionate and interested in sports as I am, and being able to build those relationships in a very relaxed environment like Arizona. Because you never know where one of my fellow peers might end up. And having this network will allow me to further my career and maybe some day work with a close friend.”

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