At first glance, a course offering visits to some of Chicago's most famous sports-focused organizations may seem like one big field trip. A sneak peak at the Chicago Cubs front office here, a swing by the Chicago Bears locker room there.
But as the 25 students enrolled in DePaul University's sports management course "Behind the Scenes with Chicago Sports Organizations" soon discovered, the class wasn't just fun and games.
In five days, students visited the headquarters of 14 Chicago sports-focused organizations, from the Chicago Bulls, Bears, Cubs and Blackhawks to Gatorade. Students were given extraordinary access to front offices and even inside looks at new facilities, products and services.
For example, DePaul students received an exclusive tour of the Advocate Center, the new downtown practice facility for the Chicago Bulls. At the Cubs organization, they saw the architectural scale model for planned Wrigley Field complex renovations, a model not-widely shown.
But students say it was the people, not the places, that made the course worth taking.
"It was a great chance to meet people who are important in the industry," says Ryan O'Neill, a DePaul MBA student. "We really got to know them and network with them."
During the weeklong December course, students met with 75 executives, many of them DePaul alumni, who work at major sports franchises and high-power sports agencies and companies. The list included:
- Kara Bachman, executive director, Chicago Sports Commission
- Charlie Besser, CEO, Intersport
- Meghan Bower & Leah Hendrickson, public relations managers, Chicago Blackhawks
- Neil Buethe, director of media relations, US Soccer Federation
- Molly Carter, Sr. Director, Marketing Communications, The Gatorade Company
- Grant DePorter, CEO, Harry Caray's Restaurant Group
- Danny Ecker, Sports Reporter/Producer, Crain’s Chicago Business
- Susan Goodenow, vice president marketing and branding, Chicago Bulls
- Mike Gordon, president, Chicago Wolves
- Jennifer Heppel, Associate Commissioner, Big Ten Conference
- Chris Hibbs, vice president sales and marketing, Chicago Bears
- Josh Kritzler & Dan Migala, founding partners, Property Consulting Group
- AJ Maestas, president, Navigate Research
- Bryan Robinson, vice president, Human Resources, Chicago Cubs
During their visits, students had opportunities for lunch and coffee meetings and one-on-one talks with these industry leaders. The class also featured a roundtable discussion with DePaul alumni working in sports management.
"It was impressive to meet a cross-section of sports professionals, from CEOs and VPs to recent college graduates in their first or second jobs who resonated with our students," says Andy Clark, who taught the class and directs sports management programs at DePaul's Driehaus College of Business. "The ability for the students to mix and mingle and network was far greater than I thought it would be."
"It was life changing."
Rebecca Regalado, a television sales and marketing professional who took the sports management course as an elective, says the course absolutely blew her mind.
"It was life-changing," says Regalado. "In my 13 years at television stations here in Chicago, I never had the experience with top executives in the sports industry that I had in that one week. To meet them, have them give us advice and to hear their stories of how they got into the industry… it was priceless.
While at The Gatorade Company in downtown Chicago, Regalado listened intently as Carter, a top-level executive in marketing and a DePaul alumna, told her personal story of how she landed at Gatorade. The story included a few curves, including a time when Carter left a major sports franchise because it just wasn't the right fit.
"When she said that, I got goose bumps," says Regalado, who left her job in November 2013 after she, too, felt it was no longer a right fit for her. "I know now that I'm on the right path. I like the sports industry, and I saw through this class that I want to go into the business of sports."
The World Is Out There
Clark says he created the class after seeing Ron Culp, a DePaul communications professor, do a similar tour for students to New York public relations agencies.
Clark says the three-fold purpose of his class was to:
- give students an inside look at the what the sports business looks like from those in the industry;
- offer them insights on how to break into the sports business;
- show them that skills learned in sports management are applicable to a variety of businesses beyond sports.
The class was another distinguishing aspect of DePaul's sports management program and its emphasis on real-world, practical lessons for students. Nearly all of the organizations visited were within a short distance of DePaul's Loop Campus, and about a quarter of the executives featured were DePaul alumni.
"The real world is out there, not just inside the walls of DePaul," Clark said. "There may be other sports management programs, but our distinction is that we're right down the street from major sports organizations and we have great relationships through our alumni with major sports industry corporate headquarters and agencies."
The class yielded even more connections as several students scored job leads, internship interviews and informational meetings with personnel from at least five of the organizations visited.
"It was an intense week," says O'Neill, who landed a meeting with a sports executive. "It flew by. If you're interested in the sports industry and really looking to learn more about that industry, this course is a great experience."
Read more about DePaul's MBA concentration in Sports Management and Undergraduate BSB in Management (Sports Management).