SMBA Alumna Recognized as Pittsburgh's 30 under 30
Recently, Sports MBA alumna Amy Wesson (SMBA ‘17) was honored as a Pittsburgh Business Times 30 Under 30 award winner for 2020. To recognize this achievement, the SDSU Fowler News Team asked Wesson 30 questions about growing up in Canada, her sports career thus far, SDSU journey, and her love of music.
1. First off, congratulations!
Amy Wesson: Thank you!
2. Who nominated you for this award?
Jack Tipton (SMBA ‘06), you may recognize the name! (Tipton is a Sports MBA alumnus from the program’s inaugural class.)
One of the reasons I applied to the SDSU Sports MBA program was the alumni network. I knew how important my relationships would be, especially moving to a new state (also a new country). Jack spoke to my class back in 2016. We kept in touch and Jack reached out when an opportunity came up in Pittsburgh.
Jack did more than just speak to our class. He presented a project, an opportunity for us to positively contribute to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. My classmates and I were excited about the real-world experience and sent Jack a deck addressing the challenge he presented us with. The project was for the Penguins Golden Ticket promotion, a concept that went on to win a Stanley at the NHL Club Business meetings.
3. The next few questions relate to the criteria that the Pittsburgh Business Journal asked about. Can you discuss what you said about your leadership experience?
I sit on a few non-profit boards. Something I recommend to everyone. It’s a great chance to flex muscles you might not use in your day to day work, plus it gives the opportunity to give back to the community is something you are passionate about. Scott introduced us to WISE (Women in Sports and Events) while we were in school. My classmates and I were active members of the San Diego chapter. I continued to stay involved in the LA chapter and one of the first things I did when I found out I was moving to Pittsburgh was look up the WISE Pittsburgh chapter.
4. You were involved in the WISE group in San Diego, has that continued in Pittsburgh?
As part of the Sports MBA program, we were actively involved in the WISE San Diego chapter. Extracurricular involvement in groups such as WISE really helped me understand the sports industry. I stayed involved in the chapter when I moved north to Orange County to work with the Ducks. Once I was hired by the Penguins, one of the first things I did was look up the WISE chapter in Pittsburgh. I participated in professional development activities and the “WISE from Within” mentorship program before joining the Board of Directors in early 2020.
5. What community organizations are you involved with currently?
WISE Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.
6. Where are you from?
Newmarket, Ontario (Canada)…same place as Connor McDavid (professional hockey player). There’s something in the water here. I just didn’t drink it. Although I can raise a puck semi-consistently now.
7. What are some of the top lakes to visit in Ontario?
I haven’t been to an Ontario lake I didn’t like! I grew up going to my grandparent’s cottage on Lake Rosseau in Muskoka. It was the highlight of the summer (and still is).
I have a minor in Environmental Science (that’s how much I like the outdoors) and I actually took a Geography of the Great Lakes course in my second/sophomore year (writing like a dual 🇺🇸/🇨🇦 citizen here).
8. Who were some of your favourite (🇨🇦) NHL Maple Leafs growing up?
Love the spelling of favourite! Gary Roberts and Alex Mogiliny. Preteen Amy was a big Matt Stajan fan. I have an old KOHO Leafs Stajan jersey. It’s covered in stains from wearing it to school… you can imagine the result of taking an art class while wearing a white Maple Leafs jersey.
9. You have two passports. Which has more stamps, your U.S., or your Canadian passport?
I gravitate towards my Canadian passport when I travel internationally.
I never go anywhere without a passport… just in case (and part of me finds it so weird to show up to the airport without a passport). When I’m traveling within the U.S., I take my U.S. passport. I don’t know if this is true, but if I were to lose it, I feel like it’s easier to replace a US passport in the U.S. than a Canadian one.
10. Other than sports, what are some of your interests?
Sports business (is that different than sports?), music, pizza, and anything outside. I’m a sucker for road trips. My 2005 Pontiac G6 has been from Toronto to San Diego and pretty much everywhere in between.
I’m slowly working my way through all the US National Parks. I’m a creature of habit so there are a few accessible ones that I’ve been to a handful of times: Zion, Bryce, Joshua Tree (the Joshua Tree on the U2 album wasn’t actually in Joshua Tree, but that didn’t stop me from cruising through the park listening to the album).
11. You’re a big music fan. What are your four favourite bands of all time who are still currently together?
Here’s my creature of habit personality shining through again. I like the same bands that I did fifteen years ago. Makes it easy.
- Foo Fighters
- Arctic Monkeys
- The Killers
- The Strokes
I bought The Killers’ Hot Fuss CD with all my babysitting money when I was in Grade 7/7th grade. That CD is still in my car. Talk about getting my money’s worth!
