By: Taitum Kurasz, Hugo Marsans, Alex Johnson
After finally getting to sleep in a little bit this morning, the group headed to the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission. There we met with Allison Citelli, the Director of Events and Business Development. Allison is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara, and spent most of her time in college working in sports with organizations such as the Oakland Raiders, Washington Nationals, and Staples Center.
The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission is a private, non-profit company. In conjunction with LA Tourism, the LA Sports Commission works with the city of Los Angeles to make major events come to life. The Sports Commission is best known for placing bids on high-profile events, such as the Super Bowl or the Olympics, and creating proposals for the independent governing bodies, such as the NFL or IOC. One of the main ideas that Allison stressed about the Sports Commission was that they are trying to get “heads in beds,” meaning that they are most concerned with bringing tourists into Los Angeles by hosting these major events, in hopes to have a large economic impact on the city. The Commission works in direct relation with the hotels, restaurants, venues and other businesses in the area to find ways to establish partnerships with these events and generate more profits for them as well. One way they do this is by adding a tax on hotel rooms during these high-traffic time frames. By establishing these taxes, the money goes straight back to the city.
Allison had experience in many different sectors of the sport industry, and she explained to us what made the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission special. Her department consisted of only six individuals, all of which were women. Since her department is so small, Allison says that there is a lot of room for movement within the company, which is an aspect she truly enjoys. Over the course of the time we spent at the LA Sports Commission, Allison gave us plenty of great advice and career tips, some of which included:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
- “If it is to be, it is up to me”
- Never be afraid to reach out to individuals
- Set up Google News alerts for companies you may potentially want to work for
Our day with AEG began at 12 sharp right outside of LA Live where we met with Will Fogerty who would be our guide for the day and responsible for keeping the group on schedule. He was phenomenal at doing so, which allowed the group as much time as possible with each executive we met. AEG treated us to lunch at Mexicana Rosa where we had the privilege of meeting with two of AEG’s ‘big dogs’ off the bat; Kevin McDowell, CAO of AEG and Chuck Steedman, COO of AEG Facilities. Kevin began with a phenomenal 20 minute back story of AEG’s history and how they’ve successfully become the power they are today. He heavily emphasized AEG’s ability to be a “one time stop” and the advantages that come with that. By partnering with AEG, clients of all kinds have the opportunity to get involved in sports, music, venues, brands and much more. After all, AEG is one of the most global and dynamic organizations in the world and unique within the entertainment industry. Simply put, no one else does what AEG does at the level they execute.
As the COO, Chuck Steedman focuses on 85 facilities that fall under the stadia and arenas category. He highlighted the tremendous diversity of venues that fall under their group scattered across the globe. When building a new facility, it’s crucial to understand the local entertainment culture and practices of the local people. In Montevideo, Uruguay for example, because it’s a relatively small city of 600,000 people, the arena must have multi-diverse purposes to satisfy the needs of everyone. In Buenos Aires however, a much bigger city with a tremendous music culture, they can afford to build an arena solely dedicated to music. Chuck also spoke about the importance of having a global background and open mind. From an experience perspective, AEG needs their executives in charge of facilities to have many perspectives which will allow them to look at challenges and opportunities from many different points. The culture within AEG Facilities differs a lot depending on the arena or stadium. At StubHub center for example, the work environment is more relaxed whereas at Staples Center it’s more hyper. This is mostly due to not all venues being operated the same way. He finished by encouraging us to always proving yourself everyday.
In addition to Kevin and Chuck, we also got to meet with another 5 members of AEG including. One of the five members that was present was the director of business analytics. He talked about how analytics was just starting to catch on with sports agencies, and it was just starting to be valued as a high paying job. The director cautioned us about solely being interested in sports analytics, as he believes it is imperative to consider the other possibilities of business analytics when considering a potential career. All in all, he encouraged students to gain abilities and do programs to increase your personal value to a company.
Next, we moved a couple blocks down the street to the AEG Presents office. At AEG Presents, we met with three former Syracuse University graduates Jon Kane, Kelly DiStefano, and Lindsay Dworman. All three graduates were involved in the concerts and musical tours aspect of the business. Although each of them had slightly different jobs at AEG presents, they all agreed on the same passions within their sector of the business. Each of them believed that the company had a fantastic culture of creating a mutual level of respect amongst employees in all positions, from interns to high level executives.
One of the main challenges that AEG Presents faces is their competition in ticketing. Live Nation, one of their major competitors, owns Ticketmaster, who sells a large portion of tickets for concerts- some of those being in AEG venues. This raises an issue as Live Nation gains a profit from AEG’s events and facilities. Another issue that they have when it comes to ticketing is dealing with the secondary ticket market in general. They are attempting to fix these problems by implementing more analytics in terms of dynamic pricing in their ticketing models.
After AEG Presents, we walked back to LA Live where we met with Michele Kajiwara, Senior VP of Premium Sales & Services at Staples Center, George Pappas, VP of Partnership Sales and Marla Gibson, VP of HR for Facilities.
