SMBA 20 Graduate Q&A: Kyle Robb
At the end of May, the SDSU Sports MBA program within the Fowler College of Business held its virtual graduation celebration for the Class of 2020. Congratulations to the future sports business professionals in the graduating class!
Born and raised in San Jose, California, Sports MBA Class of 2020 graduate, Kyle Robb, is a proud double Aztec. From an early age, Robb knew he wanted to work in the business of sports. After graduating from SDSU and entering the very crowded sports industry, he soon realized the benefit a graduate level degree would provide him for career growth and additional opportunity.
The SDSU Fowler News Team interviewed Robb about his graduate school journey, the most influential courses from the program and how the skills he learned at SDSU helped him secure his current role as a Revenue Program Manager for the 49ers Foundation.
Kyle Robb supporting Oakland Athletics Baseball Academy community service during the Sports MBA's international trip to the Dominican Republic.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from and where did you get your undergrad degree?
I was born and raised in San Jose, California where I played and watched sports as much as possible while growing up. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend lots of professional and college sporting events as a kid. My dad was always scheming how we could fit one more game into our schedule, even when we were out of town, trying to fit a new stadium or event into our vacation plans. He was a sportswriter for local newspapers right out of college and even though he left that industry before I was born, I had the inspiration from an early age to find a way to attach my career path to sports in some fashion. I studied at San Diego State University as an undergraduate, receiving a Business degree with an emphasis in Marketing. Upon graduating, I returned to the Bay Area and immediately began working in sports for the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League. From there, I took on other roles in various capacities with other professional sports teams including the San Francisco 49ers, the San Jose Sharks and Barracuda, and the Golden State Warriors.
Q: How/when you decided to pursue a Sports MBA degree at San Diego State?
Having attended SDSU as an undergrad, I was aware that the program existed but didn’t put much consideration into applying to the program straight out of undergrad. As I began working for different Bay Area sports teams, I noticed that most of the people holding upper-level positions had some sort of postgraduate degree. I had also seen one of my immediate supervisors passed up for a promotion because the team decided to hire someone from outside the organization with a master’s degree from a sports management program. I took this as a sign that I should consider a program like SDSU’s if I want to make a lifelong career in the sports industry. It is a very crowded industry, to begin with, and a Sports Business graduate degree that makes you stand out in the crowd and can help you land that next role or promotion.
In May of 2018 I started researching all of my grad school options. Knowing the program begins in January, and having already committed to a position during the 49ers season in the Fall, I knew the timing of the program would potentially fit well with the current jobs I would have to leave. I was already sold on the school and the beautiful city of San Diego, but the biggest appeal for me to this program was the fact that you come out with an MBA degree. Professional sports is more than just selling tickets and hot dogs these days. Teams are always exploring new potential revenue streams and new verticals, and I felt the business acumen I would receive in this program would prepare me for the rapidly evolving world of sports business.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory from your time within the Sports MBA program?
I think my favorite memories came from our weekly beach volleyball games at Mission Bay. With our busy academic schedules, the days can feel long but the weeks go by quickly. Our group volleyball outings forced me to get out of the house and appreciate the amazing weather and natural beauty of San Diego. It was a great way to reset and get my mind right for another busy week. It helped that we were all beach volleyball novices and were all able to see our skills grow together.
Q: What was your favorite class and/or favorite professor and why?
My favorite class was Business Intelligence. Dr. Kaveh Abhari provides great attention to detail and patience with his students in explaining how to use some very complex software programs. As a result, we came out with the knowledge to make the most of the data we worked with an emphasis on providing actionable recommendations that can be made through data analysis. I think this is a quality any hiring manager would welcome and many are searching for in their employees.
Q: The Sports MBA program is known for its industry guest speakers. Was there one or more that really stood out to you?
Forrest Lockwood (SMBA ‘18), an alumnus who works for the Anaheim Ducks visited our class in the Spring. He spoke to us about how the Ducks use data to value their array of sponsorship assets, including ad spaces built into the boards and ice surface. It opened my eyes to how data is infiltrating all departments of a team’s front office and taught me you don't have a very technical “data scientist” type role to do some really cool things with data while generating revenue for your organization. I took Forrest up on the opportunity to visit his office in Anaheim later in the year and we have remained in touch. Selfishly though, Coach Steve Fisher was my favorite guest speaker. How often does a legendary coach get in front of a class and approach every single student, wanting to learn more about them? Go Aztecs!
Q: The Sports MBA program is also known for its robust network of alumni. Are there alumni from whom you remember getting good advice or who have really helped guide you or impacted your career?
One alumnus who has had a strong impact on me was one I have never actually met in person. As I was ramping up my job search last Fall, I connected with Brandon Sim (SMBA ‘19). I was applying for a job with his company, and he did not hesitate to give me plenty of advice for the application, the job search in general, and my classes I was finishing up. Though I didn’t take a position with his company, we still check in with each other, most recently when he took on a new role. I look forward to finally meeting with him in person next time we are in the same city.