12. What’s your favourite concert venue in Toronto? San Diego? Pittsburgh?
Not exactly Toronto, but I love the Kee to Bala. It’s this awesome venue on the lake in cottage country. It’s been around for 75+ years. I discovered a lot of my favourite Canadian bands seeing the shows there each summer.
In San Diego, it was really fun seeing bands come through at the smaller venues like The Casbah, Soda Bar, and Belly Up Tavern, to name a few. Sloan played The Casbah when I was at SDSU. Talk about a Canadian’s dream come true! It was also really fun seeing shows on campus; it was an easy commute from the classroom! I saw a few shows at the CalCoast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU including Flight of the Concords.
There are a lot of great venues in Pittsburgh. It’s always nice when someone comes through PPG Paints Arena since it’s an easy commute from my desk! This is coming from the girl who used to drive for hours to see a band at the coolest venue on their tour. I must be getting old.
13. Top Canadian Acts?
And I have the best story about PUP. Back when Riot Fest still came through Toronto, I took my little brother who was maybe 12 at the time. It was a fun day, but a long time in the sun. We sat down to watch Death Cab for Cutie and 2 minutes into the opening of I Will Possess Your Heart, he said he was bored. We decided to check out some of the other stages and found this band called ‘PUP’ playing a killer show on one of the smaller stages. We watched their 30-minute set and David (my little bro) loved it. They were a blast- crowd surfing and singing- everything a 12-year-old would enjoy! A few weeks later they announced a show in Toronto. I tweeted at them asking if it was all ages and told them that my little brother was a big fan. They tweeted back saying it wasn’t but told me to shoot them an email. I did and they invited us down to the show early to watch them soundcheck. They couldn’t have been nicer. They played a few songs, hooked us up with merch, let us watch an interview they were doing, and took us all around the venue (on stage, backstage, etc.). The show was at this iconic Toronto venue that my dad grew up going to, so it was so cool that David got to go there when he was a kid. After we were done, we went next door to the burrito place (that usually go to after the show) for dinner. David still talks about how awesome the day was. I make a point to go to their shows whenever I can. They came to San Diego while I was at SDSU.
14. Best shows you’ve seen?
You know when Lucille Bluth is “I love all my children equally” and it flashes to her earlier that day saying “I don’t care for GOB”? That’s me trying to answer this question concisely.
I went to Cal Jam in 2017, the music festival curated by Dave Grohl. I am a sucker for everything and anything Dave Grohl, so had a lot of fun at that show. Mandy Chatigny (SMBA17) came with me!
I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a few of the surprise/last-minute shows at the Horseshoe in Toronto over the years like The Pixies, Foster the People, The Constantines, Billy Talent (12-year-old Amy was stoked) and of course all of the other Canadian must-sees. It’s a cool venue with so much history. You feel like you are a part of something seeing some big acts somewhere where you feel like the bun on top of your head might hit the ceiling (I’m not actually that tall). Also, the shows I’ve seen there are nowhere near the historic shows that came through (aka Foo Fighters, The Strokes, The Hip, and The Stones), but maybe 20 years from now someone will think it was cool that I saw ‘whoever’ play at the Horseshoe.
I managed to score a ticket to the Arctic Monkeys at the Kool Haus in Toronto (RIP). One of those I can’t believe I’m seeing a band I love in such a tiny venue. I think that place held like 2500 max.
Last one I promise. We took a family trip to London, England (as in not London, Ontario) and a notification popped up that Green Day was playing near me. I thought that was strange because I ALWAYS check tour schedules before a trip. Turns out it was a surprise show and we were able to score tickets for the whole family. Green Day was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Dookie. My youngest brother was 12 at the time and took 200 zoomed-in pictures on my mom’s iPod touch. My middle brother still jokes about the time we saw “Blur.”
Okay, really the last one. I can’t not say Paul McCartney here also. The music was unbelievable, but I really enjoyed hearing his stories. It’s not very often you go to a concert and think “Please keep talking.”
15. Who’s a musician that many people wouldn’t know is from Canada?
Generally, if you don’t know if an artist is Canadian or not, they aren’t Canadian.
Taylor Hawkins, the drummer from the Foo Fighters is Canadian! I love that Taylor was touring with Alanis Morrissette before he joined the Foo Fighters. Fascinating story. This is worth watching just for Taylor’s Dave Grohl impression.
16. OK, that’s enough music questions for now. Let’s chat about SDSU. What is your favourite memory from your time in Sports MBA?
