Day 2: NASCAR, UCLA, Mandalay, Hollywood

By Louise Chouinard, Gabriella Rusk and Keith Bremer

NASCAR

Our first stop today was at NASCAR to meet with Phil Metz. Mr. Metz graduated from IMG_1128Syracuse in 1998 and has been with NASCAR’s Los Angeles office since 2003. In his position as Director of Entertainment Marketing and Music, he said his goal, and the goal of the entire NASCAR entertainment division, is to “put NASCAR in the mainstream, pop culture media.” His office also helps partner with production companies to make movies like Talladega Nights and Cars. He said Cars benefitted NASCAR by attracting a younger demographic, while Talladega Nights allowed NASCAR to be comfortable in their own skin, celebrate how far they’ve come and target millennials. Mr. Metz said that every company is trying to get younger.

Music is one way that NASCAR attracts a younger audience. Bringing a younger artist, like Austin Mahone, to perform a concert before a race may not appeal 100% to their avid fans, but appeals to young girls, can help them grow their fan base. The NASCAR entertainment division is also responsible for getting celebrities involved in the races. They’ve had celebrities attend as honorary pace drivers, marshals, performers and guests. Inviting celebrities to these events gives NASCAR the opportunity for earned media. For instance, IMG_1124Gerald Butler served as the grand marshal at the Indy 500 and this was shared by a very large number of entertainment publications. He also discussed being a grand marshal on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and they compared grand marshal skills. When celebrities come to the tracks photos will be taken and published in tabloids and the celebrities themselves will share their experiences on social media. NASCAR therefore gets promoted across a large variety of entertainment platforms without having to spend a dime.

He said the biggest struggle NASCAR faces is that there are no home teams. The tracks are the closest there is. When you are born in New York City, you will naturally be raised as a Yankees fan or a Knicks fan. With NASCAR, people aren’t automatically tied to a player based on their geography so NASCAR has to work a little harder to get fans to attach themselves to the drivers. But, he added that the drivers are NASCAR’s greatest assets. People are drawn to characters with great stories and NASCAR fans can easily attach themselves to a single driver. Once they find a driver they like, that driver’s personality and unique quirks can keep the fan IMG_1121interested in and rooting for a driver for many seasons. This attachment to a single driver makes NASCAR fans #1 in brand loyalty of all the major sports and 85% of NASCAR fans say its important to be aware of sponsor. 53% say they will participate in sponsorship sweepstakes. Fans have a personal connection with the individual drivers so they want to do anything to support this one driver. The brands “make the cars go faster,” so by supporting a brand, the fan is supporting their driver. NASCAR fans are also more likely to purchase brands sponsored by their drivers than team sport fans.

Mr. Metz said he’s stayed with NASCAR for so long because the company is very entrepreneurial and allows him to combine his passion for music and sports. He also sees the fruits of his labors. He said at jobs in the past, he’s been given assignments that just felt like busy work and no real product or achievement would result from his work. At NASCAR, it took him four months to organize getting Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill to be grand marshals at Pocono Grand, but when he saw the fruits of his labor, it made all the hard work worth it. He said NASCAR also encourages him to be aggressive and to push the envelope.

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One piece of career advice that he gave us repeatedly was for us to not be too hard on ourselves. He was laid off three times early in his career and said if he let that get to him, he’d never be where he is today. He also reminded us to keep learning and asking questions because “what is fact yesterday is fiction tomorrow.” He also stressed the importance of personal relationships in the sports industry and reminded us to be humble when our career is going well because you never know when your career may suffer and you’ll need help from others.

UCLA

Syracuse Athletics proudly boasts about its 28 National Championships, especially with the recent Cross Country and Field Hockey titles this year.

UCLA Athletics has won a total of 113 national championships.