Kyle Robb (right) poses with SMBA '20 classmates and eight-time NBA All-Star, Steve Nash (left) during his Foundation's LA Charity Shield event.
Q: You were able to volunteer for several local sports events while in the program. Did you have a favorite event? If so, why did it stand out?
It’s hard to top a sunny weekend at Torrey Pines, but I really enjoyed working with the Steve Nash Foundation. As a collective group, we had the opportunity to provide our input and advice in the planning and execution of their charity soccer tournament in LA. I believe if you treat your volunteers and interns like your own employees you will get employee work in return, and Jenny Miller, the Executive Director of the Steve Nash Foundation, and everyone associated with the foundation did just that..
Q: Why should others consider the Sports MBA program when looking at graduate programs?
I think the attention to detail that is put into the curriculum and extra-curricular programming put into the program is unique. It is a big commitment to enroll in any program and that commitment to the students is appreciated in return. I also love that it is an MBA program. That is a degree that carries a lot of positive sentiment across all industries and will serve our alumni well no matter how long they stay in a sports-related role.
Q: Any advice you would have for current and/or future Sports MBA students about making the most of their time here?
Say yes to as much as you can, especially in the beginning. The academics alone can keep you feeling busy, but it’s the volunteering, site visits, and social gatherings that provide the best stories, strongest memories, and possibly some future opportunities. You will only be in San Diego with your classmates for a quick eleven months. Find time to enjoy it!
Q: Describe your current position.
I am the Revenue Program Manager for the 49ers Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the San Francisco 49ers organization. In my role, I manage the 50/50 raffle program at 49ers home games as well as the Dig For Gold program which offers authentic equipment and collectibles from the locker room via online auctions and popup retail activations in congruence with home games, Foundation events, and other team-affiliated events.
Q: How did you acquire this position?
I actually found out about the position scrolling through my Linkedin feed. I am connected with the individual who previously held my role, and I saw his announcement that he was leaving the organization. I connected with another former colleague of mine who had previously worked for the 49ers Foundation in a consultation role. She recommended me for the job and everything went well from there. While I had previously worked for the 49ers organization, I was not very familiar with the current leadership of the 49ers Foundation, but I know they all have graduate degrees and I think they saw the value my academic coursework allowed me to bring to their team.
Q: Are there specific skills you learned through the Sports MBA program (in class or otherwise) that helped you with the role’s qualifications?
One particular skill that has allowed me to succeed in my current role is forecasting. The 50/50 raffle is a major source of revenue for the Foundation and the programs we support. With the current situation professional sports teams are facing due to the ongoing pandemic, it is very difficult to foresee what this year’s NFL season will look like. My knowledge of different forecasting techniques and the factors that drive demand has allowed me to provide detailed reports surrounding what we may be able to expect out of the 50/50 raffle given how many fans will be in attendance, in addition to factors such as the start time of a game, the opponent, or the prospect of eliminating cash transactions. At this point, we don’t know the future reality of all of these conditions, but I am able to make the best possible projections given the information we do know, and I can adjust accordingly as more information becomes available.
Q: Any advice to future SMBA students who are looking to acquire a position similar to yours?
Keep all doors open, keep all bridges unburned, and check-in with your network even if you don’t have a specific ask to make. While I acquired my position through the recommendation of someone I knew prior to the program, I worked on my relationship with that person throughout the year as I was in San Diego, not knowing it would pay off in December. You would be surprised how much your name can come up because people within the industry are always looking for impactful hires and they talk amongst each other *a lot.* I was always interested in a Community Impact-type role, but I wasn’t sure how I fit into that space. I found a role that allows me to be part of a team that does so much to support our community while also allowing me to utilize what I have learned in business school.
Q: What is it that you are most looking forward to as you kick start this next chapter in your career?
In this position, I will be tasked with managing one of the largest game-day staffs deployed at 49ers games. It is a new challenge that I am excited to take on, utilizing management skills I learned from my Organization Behavior classes among others.
I am also looking forward to being in a position to help out people who have taken similar paths that I have. Every position I have landed in sports has been the result of a recommendation, from family-friends to current supervisors. If a current student, former classmate, or other alumni approaches me for advice or an introduction, I will be happy to help any way I can, as long as I think that person will validate my character and reputation in their professionalism and consideration.
About the SDSU Sports MBA Program:
The SDSU Sports MBA program is an intensive, accelerated MBA degree focused on the dynamic business of international sports. The program provides its graduates a thorough understanding of the skills crucial for professionals to succeed, while building a broad network of relationships in the sports-rich landscape of Southern California. Visit business.sdsu.edu/sportsmba to learn more, request information or apply to the Sports MBA program.