The trip to the Dominican Republic was a great experience. I really enjoyed learning about the far-reaching impact baseball has on seemingly every aspect of their culture, getting into the community to see where players come from and how they train, really all of it.
In addition to the sports business trips to the MLB office and team academies, we got to see a summer league game between the Padres and Blue Jays. I’m a big Jays fan and loved hearing all of the Spanish cheers the team would shout from the dugout. It’s amazing how connected a sports team can make you feel.
17. Favourite course in the program?
Definitely Dr. Vassilis Dalakas’ Sports Marketing course.
Dr. Dalakas bridges the gap between the sports industry and the classroom with every lecture. We talked through real-world examples. His material is always up to date which helped prepare me for interviews and networking conversations. If you give him a follow on Twitter you’ll always see the latest marketing best practices and see comments like “I’m updating my slides with this.”
18. You famously worked on a lot of extracurricular projects, oftentimes with Bree Glaviano (SMBA ‘17) and Mandy Chatigny (SMBA ‘17), do any of those stand out to you?
Yes! We had so many opportunities to contribute to top-notch organizations during the program. Mike Warkentin came to speak to our class and challenged us to explore non-traditional sponsorship categories for Northlands in Edmonton, Alberta. There were so many more! I actually have a one-sheeter (okay three-sheeter) detailing all of the projects my classmates worked on that I submitted with job applications. (Scott’s idea and a great conversation starter!)
I vividly remember sitting at Starbucks in Mission Valley with my classmates, Bree and Mandy, working on a project for Jack Tipton (SMBA ‘06). That’s the beauty of being passionate about sports business! These projects weren’t for a class, but they were crucial to our development. My friends from the program are my go-to’s for anything in the industry! Plus, the Penguins project led to an eventual job opportunity for me. Terry Kalna, our SVP of Sales and Broadcast always says that the best learning happens between 5 pm and 8 pm. These projects are the perfect example. It’s the best time to connect with those around. The day-to-day tasks are done and you can do the work you are passionate about.
19. How did you get involved with the Anaheim Ducks organization?
I started working for them part-time when I was in the program. Once I had a few weeks of SMBA under my belt (to unpack my car and get into the groove of school), I started looking for part-time jobs. I wasn’t caught up in what specific field of the sports industry I’d work in, I just wanted the experience to complement what we were learning in school, so I landed with the Ducks organization running and marketing their hockey programming. I worked with the Ducks part-time through the program and got brought on full time when I finished the SMBA course work, and I moved to Orange County a few weeks later. I loved getting a start in hockey, even if it meant I had to do the long drive from San Diego to Anaheim and back to do it. The tourist in me actually liked the excuse to explore the coast. I would time my trip home to stop and watch the sunset at one of the many beaches on (well somewhat on) the route. If you are looking for the best coffee shops to work in along the I-5, let me know. My checklist includes comfy chairs, patio, outlets, and cold water.
20. The Sports MBA program is set up with a big research project at the end and you did your final project about the Learn to Play program. What were some of the top-line takeaways for you from that consulting report?
Hockey needs to be more accessible. Teams should focus their community initiatives on tackling the barriers associated with getting into the game. It’s really important to tailor your programming for your area. Different markets have different barriers and different focus areas. For some teams, like Anaheim, exposure to the sport really helps develop fans. In Toronto, people are much more exposed to hockey, so the focus needs to be on making everyone feel welcome in the sport.
The greatest takeaway from the project was that Industry Growth Fund initiatives like the Learn to Play program are working. More and more people are getting hooked on hockey. USA Hockey saw the largest increase in 8U memberships around this time (dating back to 2017) with a 25% increase. You see the impact on membership retention too. These programs allow kids and their families to make hockey part of their lifestyle.
21. You moved from one waterfowl NHL club to another when you joined the Penguins, what is the difference in each club’s role within the community?
Love the waterfowl tie! The NHL markets are very diverse, but the teams have similar goals developing their fan base. In Anaheim, we found a lot of success developing fans by connecting them to hockey. In Pittsburgh, we want the community to feel connected to the team.
Since my background is youth hockey development, the Golden Ticket Skate in Pittsburgh is the perfect example! The program gets kids introduced to hockey and a free set of hockey equipment from DICK’S, but it also introduces the new hockey families to our players.
22. Let’s talk about partnerships. How would you briefly describe your role with the Penguins and some of the Pittsburgh area corporate clients with whom you currently work?
Yeah! I work in partnership marketing which means activating our corporate partnerships. We currently have over 150 corporate partners. I work on such a strong team of marketing managers and each of us has a portfolio of accounts that we execute on. Whenever you see partner content on our social channels, website, in-arena, or around the community, that originated from our team!
