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See how Spartans make an impact in the sports industry

By Chelsea Stein
Monday, September 18, 2023

“The sports business management minor at Michigan State University gives students a realistic view of what the sports industry is all about. You may be a sports fan, but the industry is a business that demands people with a serious passion for their discipline equipped with a foundation in sports who will apply that passion to make the organization or team even more successful.”

That’s Elliott Daniels, fixed-term faculty in the Broad College’s Department of Management. He’s the lead faculty member for the sports business management minor at MSU, which is housed in the Broad College. The minor is highly selective, admitting only about 40 students per cohort, and provides them with the academic foundation and practical experience to pursue careers in college athletics, professional sports and the sports business industry.

Since the minor launched in 2016, it has maintained a strong business focus to give students the tools to succeed. As a former athlete and with experience working in college athletics, Daniels identified the need for this type of program and immediately got to work on it.

“I was invited to guest lecture for labor management relations by Eileen Wilson and the department was in the midst of a redesign,” he said. “We did benchmarking and research on other programs in the area and, at the time, no other [sports business management] programs were housed in a business college. After talking with other professionals from businesses, agencies and athletics, we knew that the sports industry was also a business — roughly a $500 billion industry in the United States — and the demand was there for graduates who knew both the business side and sports.”

Since the minor launched in 2016, it has maintained a strong business focus to give students the tools to succeed.

Today, the minor continues to offer a unique value proposition for Spartans across campus. Since its inception, the minor has been open to all students and incorporates learning aspects from the Broad College and well as the Colleges of Education, Social Science and Communication Arts and Sciences.

The program also offers focus areas — which is uncommon for a minor  to help students deepen their understanding of each area: customers and sales; media and branding; planning, operations and strategy; sports and society; and special topics, which has recently included women leaders in sports and sports entertainment and public relations.

From the outset, the minor has also had a strong people focus, not only to train students to understand the business side of the industry but also to help them gain knowledge and skills to manage people in sports organizations. The minor’s advisory board keeps the program grounded in what it takes to succeed in the competitive realm of sports business. The board is a diverse group of leaders from professional sports teams, college athletics, agencies, media companies, human resources, sponsors and more. The board helps shape the educational experience by relaying what the industry needs now and in the future.

“Our 17 board members know from experience what it takes to succeed,” Kent Miller, chairperson of the Department of Management, said. “They advised us when we updated the curriculum and told us what students needed to know. They open doors for our students to network, intern and begin careers in the sports industry.”

Spartans bring their A game

To date, 182 Spartans have graduated with the sports business management minor, well prepared to succeed in various roles in the sports industry. One element of the program that helps students gain experience and grow their network is a required internship. Students have worked with local pro teams like the Detroit Lions or Tigers, while others have ventured to work with the Chicago Bears or the Miami Dolphins. Students have also worked with well-known companies like Nike and Adidas, as well as Fox and NBC Sports.

For Stephanie Pajot (B.A. Advertising Management ’19), her internships with Fox Sports and the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Las Vegas helped her connect the dots for her career goals and passions.

“As an athlete, I knew sports and loved sports, but the minor helped me realize that sports is a universal language,” she said. Pajot threw hammer for MSU’s track and field team and is now an activation manager for corporate partnerships with the Detroit Red Wings. “The program helped me think about my ‘why,’ and without that I wouldn’t have made the right decisions to get where I am now.”

In her role today, Pajot works with 15 corporate partners and manages each of their marketing assets during a game. One of her favorite aspects has been getting to travel with the team, attend games and bring her professional acumen to garner a trusted reputation and connection with Steve Yzerman, executive vice president and general manager of the Red Wings and former pro player.

Similarly, Collin Haggerty (B.A. Marketing ’19) is a partnership engagement coordinator with the Detroit Pistons, helping to grow relationships with partners through sponsorable assets. He says a highlight of his career thus far has been making an impact on the local community.

“In 2022, the Pistons partnered with Kroger, the presenting partner of Season of Giving, to give back to Detroit Public Schools and community members throughout the holiday season,” he said. “The Pistons players and employees all volunteered together to give over 3,000 winter coats and other essential items to five Detroit schools. I had the privilege to help plan and orchestrate the events that accomplished giving back to the community through the power of partnerships.”

