SMBA Alumna Earns Championship Ring with Lakers
On October 11, 2020, the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, securing their record-tying 17th NBA title. SDSU Sports MBA alumna Erika Singal (SMBA ‘10), the Lakers’ Senior Director of Corporate Partnerships, became the 12th member of the program’s alumni network to win a championship. Erika’s ring is the 18th championship ring won by a Sports MBA graduate. The Sports MBA program caught up with Erika to discuss her role with the Lakers and how it changed when the NBA pivoted to The Bubble, her involvement with Women in Sports and Events (WISE), and the impact SDSU Sports MBA had on her career.
Erika Singal, SMBA '10 Alumna
Q: Erika, you are the Senior Director of Corporate Partnerships for the Los Angeles Lakers. Can you talk about what you do in your role?
In my role I sit on the revenue side of the business. I am responsible for new business and renewing existing business. Pending where I am in the business cycle, my day can be filled with a variety of responsibilities which can include prospecting and market research, outreach, ideation/proposal strategy across multiple departments, collaboration with account managers, building proposals, presenting proposals, negotiating, contract drafting/reviewing, and closing. Each day is often filled with a combination of the above, and if I’m lucky, I get to spend some time speaking to really smart people about how the business of sport will grow through new ventures, technology, innovation and forward thinking. I believe all interesting things happen around the edges and I find a tremendous amount of enjoyment when I’m there.
Q: The 2020 NBA season was certainly different than any other season in the league’s history. Can you think back to when things shifted in March, what was it like for you working in the front office when the commissioner announced that the NBA will be suspending the season until further notice?
It was a shock for sure. I remember getting the email one day saying that we could not come back into the office due to COVID and all the uncertainty around it. Fortunately, we were all pretty well prepared and the organization set us up with monitors within the first week in an effort to make it as smooth of transition as possible. We have been working from home ever since.
Q: What was it like for you and your department from March - July? How did your work and priorities shift/change?
I moved from a sales-oriented mindset to a full-service mindset. Our existing partners are top priority and making sure we were over communicating and addressing all the questions that our partners had was most important. We then had to work through make-good strategies with each partner and come up with a new plan that would work for them, but also one that would work for us and we could deliver. Because we no longer were hosting games at STAPLES Center, much of the inventory that was formerly available was no longer an option. The leadership of the League office and operations of the bubble made this all possible. It was definitely a situation where we all needed to come together to work through it and we did just that.
Q: Describe what it was like to hear that the team would be playing in the NBA bubble? How did the bubble situation change your duties?
It was a shock, but nothing that I didn’t believe could be done. Having built stadiums on beaches and produced full-scale sporting events from a blank canvas, I knew it was all very possible. I also knew it would not come without a ton of sacrifice, hard work and relentless dedication. Because of my production background, I come with a tremendous amount of gratitude and appreciation for all those who had a part in executing the bubble operation. Adding on the complexity of COVID and the success in that no one tested positive inside the bubble which is a testament to the great work of the League office, the teams and the others involved. My duties changed a bit in that there was less hospitality (normally we would be at STAPLES Center hosting at games), but instead we were working constantly with partners to restructure their assets so that we could continue to drive value for them, despite the change in the games. Based on much of the feedback we have received after the season, our partners seem to be very happy with the outcome of the partnership for this season and the way in which we handled that process.
Q: Sports partnerships departments got really creative during COVID-19 to ensure fulfillment on contracts and happy team partners. Did the Lakers make any significant changes this season? Any good use case examples of how your team pivoted and made the best of the situation.
We worked hard to meet our partners where they were and develop a plan with which they were comfortable. For some, that included supporting their efforts in getting content from the bubble, new social plans and content, new virtual experiences and opportunity to access new signage. I saw a ton of great innovation across all sport/entertainment. In particular, a product called Looped that brings the physical meet and greet experience into the digital space. What I think has been interesting about COVID is that for many organizations, it has expedited the direction they were already headed and allowed them to realize those benefits and new business opportunities sooner than they may have otherwise found them. It has been really fun to see the innovation and growth that has come out of this unfortunate situation.
Q: In the end, the team delivered, winning the franchise’s 17th championship. Describe that moment.
It was awesome and something so many of my co-workers, the players and staff, who have been there for a long time, have been waiting for. It has been a long year of growth and to cap it off with a championship is simply indescribable. I very much look forward to the day when we can properly celebrate together.
Q: What’s one lesson that you would take from this season that could potentially carry over into the future?
One school of thought I have really tried to adopt is it is about the process, not the end goal. Kobe used to say this and certainly is something LeBron has reminded us of often. I have really tried to lean into learning from and enjoying the process.
Q: With the pandemic ongoing and restrictions varying in markets across the country, how do you foresee sports partnerships adapting?
I think there is a tremendous opportunity for a lot of companies to rethink how they go about sports partnerships. I have really enjoyed the conversations with leaders and experts in their own sectors that are relevant and meaningful to sport (example – technology) and dialoguing with them to understand how we leverage their capabilities to fundamentally impact our business, and vice versa. Partnerships are becoming more and more integrated and often come with a long-term perspective. The advent of technology and social media has helped to democratize the leagues and small-market teams are now able to drive real, targeted impact and value for partners. I think this is really important to pay attention to these subtle changes and, where possible, lean into some of these technologies.
Q: You are involved with WISE (Women in Sports and Events). Can you talk about the importance of that organization and supporting women in the sports industry?
WISE is a national organization with 25+ chapters across the US and Canada. Our mission is to be the leading resource for women working professionally in sports. We do this through a variety of initiatives including events, mentorship programs, leadership workshops, digital resources, and a connected network. It has proven to be a very energizing group of individuals that are focused on doing incredible work. The support we have from one another and the success I have seen during my ten years on the board has been one of inspiration and incredible satisfaction. The organization provides members with the support and confidence they might not otherwise have, to not only pursue, but excel in the sports industry. I would highly encourage, both men and women, who are looking for a meaningful resource to get involved with the organization.
Q: How has the Sports MBA program experience and alumni network been useful in your career to make a transition into sports business and in the ten years since you graduated from the program?
The SDSU Sports MBA program has been the catalyst for my career in sport. In addition to getting an incredible post-graduate education, it also provided me with a vehicle to make a transition from the investment banking industry to the sports industry. Along the way I have had the opportunity to connect with some of the most talented professionals in the industry through the alumni network. As this network continues to grow and gain more experience, it is a very valuable resource for those that are connected to the network and who are in the program. I have also made some of my most treasured business relationships and friendships through this program and for which I am so very thankful.
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.