23. Favourite activations from this past season.
Renovate the Rink which we run with our commercial construction partner, PittComm. I know from my own experience that athletic facilities are one of the places where communities come together and grow closer. It’s a really fun project to be involved in since you see the impact with the renovation each year. The entire organization came together to bring this one to life. Every department got behind it. From our creative team designing a killer logo to PR and social helping us get the word out. It was a team effort from start to finish. Tradeable Bits, a Vancouver based company, helped us host the contest. They wrote a great blog post summarizing the promotion here.
One of the really fulfilling parts of working in sports is seeing your ideas and your work come to life; Renovate the Rink is that activation for me.
24. You worked with Dr. Dalakas’ Sports Marketing class in Spring of 2019 on a project, what were some of the more creative ideas to come out of that experience?
Jack and I really enjoyed working with Dr. Dalakas’ Sports Marketing class, it really was a great experience for us. We tasked the students with generating new activation ideas for some of our key partners. We were able to learn a lot from the class’ outside perspective since Jack and I are so immersed in our partners’ business. This proved to us how important critical thinking and fresh perspectives can be! Some of the groups were tasked with coming up with activations for The Milk Shake Factory. We were able to bring a few of their ideas to life at one of their grand opening celebrations.
The Sports Marketing project was one of my favorite projects from SMBA, so it was fun to participate in the experience again. Dr. Dalakas optimizes the project for learning! The students had the chance to run through their ideas with him and an industry leader before pitching them to us. We provided feedback and got a final project that was ready to share with our partners. Pretty impressive right?
25. You mentioned the students provided activation ideas for The Milkshake Factory, what’s in a Jake’s Shake, and can you confirm how it is?
It’s a chocolate hat-trick: brownies, cookies and cream, hot fudge and a chocolate number 59 on top! I can confirm that the Jake’s Shake is as good as advertised. The Milk Shake Factory does such a great job with their creative. I have to be careful reviewing or trafficking any of their marketing assets around lunchtime (well, really, any time of day). Makes me crave a shake every time. Seriously, try looking at their site without wanting a shake!
26. What are your top three shakes from The Milk Shake Factory?
- Jake’s Shake (can’t not pick that one)
- Chocolate Dipped Strawberry
- Cookie Dough
…. great, now I’m hungry
27. This year’s Sports MBA group did their Sports Marketing class project with the Anaheim Ducks, but you were still involved, what was your role in this effort?
I was thrilled that I got to spend some time on Zoom getting to know this year’s SMBA class during their Sports Marketing class. The students worked with Graham Siderius (SMBA ‘07), VP of Corporate Partnerships, and Corporate Partnerships Analyst Forrest Lockwood (SMBA ‘18) but my role was to listen to a dress rehearsal of the students’ presentations and give them feedback before they pitched to the Ducks. Even though the project was for Graham and Forrest, I definitely took away some great ideas for our team too! The SMBA projects are the definition of mutually beneficial!
28. Question via Jack Tipton (SMBA ‘06) - Which Harry Potter character would be the best NHL player and why?
That is a brilliant question. I can’t help but picture Voldemort gliding across the ice without skates, but no, dude is not a team player. Sirius Black has the hockey flow. Plus, he could double as the team dog. Dog content always performs well. Final answer.
29. Question via Jack Tipton (SMBA ‘06) - Imagine Dragons asks you to manage their presenting sponsorship of their next world tour. They are co-headlining with the Foo Fighters. Do you take the job?
Here’s the backstory on this question. Some members of the Penguins front office had a game show style virtual happy hour. We had two superstars join our corporate partnerships team a few days before we all got sent home to work remotely (talk about bad timing!), so we were all still trying to get to know each other. One of the questions was “What do you wish would disappear?”
My coworkers said things like snakes and spiders. I couldn’t think of what to say. I mean, snakes aren’t perfect, but they definitely add value to the planet. Imagine Dragons, on the other hand, has no positive impact on my life, so my response was “I wish Imagine Dragons would disappear.” That being said, if they were co-headlining with the Foo Fighters and I had that specific job, they would definitely provide me with a lot of value! I’d take the job. I could use their set to get my work done each night; win/win.
30. Do you have any advice for future Sports MBA students? How might prospective students and current Sports MBA students get in touch with you?
My advice would be “Say yes.” Say yes to doing more. Say yes to learning more. Say yes to getting involved. You never know what opportunity is going to be the one that clicks. Keep that mentality as your career progresses. Be curious and never miss an opportunity to learn more. I’m reachable on both LinkedIn and Twitter.
SDSU Sports MBA congratulates Amy on her 30 Under 30 award, and thanks her for answering all of our questions!
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.