It’s safe to say Michele blew everyone of us away. She’s as experienced, put together, and diverse as female executives come in this industry. She began by giving us her story and the importance travel and being curious has played into becoming the person and professional she is today. Staples Center Premium Services generate AEG $105 million of annual revenue. Their lowest suite price is $325,000. In order to sell such expensive experiences, team performance always helps, however, making sure you always have great value proposition is key at the end of the day in such a crowded market like LA. She emphasized to focus on the things you can control and to always try to go broader with what you’re considering and never put a ceiling to how much you’re willing to earn and make revenue wise. She’s a firm believer of always acting like a leader and setting the bar high for everyone else you work with. With such organizational culture, it’s no surprise the numbers she manages to produce.
Marla was a very practical speaker who tried to inform us on the best way to get jobs. Marla (like all other speakers) emphasized the importance of networking in order to get jobs. As a part of networking, she told us that we need to have our quick elevator pitch ready so that when we run into someone important, we have the highest possible chance of earning an opportunity with them. She suggested that every time we meet with someone and get their business card, we should add them on Linkedin and shoot them an email. In that email, we should keep in touch and make the extra effort to develop a relationship with the person because that goes a long way in the business world. Proceeding to specific interview tips, Marla wanted us to be prepared for anything and warned of the “gotcha interviewers” who throw you questions to find faults in you and potentially eliminate you as a candidate for a position. Marla cold called on me and forced me to state one of my biggest weekends in front of the whole group. It was a stressful situation to be put on the spot, but I am grateful she did it because the next time someone asks me that question, I will be much more prepared. A final tip that I remember Marla giving was to make sure we are proficient in multiple languages. She cited Portuguese, Spanish, and Mandarin as the most important ones to gain proficiency in. All in all, the meeting with Marla was good for the whole group and gave us valuable information on how to get jobs.
George’s energy was felt right away. He began by telling us about his experiences in the professional world and how much he’s learned from failure. In his mind, every time you fail is a learning experience which should only make you stronger going forward. Such mindset has helped him get to where he is today as well as focusing on building a relationship and not a transaction. In the world of sales, sustaining a healthy partnership where both parties achieve their goals and you genuinely care for the needs of your client is everything. Short term gain does not have a place in AEG’s Global Partnership sales culture. He explained the importance of the Founding Partners to the success of the Global Partnership department. As an organization, they’re always looking to build ‘Pillar Projects’ that will in the long run help the organization grow into a bigger player and influencer in the industry. He left us with a simple yet powerful tip of advice which was to always prepare. How you deliver your message is everything in the world of sales and preparing will give you that extra edge over the competition.
After our time with AEG, we took our bus to the area surrounding the Santa Monica pier and went to sports bar to watch the Syracuse vs Arizona State game. This game was to determine which team would make it into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Before the game started, Professor Veley ordered appetizers for us students to enjoy. Five Syracuse University, sport management graduates were invited to watch the game with us students. They were are relatively recent graduates, and three of them had been on this same LA Immersion trip that we are on. The first half went by with Syracuse being up by two. We all were fairly relaxed in the first half with some of us playing shuffleboard and some of us networking with the Alumni. As soon as the second half began, Arizona State went on a quick 8-0 run. It appeared as if the momentum was shifting and we all grew nervous. After the run, our team proceeded to lock Arizona State down and prohibit them from scoring many buckets. The only issue was that we were turning the ball over and not getting calls on the offense end. Towards the end of the game, both teams found their rhythm a bit and it looked like it was going to be a very close end. Up until about the point with one minute left, the score was about even, and all the Syracuse students were on their toes praying for an orange victory. Nobody was getting overly excited as we did not want to be let down. Long story short, after a huge off-dribble shot from Tyus Battle and some clutch free throws from Chukwu, Syracuse came away with a close victory. The bar erupted into pandemonium and “Go Cuse” chants. Professor Veley was specifically excited and gave a celebratory Jim Boeheim impression.
After the game, all of the five alumni lined up to talk a little bit about their experiences at Syracuse and to answer questions from students. There were many common threads between all of the pieces of advice given by the alumni. One of the biggest ones that was echoed by speakers from earlier in the week was to not have set expectations for how our careers will turn out. This involves not limiting the possibilities for what industry we chose to work in. An example of this that Professor Veley talked about today was that “everyone wants to work with a team, but there are so many other opportunities.” Another thing that the alumni told us was that working in the sports industry is long, hard, and grueling work in which only people who are willing to take low salaries and put in lots of hours can be successful in. The alumni encouraged us to not get discouraged and to pursue our passions regardless of what happens when we first get in to the industry. They alluded that the industry will chew us up and spit us out if we aren’t mentally tough. A final piece of advice given by one of the Alumni was to not forget to enjoy the remainder of our college experience as it flies by quickly.