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Stepping up to the plate
Sports Administration students compete for jobs

June 12, 2007
By Tom Bosco

This week, 30 students and graduates of the Ohio University sports administration program are picking up tips from a legendary sales coach. And a group of them might end the week with an extra bonus: a job with a professional sports team.

At the first Ohio University Sports Sales Academy, participants are getting sales training from Jon Spoelstra, president of Mandalay Sports Entertainment Teams Division. Spoelstra also has served as president and chief operating officer of the New Jersey Nets of the NBA and senior vice president and general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers. 

As president of the Nets, Spoelstra was able to dramatically increase ticket and sponsorship sales, establish the Nets all-time attendance record and increase sellouts at Meadowlands Arena from zero to 25. He also has authored several critically acclaimed books, including "Marketing Outrageously" and "Ice to Eskimos: How to Market a Product Nobody Wants."

This week's academy is a partnership between Ohio University and Mandalay, owner of seven minor league baseball teams. Jim Kahler, executive director of Ohio University's Center for Sports Administration, said the idea for the academy came after brainstorming with a Mandalay executive he collaborated with in his previous role as senior vice president of sales and marketing for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.

"We said, 'What if we could put an academy together where we take the same sales training that we give our employees, target 30 people and at the end of the week offer 10 of them full-time jobs?'" Kahler said.

Participants include recent Ohio University grads, a handful of current juniors and three University of Cincinnati athletics department employees. Students had to compete to participate by submitting their resume and a 500-word essay. 

On Friday, academy participants will take part in a career fair in which 10 to 12 of the 30 participants will be offered sales positions with teams such as baseball's Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals, the Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers or with the seven minor league teams owned by Mandalay. The company owns the Dayton Dragons, Frisco Roughriders, Las Vegas 51's, Erie SeaWolves, Hagerstown Suns, Staten Island Yankees and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Kahler said creation of the academy is partly a response to what industry executives frequently tell him they expect from graduating students in sports administration.

"If you can teach students one thing, teach them how to sell," Kahler said he often hears. 

He said the focus on sales is critically important in the sports administration industry, which lives and dies by ticket sales. In fact, the Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre at Ohio University, which offers sales training to students of any major, has added a sales certificate with a sports management focus.

"I think what OU has done with the Sales Centre and the sales certificate is catching the attention of a lot of sports teams," Kahler said.

Ohio University's sports administration program, one of the first and most prominent in the nation, has produced 30 college athletic directors, four commissioners of NCAA conferences, three team presidents in major professional sports and 18 senior vice presidents and vice presidents in major pro sports.

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