Julie Hopp (B.A. Kinesiology ’20) works on the agency side in partner management and activation for Intersport. She understands client goals to execute ideas and bring them to life within college basketball properties, specifically through NIL partnerships and experiential marketing. Her experiences in college helped her connect with others and find her pathway.

“I was able to really build a good foundation while at MSU,” she said. “I worked with the ticketing team, so I interacted with players and families, I worked in Jenison with coaches and administrative employees, and I also had an internship in the event management space. I got to see every different aspect of an event, and all of these [experiences] helped me prepare for my current role. I can understand the bigger picture and how different roles interact, and that makes me more agile in the industry.”

On the media side, Taylor Washington (B.A. Marketing ’20) works as an account services rep with NBC Universal, ensuring that advertisers’ commercials run during news, entertainment, lifestyle and sports programming. Her main account is Progressive, which is a top-five, high-profile account within the company, and is solely her responsibility. She says her time at MSU and in the minor helps her bring her A game.

“My work with Progressive requires soft skills like being detail-oriented, being able to over-communicate and ask the right questions,” she said. “With the minor and my major in marketing, these were skills I was taught at MSU. I’ve been able to adapt and handle challenges in a professional manner, and I’ve built rapport and a good relationship with my client, which is an accomplishment for myself because they trust me.”

For each of these alumni, having the chance to pay it forward and share their knowledge with others has been a rewarding experience, too. Pajot and Haggerty each mentioned how they mentor others and uplift those around them, while Hopp has embraced partnership in her career. And Washington has used her personal social media accounts to create videos with advice for others to land jobs and internships in the sports industry.

A winning opportunity for students across MSU

Many students who pursue the minor have grown up playing sports and have stayed connected to athletics while studying at MSU. The program helps them find a pathway to a profession that blends their unique interests and skills.

“I grew up playing sports and knew I wanted to stay involved in athletics in some capacity,” Anna Malmquist said. She’s a senior double majoring in marketing and human capital and society and double minoring in sports business management and leadership of organizations. “After deciding against my original plan to become a physical therapist, I found out about the sports business management minor and immediately wanted to pursue it. I knew Broad was highly competitive and would provide me with a great foundation.”

Echoing the positive reflections from many alumni, Malmquist noted Daniels’ mentorship and support as an integral part of her time in the program thus far.

“Having Professor Daniels in my corner as a mentor, resource in the industry and professor has been an integral part in my development and, really, just in making my experience as a student at this university so great.”

For Daniels, his motivation comes from wanting to provide students with winning opportunities.

“Offering this program as a minor is a competitive advantage,” he said. “Students have it all right here in terms of internships, learning, volunteer and engagement opportunities. Everything lends them opportunities to get the experience they need to be leaders in this space, allowing students to master their major while supplementing the sports business foundation through the minor.”

Students have it all right here in terms of internships, learning, volunteer and engagement opportunities. Everything lends them opportunities to get the experience they need to be leaders in this space, allowing students to master their major while supplementing the sports business foundation through the minor.
Elliott Daniels

As for advice for budding leaders and prospective students, alumni emphasized tapping into all that MSU has to offer so that you can chase your passions.

“Use the resources at MSU,” Hopp said. “Jump into college athletics because it’s right there on campus and a great way to navigate all the things you’re learning.”

“Understand that you’re in great position right now,” Washington added. “I’m 100% biased, but you’re at the best school in the world. For new Spartans, your whole life is about to change. Take advantage of every opportunity and enjoy your four years and make the most out of them because they can set you for life.”

Pajot noted, “I went to class and worked and had fun too, but I did all of that thinking the rest of my life is going to be amazing. I want to be so equipped to live the best days of my life ahead. Keep that in perspective, work hard and set yourself up for a wonderful life.”

And Haggerty urged Spartans to do what they love. “I’ve found there is a lot more satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from doing something you are passionate about,” he said. “This makes the ‘work’ part come naturally when someone is dedicated to their passions.”

With programs like the sports business management minor — and unwavering support from faculty, staff and alumni — Spartans are making an impact in the sports industry and inspiring the future of business.

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