RICHMOND, Va.–While most VCU students were catching ZZZ’s on the first day of fall break, CSL students and staff were catching a 6 a.m. bus to Charlotte, N.C., ready to experience many of the sporting opportunities the Queen City has to offer.
The first stop on the tour was Charlotte Motor Speedway where the group met with Michael Burch, Vice President of National Sales and Marketing for Speedway Motorsports, Inc (SMI). Burch, an adjunct professor for the distance learning CSL program, spoke to the importance of being a salesperson for your product and building strong relationships with sponsors and partners. After the discussion session with Burch, students and staff took a driving tour of the speedway grounds. They had the opportunity to see the zMax Dragway, dirt track, and the winner’s circle before taking to the track to experience the turns for themselves.
After experiencing the exhilaration of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the CSL was on its way to the US National Whitewater Center to meet with Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Shelton. The US National Whitewater Center is an outdoor recreation and environmental education center that boasts man-made rapids, rock-climbing, zip lines, a canopy tour and numerous trails. Mr. Shelton gave the group a behind-the-scenes look at operating and marketing efforts, highlighting pricing strategies and specialty promotions that work well for the Whitewater Center. The group capitalized on their visit as many students and staff chose to experience whitewater rafting, many for the first time. David Theby, a dual-degree student in the CSL/MBA program, said “it was a great experience to share the adrenaline rush of being on the rapids with your classmates and use it as a teambuilding experience going forward.” Day one of the trip ended on a high (yet incredibly wet) note, prepping the group for an exciting second day of travel.
Day two dawned early, kicking off with a trip to Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers. Students and staff were greeted by Danny Morrison, President of the Panthers, Henry Thomas, Director of Broadcasting & New Media, and Dan LaTorraca, New Media Manager. The Panthers staff advised that gaining experience, building relationships, and gaining marketable skills are all key components to being successful in the sports industry. As a part of the day, the CSL also consulted on the Panthers’ new mobile application, giving insightful feedback on how to improve the app before it fully launches to the public.
Next stop was just across town at Time Warner Cable Arena, where students and staff met with CSL alumni to tour the facility and discuss the operations of the Charlotte Bobcats. Trista Langdon (’04), Director of Arena & Event Operations, and Alan Wheeling (’09), Account Manager for Premium Services of Bobcats Sports & Entertainment, took turns discussing their day-to-day roles for the Bobcats as well as some of the difficulties currently facing the industry. Ben Snyder, a first year dual-degree student, thought it was a great chance “to get insight into ticket sales at a professional level, knowing that he [Alan] was in our seats two years ago.”
After a quick break for lunch, the group boarded the bus for their final destination in the Queen City–the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. First on the agenda was a meeting with Judy Rose, Director of Athletics for the Charlotte 49ers, who, at the time she was named AD at Charlotte (1990), was just the third female athletic director at the Division I level. Rose gave valuable insight into her experiences as a female in the sports industry, emphasizing that a title does not automatically impart respect. Respect must be earned, particularly as a woman, and can be done by being honest, having integrity, and getting involved.
Bringing a close to the trip was the Alumni Panel, where seven former CSL students gathered to answer questions and provide guidance to the current cohort. The panel fielded several questions about the industry and their journeys since graduate school, proving to be a great source of information for the students. At the close of the panel, all of the alumni were happy to meet with students one-on-one to answer questions and connect on a professional level.
The trip as a whole was a vast learning experience for the Center for Sport Leadership. Charlotte provided opportunities to tour top sporting facilities, speak with key sports professionals and connect classroom concepts with real world applications.
By: Devon Howard, CSL Class of 2012