Sports MBA Students Partner with NHL Franchise

June 15, 2020

Sports MBA Students Partner with NHL Franchise

Students at Honda CenterFor the third consecutive year, SDSU Sports MBA students in Dr. Vassilis Dalakas' Sports Marketing course have focused their semester-long project on an ice hockey franchise. 

In 2018 the project topic was the AHL's San Diego Gulls, examining partnerships at Pechanga Arena here in San Diego. Last year’s cohort worked on activation plans for two of the Pittsburgh Penguins' sponsors and presented their recommendations to two Sports MBA alumni who work in the club's corporate partnerships department.

This year, the Class of 2021 researched the NHL franchise just up I-5 in Orange County, the Anaheim Ducks, collaborating with two Sports MBA program alumni in the club's front office. Graham Siderius (SMBA '07), VP of Corporate Partnerships, and Forrest Lockwood (SMBA '18), Corporate Partnerships Analyst, kicked off the collaboration by giving students a behind-the-scenes tour of Honda Center

The two discussed how the Ducks' current partners activate outside the building and on the concourse, went through Honda Center's concessions offerings, and sat with students in the seating bowl to examine signage and dasher boards. 

The Sports MBA students were tasked with exploring options for potential partners in the grocery category, choosing from either traditional brick-and-mortar locations in Southern California or selecting from a variety of emerging grocery delivery companies. 

Fan DemographicsAfter dividing into six groups, the class spent several months researching demographic statistics on Ducks fans and comparing them to other sports organizations in the Los Angeles and Orange County marketplace. The groups got to work immediately, drafting the first version of their sponsorship ideas, dreaming up ways to leverage and activate an official Ducks grocery partnership in marketing pitches aimed at grocery store shoppers throughout the region. The students' creativity was on full display, as groups presented a wide range of ideas including contests (trivia, cooking) and clever activations (a hockey goal grocery conveyor belt and youth hockey practice grocery delivery on demand).    

“Knowing that their activation plans would be evaluated by industry professionals who do partnerships and sponsorships for a major league franchise set high expectations for the students,” Dr. Dalakas commented. “It was especially rewarding to see them make a conscious effort to offer fresh new ideas in their activation plans.”

Students pitched their ideas in a dress rehearsal presentation to Dr. Dalakas and Sports MBA alumna Amy Wesson (SMBA '17) of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who represented the client in last year's class presentations. After some final tweaks and last-minute advice, the students were ready to present to the "client." On Thursday, May 21st and Friday, May 22nd, the Ducks' Siderius and Lockwood hosted all six teams for individual presentations over Zoom, critiquing the students' ideas and evaluating their practicality in a "real world" sponsorship proposal. 

SMBA Presentation over Zoom"SMBA '21 deserves tremendous credit for doing such a remarkable job on this project while working entirely remotely and presenting over Zoom," said Scott Minto (SMBA '06), Sports MBA program director. "With an unprecedented move to virtual learning mid-semester, this project was a highlight of the program thus far. It always helps to have dedicated alumni like Forrest and Graham give honest and transparent feedback on student work, and in the case of this project, it was important to get an insider's view of how sports teams are handling this pandemic."    

The Ducks executives repeatedly lauded the students' originality in presenting fresh ideas in a somewhat traditional category. While the MBA students pitched never-before-seen partnership ideas, teams were at times reminded that intricate activations, particularly those with technology components like apps and online contests, come with significant costs that have to be borne by either the club or the sponsor. Giveaway items, an industry staple, came up frequently as well, often carrying the reminder that they, too, have associated production costs. 

Both Siderius and Lockwood commented on the professionalism of the students' presentation decks, noting that many mockup giveaway items and promotional products featuring Wild Wing, the team's anthropomorphic duck mascot were Photoshopped well enough to look nearly authentic. 

SMBA students at the Honda Center“It’s no small feat to create a partnership proposal from scratch and pitch it to an NHL franchise. We consistently strive to create dynamic, attention-grabbing, and mutually-successful partnerships with our corporate partners here at the Ducks and Honda Center, and the SMBA students fully grasped that concept and ran with it,” said Lockwood. “I was very impressed with the students’ attention to detail, their research, and their creativity in putting together these proposals.”

By taking what Dr. Dalakas taught them about the role of corporate partnerships in sports marketing and applying it to an industry context, the SMBA '21 students were able to gain significant sports industry application of important academic concepts. 

“The course places special emphasis on understanding sponsorships and partnerships in sports and, frankly, there is no better way to learn it than experiential learning opportunities like this project,” Dr. Dalakas said. “I am grateful to Graham and Forrest for working with us this semester and for their commitment to the students and this project despite the challenges and adjustments we had to make half-way through the semester due to the pandemic.”

[Editor's Note: The class visit to the Honda Center in Anaheim took place in February 2020. This article was written and quotes were sourced in mid-May 2020, at the end of the Spring 2020 semester.}

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