IMG_8603.jpgOf those 113, eight belong to Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden began his career at UCLA in 1948, coaching basketball in the Men’s Gym. Our tour started in this gymnasium which is currently called the Student Activities Center and is the equivalent to SU’s Archbold Gymnasium: used for intramural games, club team practices, ROTC center, and other student group use. During the Wooden era, the Men’s Gym was home to not only men’s basketball home court and practice facility, but also a shared space for all of UCLA Athletics. This meant men’s basketball practiced right alongside women’s gymnastics. Alongside the wall is the original Coach Wooden Chalkboard, framed so as to keep it safe from damage. Here Coach Wooden would draw up plays for the team to run in practices. A far cry from today’s world of college basketball where assistant coaches hold small white boards and expo markers on the court in between plays. In fact, Coach Wooden himself would often be found mopping up the powder off the court left behind from the gymnastics practice. To add to its charm, the nickname for the Men’s Gym was the “BO Barn” because it had no air conditioning and smelled awful. It’s hard to believe that Coach Wooden went from practices and home games in a stinky, smelly, shared gymnasium to the beautiful and spacious Pauley Pavilion.

The Pauley Pavilion was built in 1965, seventeen years after Coach Wooden arrived to UCLA. The draw of UCLA basketball became so high that the crowds in the Men’s Gym were declared unsafe by a fire marshal. Thus, the Bruins basketball team traveled all across Los Angeles for spaces to play while the Pauley Pavilion was being built. The 1964 and 1965 NCAA championships, the first two for Men’s basketball, were won in the LA Sports Arena.

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November 27, 1965 marked the first game for UCLA, against itself inside the Pauley Pavilion. The varsity UCLA two-time defending national title champions lost to a star-studded freshman team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 75-60. This would only give rise to the success UCLA would have in the next few years.

IMG_8604.JPGWe had the opportunity to tour the renovated Pauley Pavilion and see the “Legends” walls, where Volleyball, Gymnastics, and Basketball greats line the walls. In addition, three display cases line the walls in homage to Coach Wooden the teacher, the coach, and the legend. Filled with memorabilia from his time as all three of these roles, there’s no question about the impact one man had on school athletics.

IMG_8593.jpgWith all this history of Men’s Basketball, it’s easy to see just how influential Coach John Wooden is on the school even to this day. T-shirts with his “Pyramid of Success” are sold in the bookstore, a statue of him stands outside the entrance to Pauley Pavilion, and his old office remains intact inside the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame. Coach Wooden put UCLA basketball on the map for the rest of sports history with eight NCAA titles (seven in a row), 88 straight game winning streak, and a record in Pauley Pavilion of 149-2.

Our group had the opportunity to listen to one man speak about his special relationship with John Wooden, former player Andy Hill. Under Coach Wooden, Hill won three national championships, while “sitting the bench”. After a rocky player-coach relationship, Hill and Wooden eventually reconnected after 25 years and became life-long friends, publishing a book together Be Quick – But Don’t Hurry. Today, Hill works as a Top Executive Coach for Fox Sports and a motivational speaker. He gave us some great pieces of advice:

  • Being right is overrated. Don’t think that’s what it’s all about because no one likes a wise guy.
  • Don’t take it personally. Take input and show people how you can take that input to make yourself better.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long, long race. You need to find balance in your life.

Andy Hill advocates for all of us to be our own coach and to self-reinforce constantly. That’s his key to success.

Prior to Hill speaking, we had the privilege of hearing from two Syracuse alumni who now work for UCLA. The first was Rayna Linowes, a 2013 SU grad who is an Assistant Director. As a recent SU grad, she advised us to remember that personal relationships will get you very far. In fact, that was how she got her foot in the door at UCLA. She went on the SULA Immersion trip herself and kept in contact with Bill Bennet from UCLA who helped her get an interview for a marketing position. From there, all of her experience at Syracuse paid off and she was qualified for the position. While taking the leap 3,000 miles across the country is scary, Linowes explained that it’s important to “become comfortable with being uncomfortable” and be the new kid on the block now and then. Her last words of advice were very helpful to the seniors on the trip. While on the job hunt, she says it’s important to research how a company or organization works and operates. By doing this, you can ask questions in your interview that will help you stand out and will allow you to cater your abilities to what the everyday needs of that company are.

