SMBA 20 Graduate Q&A: Morgan Pefanis

August 17, 2020

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.

SMBA ‘20 grad, Morgan Pefanis, chose the Sports MBA program to gain skills that would transfer across multiple industries. Pefanis, originally from Colorado, also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to live in Southern California.

The SDSU Fowler News Team interviewed Pefanis about her graduate school journey, the impact of the program’s alumni, and her experience during her 795 culminating experience project with FanThreeSixty, a technology company based in Kansas City, Missouri that builds software for sports organizations.

Morgan Pefanis (center) presents a fan activation project to the Pittsburgh Penguins with SMBA '20 classmates.

Morgan Pefanis (center) presents a fan activation project to the Pittsburgh Penguins with SMBA '20 classmates.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from and where did you get your undergrad degree?

I am from Highlands Ranch, Colorado just south of Denver, and I went to the University of Oklahoma for my undergrad degree.

Q: You studied abroad in college, what was that experience like?

The cliché saying, “study abroad changed my life” is actually very true for me. The six months I spent in Australia changed my career trajectory and led me to sports business and the SMBA program. Australia is an amazing place and I can’t wait to go back someday!

Q: What was your favorite Australian sport to watch?

I have to say Rugby Union for this one as I interned for the birthplace of Australian Rugby, Sydney University Football Club. It’s definitely a super confusing sport at first but once you learn the rules and the strategy it is very fun to watch!

Q: How/when did you decide to pursue a Sports MBA degree at San Diego State?

The answer to this question is actually related to my study abroad experience. I always thought I was going to go to law school and become a lawyer until the fall semester of my senior year, right after I got home from Australia. My internship in Australia was my first experience in sports business and because the front office only consisted of three people including myself, I was able to wear a lot of hats and learn different aspects of the team side of the business. That experience really opened my eyes to the sports business world and set my career path going forward. Once I decided that I wouldn’t be going to law school, I knew I still wanted a graduate degree, specifically in sports business. I did a lot of research on whether I wanted to do an MS or MBA and landed on the SMBA program at San Diego State because it is an MBA program. The program offers a transferable degree across industries, there are many notable alumni in the industry, and it’s hard to beat living in SoCal. 

SMBA '20 plays basketball with Domincan Republic youth while on their international trip.

SMBA '20 plays basketball with Domincan Republic youth while on their international trip.  

Q: Do you have a favorite memory from your time within the Sports MBA program?

This is a tough question to answer because I have many fond memories of my time in the SMBA Program! The trip to the Dominican Republic was a really amazing experience because our class was very close even before the trip and we were all very invested in the learning experience which made the trip that much more impactful and fun. I will also add that watching the Women’s World Cup quarterfinal game against France during one of our first Operations Management classes and having to pretend I was listening to Dr. Yang while slyly notifying Jamie Dickman when Megan Rapinoe scored was pretty fun too (sorry Dr. Yang!). And a special shout-out to our Monday night beach volleyball tradition!

Q: What was your favorite class and/or favorite professor and why?

I truly enjoyed all of the Sports MBA classes because I learned so much more than I did in most of my undergrad classes which is a credit to the SMBA faculty for their dedication to the program. I would say Statistics with Dr. Lackritz, although very challenging, laid the foundation for my interest in data analytics, the career path I’m pursuing now. Business Intelligence with Dr. Abhari was also challenging but so relevant in today’s sports industry. Dr. Abhari was also my 795 thesis advisor and I was able to learn so much from him.

Q: The Sports MBA program is known for its industry guest speakers. Was there one or more that really stood out to you?

One of my favorite parts of the program is the wide variety of industry guest speakers who came and spoke to our class because it allowed us to learn about many different parts of the industry. Neel Shah, program director of Global Institute of Sports Business India, spoke to us about the sports industry in India and I found his presentation to be super interesting because the sports market in India is huge but not talked about as much as other large foreign markets such as China, so I was able to learn a lot of new information. Similarly, Rebeca Díaz Gonzalez, international business development for La Liga, spoke to us about how the spanish football league is growing their North American fan base and it was interesting to learn about the strategy international leagues use when trying to capture the North American market and about La Liga in general.

