Sean Hildebrand ’14: Exploring Opportunities in Sports Industries

Sean Hildebrand ’14:  When I was searching for an externship that would help me in my goal to one day work in the NFL, I was fortunate enough to land an opportunity to visit the Indianapolis Colts Team Facility for a day.  While there wasn’t anyone on site that worked with the actual team, there were plenty of employees scrambling around to finish various projects before the preseason opener this Sunday.  I met numerous people who worked with the marketing, sales, and sponsorship side of the organization, and I instantly became fascinated with the work they were doing. 

The first man I visited was Jim Matis, formerly known as “Mad Dog” on radio station Q95.  After 25 years with the radio show, Jim became the Colts’ sponsorship sales account manager.  Even though promotions and sponsorships aren’t what I’m looking to get involved with, it was great to learn about what goes on behind the scenes in the Colts’ facility and at home games.  For example, all those company banners you see hanging around Lucas Oil Stadium became involved with the organization through Jim.  The Colts organization agrees to market the company name around the stadium and through commercial/radio ads in exchange for a hefty investment from the company.  The more sponsors he racks up, the more the organization profits. 

I was then passed on to Andy Schwartz, the man Jim goes to once he comes to an agreement with a new sponsor.  Schwartz then gets in contact with the sponsor and finds out what kind of promotions they want with the Colts (commercials, in-game ads, radio mentions, etc.).  Once that is settled, Schwartz sets up times when the company’s promotions will be displayed on television, radio, or during the game.  He showed me the script of all the promos that will be shown during this Sunday’s preseason game:  there were eight pages worth of ads that had to be shown throughout the game.  The unnoticed amount of work that the marketing side of the organization goes through every day is simply unbelievable.  Even though this isn’t the kind of work I want to get involved with, I gained an incredible appreciation for the work that this side of the organization does in helping the Colts become even more profitable.  I also found value in seeing how fast-paced and unpredictable life in an NFL organization can be.

The following day I visited the Finish Line headquarters to hang out with Andy Rankin, a Wabash alumnus of 1998 and a lawyer.  He does real estate corporate counseling with the company, which means he makes agreements with landlords to have a Finish Line at various malls and buildings around the country.  Finish Line began in Indianapolis in 1976, and has expanded to over 650 stores across the country.  There are also over 650 separate leases for each of the Finish Line locations in the United States, and two real estate lawyers to manage them.  To show me just how busy Andy can be, he gave me an old lease for a Finish Line store that is no longer open.  Numerous amendments were made on the lease by both Andy and the landlord, and the final draft ended up being 70 pages long.  The average lease for a Finish Line store takes him roughly two hours to look over and propose changes, and he usually does this about 5-7 times each week.  Fortunately for Rankin, this is about as difficult and boring as it gets for him at Finish Line Headquarters.

After spending a day with Andy, I gained a much better understanding of what lawyers do in the sporting goods industry.  While I am still uncertain about my specific career track after graduation, it was nice to learn what a law degree and other graduate school programs can do for you.  It was also great to see what a gigantic sporting goods headquarters looks like.  Along with the warehouse, conference rooms and hundreds of offices, the headquarters contains just about everything you can ask for:  lunch room, 80″ flat screen TV, arcade, weight room, basketball court, cross fit gym, and an actual Finish Line store in the basement.  And much like the Colts’ team facility, there is a lively and friendly environment around the offices and cubicles, and everyone seems to get along and have a good time with one another.  I’m grateful to have had the unique opportunity to visit two very distinguished businesses in the sports industry.

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