Lastly, Bill Roth, SU Alum and UCLA Football and Men’s Basketball play-by-play announcer spoke to us. He came to California after spending 27 years with Virginia Tech as its main play-by-play announcer. He was drawn to the prowess of the UCLA Athletics department and the staple it has had for so long. An interesting fact he mentioned: Out of the history of the Olympic gold medals, the US ranks first, followed by Russia. UCLA ranks 5th overall in terms of medals earned. As broadcaster, he described sports broadcasting to be a mixture of journalism and show business, explaining that the story-telling elements of what happened in the game are journalistic, but everything else has a dramatic element to it. Roth feels that the way a broadcaster handles himself off the air is what makes him a good broadcaster on the air. Because of this, he tries to build a positive relationship with the UCLA Athletics staff, players, and coaches. Overall, Roth provided insight into the sports broadcasting world for the members of our trip who want to pursue this career path.

Ultimately, UCLA defies the expectations when it comes to college athletics. And it’s only growing bigger. The athletics department is currently collecting donations to build a $60-$80 million football and basketball practice facility.

So who knows just how many national championships UCLA will hold in the next 50 years? Only time will tell.

Mandalay

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Our final sport-related activity of the day was a trip to Mandalay Entertainment Group. We met with Larry Freedman, the president and owner of Mandalay Baseball Properties. He serves as the CEO and owner of the Triple-A Oklahoma City (OKC) Dodgers, as well as Executive Vice President of Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), which is a Major League Soccer expansion team set to play in 2018. Mr. Freedman opened the meeting by offering the group an assortment of Mandalay hats, as well as LAFC hats and scarves. He gifted a special LAFC scarf to Joy Essaghof for being the first group member to connect with him on LinkedIn last week. Following that point, he advised our group to connect and stay connected with professionals in the industry. Mr. Freedman then discussed the crest of LAFC, with the wings representing the city of angels and the black and gold colors embodying the success and history of the city. He noted some celebrity part-owners of the team, which include Will Ferrell, Mia Hamm, Magic Johnson, and Peter Guber. The club is building a 22,000 soccer only stadium in Los Angeles at a cost of $285 million, which is set to open in March 2018. Mr. Freedman then transitioned into other ties that Mandalay has, with one being the Dayton Dragons.

Stacked up against every sport organization, this minor-league baseball team was #10 on Sports Illustrated’s list of hottest tickets in sports in 2007. Mandalay also has done consulting for groups such as the Cincinnati Bengals and the ACC Football Championship. Mr. Freedman discussed the five principles of his company.

  1. Affordable, high quality products
  2. Quality family entertainment
  3.  Unsurpassed customer service
  4. Community involvement
  5. Positive sponsor impact.

Giving some insight into minor league baseball, he emphasized not putting sponsor logos on bobbleheads and hats because it lowers the value and cheapens the experience of the promotion. Mandalay uses category exclusive sponsors and was one of the first to do LED outfield wall signs.

IMG_8675.JPGMr. Freedman then took a step back to give general advice to the group, telling us to be bold, make contacts and never let go. His tips were to get our foot in the door, be personable, ask questions, be likeable, and understand we have to start at the bottom. The next slide in his PowerPoint presentation had two inspirational quotes on it. The first of was from the Avett Brothers, saying “Decide what to be and go be it.” The second quote was from a producer for Mandalay Studios named David Zelon and said “Don’t ever let someone tell you no.” Mr. Freedman highlighted some strategies his company will be integrating for LAFC, including putting the avid fans all in one section to make the experience more united. He noted that The Los Angeles Galaxy are not truly an LA team because they are located outside the city, so LAFC’s approach will be “Uniting the world’s city with the world’s game.”

The final point Mr. Freedman elaborate on was just how important organizational culture is in any industry. He noted that people should leave their ego at the door and enjoy the people and environment around them. Everyone should have a voice, especially since they will be constantly seeing and working with one another.

After our trip to Mandalay concluded, we enjoyed Hollywood for a few hours. They were a multitude of restaurants to choose from, as well as stores that ranged from high-end clothing all the way to souvenir shops. Entertainment was all over the location, with the site of the Jimmy Kimmel Show, the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are held, and of course the stars on the walk of fame.

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Perhaps, this Hollywood Star gives some indication of where we are headed tomorrow!

 

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Departure!March 12th, 2016
LA here we come!
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