Q: The Sports MBA program is also known for its robust network of alumni. Are there Program alumni from whom you remember getting good advice from? Or is there anyone who has really helped guide you or impacted your career?

I wish I could remember which alumni gave this advice to us related to job interviews because it is really some of the best advice I’ve received but someone told us to always close an interview with the question: do you have any immediate reservations about me as a candidate that I can clear up for you now? I always close interviews with that question now and it  oftens impresses my interviewers. So shout-out to whichever alumni told us that, if you’re reading this please let me know who you are! Additionally, Dani Belinski (SMBA ’09) did my alumni interview when I was applying to the program and was really helpful during my time in the program as well. Pete Abels (SMBA ’19) and Cole Cook (SMBA ’17) were also super helpful 

Morgan Pefanis (second from right) poses with SMBA '20 classmates and eight-time NBA All-Star, Steve Nash (left) during his Foundation's LA Charity Shield event.

Morgan Pefanis (second from 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?

My favorite event was definitely the Steve Nash Foundation’s Charity Shield soccer tournament in Los Angeles. Jenny Miller, the Executive Director, is truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and the two days we spent volunteering were a ton of fun! We were able to help with a little bit of everything - from event set-up to the charity auction to registering players and running scores. Listening to Stu Holden call the final match, after he had played all day, was a really fun way to close out the tournament!

Q: Your class trip to the Dominican Republic included a research component, what was the focus of your project for that course? 

The focus of my project about the Dominican Republic was highlighting the ways Major League Baseball could further invest in softball in the country and provide more opportunities for Dominican girls to participate in sports. While there are many opportunities for boys to play baseball in the country there is much less opportunity for girls to play softball. MLB has a large presence in the D.R. and their potential investment into women’s sports would be super transformative for Dominican women and girls.

Morgan poses with fellow SMBA '20 classmates during their Monday night beach volleyball tradition.

Morgan poses with fellow SMBA '20 classmates during their Monday night beach volleyball tradition. 

Q: Why should others consider the Sports MBA program when looking at graduate programs? 

The San Diego State Sports MBA program is one of few programs in the country that is an MBA program specifically focused on sports business. Just the fact that it is an MBA degree lets future employers know that you have a fundamental business understanding while also a grasp of the unique business of sports. Additionally, the SMBA faculty and staff are truly dedicated to ensuring the success of every SMBA student as well as the large network of alumni and friends of the program. And uniquely, San Diego State is just down I-5 from one of the largest sports markets in the world which provides unique opportunities for students in the program.  

Q: Any advice you would have for current and/or future Sports MBA students about making the most of their time here?

My main piece of advice for current or future Sports MBA students is that your experience in the program is your experience. This is important to remember because everyone’s experience in the program is different and no matter what former students tell you about their experience and what they think you should do differently just remember that how you experience the program is yours only and what you want to put into it is ultimately exactly what you will get out of it. It also wouldn’t be advice for SMBA students if I didn’t say: network, network, network! 

Q: Describe your consulting project (BA 795) company and position. 

I completed my 795 while working for FanThreeSixty, a technology company based in Kansas City, Missouri that builds software for sports organizations. Most notably, they build team apps for organizations such as most USL teams, LSU, UVA, etc. My role was Client Success Coordinator and I was essentially a liaison between the Data Science team and the Client Success team mainly focused on data reporting and supporting the Client Success Leads. My project was a cluster analysis with the aim of creating specific strategies for a client based on the clusters that resulted from the analysis.

Q: Are there specific skills you learned through the Sports MBA program (in class or otherwise) that helped you with the role/project?

I mainly used the skills I learned in the Business Intelligence class with Dr. Abhari in conjunction with a foundational understanding of statistics from Dr. Lackritz’s class. All of the papers throughout the program were also valuable for the project because they served as practice for writing a long and important academic paper.

Q: Describe the skills you gained from the 795 experience that you will take with you in your next role.

The 795 experience taught me a lot about project management because while it was tied closely to my actual role it was something that I mostly worked on outside of work. Therefore, it was solely up to me to make sure I was completing the stages of the project on time. It was also a great lesson in intrapreneurship and going outside of my defined role to provide value for my company. 

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 to learn more, request information or apply to the Sports MBA program.

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