College of Business > News & Events > Business Students Develop Sponsorship Proposals for Special Olympics
By Jaclyn Lansbery | Photos by Kathy Hillegonds /
April 12, 2018 /
Posted in: Students, College and Schools, Alumni /
Geena Fennell’s first encounter with Special Olympics was in seventh grade, when she volunteered for the summer games in Michigan. She recalls helping a runner, who became startled after the gun went off at the starting line, by walking with him until he reached the end of the race.
Now a part-time MBA student at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University, Fennell had the opportunity to work directly with Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities, during a winter quarter sports sponsorship marketing course taught by
Andy Clark, faculty director of the DePaul’s Sports Management program.
Students collaborated with Arena Partners, a sponsorship strategy firm working with Special Olympics, on a quarter-long project supporting the Special Olympics 50thAnniversary celebration. The event will take place this July in Chicago, where the first Special Olympics international competition was held. The class project culminated with presentations by teams of students pitching sponsorship ideas for major Chicago companies, including Aramark, Abbott Labs, Boeing, Discover Card, McDonalds, Tyson Foods and Ulta.
John Murray, CEO of Arena Partners, also provided guidance to the students’ projects throughout the quarter and gave feedback after each final presentation.
“Professor Clark’s sports sponsorship marketing course had a key role in the development efforts for Special Olympics’ 50th Anniversary,” Murray says. “We were impressed by the professionalism and quality demonstrated by the students and their work.”
Throughout the course, which was open to both graduate and undergraduate students, representatives from Special Olympics and Arena Partners brainstormed with students to develop attendance-driving ideas and sponsorship strategies, and spoke about the impact of the organization.
“For us as students, it was an exciting project because it’s something that’s happening now, and Arena Partners stresses that these ideas are being put into place.” says Fennell, who was a member of the Wisconsin 2011 NCAA Championship Women's Hockey team. “It’s pretty cool that we’re able to make an impact and they might use some of the ideas to go talk with other companies.”
Students drew inspiration for their work on the project from the leadership roles that two DePaul alumnae have held at Special Olympics
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke (SNL '76, DHL '05) co-founded Special Olympics, which hosted its first international game in 1968 at Soldier Field and has now branched into a global community serving five million athletes in 172 countries.
Among the class speakers was Karen Atwood (MBA ‘82), who chairs the Special Olympics of Illinois board and also is a member of DePaul’s Board of Trustees. During her talk, Atwood shared her life and career journey, including her former role as president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois where she first learned about Special Olympics.
“I always think when you can see the impact that your actions, your ideas and your support bring to the larger community, the more it reinforces why the Vincentian values are so important,” she says. “When I showed the class how we had synthesized their crowd-building and volunteer activation ideas into a document that was shared with those working on the 50th Anniversary celebration, I could see how pleased they were that they had made a difference. Their motivation for the project grew further.”
Classes that have a “real world” component are beneficial to both the student and the organization, Clark says. “Working directly with actual companies sharpens the students’ focus on the subject matter and creates a heightened sense of urgency for the project.”
In fall 2017, Clark also taught an event sales, service and promotion course where students worked directly with the Chicago Cubs Service Excellence Program to evaluate how millennials respond to customer service.
“In the context of this project, the students’ final presentations are more than a class exercise,” says Clark who has more than 25 years of experience working in sports marketing and has held positions with Edelman and Cramer-Krasselt. “By presenting a plan and budget to Arena Partners CEO John Murray, the students benefit from feedback and critiques related to the project’s objectives that go far beyond the grade for the class.”