Interview with Ryan O’Connor, Corporate Partnership Executive for the Utah Jazz and Miller Sports Properties

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By: Adam White, @FOSAdam

Front Office Sports is Proud to have sat down with Ryan O’Connor, a Corporate Partnership Executive for the Utah Jazz and Miller Sports Properties. He is an alumnus of the University of Utah where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. He was gracious enough to offer up his insight on the corporate sponsorship world, why having a mentor is so important, and why you need to network both inside and outside of your industry.

What previous positions did you have before your current position? How did they help you get to where you are today?

I’ve known that I wanted to work in sports since junior high school. My junior year of college in my Sports Marketing class I got to know my professor pretty well and he introduced me to the Assistant General Manager of the Salt Lake Bees a Minor League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I was working with the University of Utah athletic department selling season tickets, but that connection I made led to an internship with the Salt Lake Bees which got me to where I am today working for Miller Sports Properties. It’s a lot about who you know. Those developments in those positions were pivotal in helping me land my current position.

As a Corporate Partnership Executive what is a normal day like for you? What daily challenges did you face?

Every day I try to keep a schedule but it usually ends up disheveled and disorganized. We are always working with the partners to strengthen their agreements and try to find new ways and new ideas to drive business for them. We also work aggressively to try and generate new business for the organization. The real challenge is the wear and tear of the daily grind of sales. Especially this past year coming off a bad year on the court trying to convince partners is more difficult.

What does a sports industry professional need to excel in an NBA organization?

It varies at different levels but in sales it is all about tenacity and the ability to stay self-motivated. You are expected to produce, we aren’t any different than any other salesman; we just have a different product to sell. You have to be determined and organized. It helps if you bring in experience because cold calling and door to door sales helped me develop my confidence and helped me find out how to get the job done.

What is the best career advice you’ve received?

Find a mentor. It is so important to find a mentor in your career. You need to find someone who has been there and done that and has been successful at it. It will pay huge dividends down the road whether you’re advancing in your career or if you just have a challenge and need advice.

What is your favorite part about working in the sports industry?

It’s the excitement factor for me. I’ll be driving home after an event or game and I’ll think to myself this is why I do what I do. When I’m driving home after a 14 hour day and it’s just great to stop and smell the roses and realize how great it is to have an insider’s perspective on the industry.

What is your ultimate career goal?

I would like to be in a managerial role such as a VP of Corporate Partnerships and then hopefully a senior management level after that. Id’ like to always be a part of a franchise.

How important is networking in your eyes?

It’s very important, especially in sales. You have to build a network inside the industry and outside the industry. Networks pay huge dividends in any field but sales especially. It is so much easier nowadays to network with LinkedIn and social media. The NBA does a fantastic job of helping its colleagues and franchise employees network. They host a site called Team Net and within it they have each franchise and the people who are responsible for each part of the organization.

How do you think corporate partnerships in sports is going to change over the next few years? What changes would you like to see?

We are already starting to see a changing in the corporate partnership landscape. Sponsors used to just want some signs in the stadium, tickets and maybe a TV spot. Companies after the recession have now more than ever wanted a good ROI and with that there are new specific measurement tools both for sponsors and properties. Because if this you have to be creative and tie to an objective and really know what will move the needle for a client. Clients want niches in the arena or parts of the game so they don’t get lost in the clutter. I’d like a platform for all sales people to come together to share best practices.

What is one thing as Corporate Partnership Executive that you are always looking to do for companies?

We are trying to drive sales for our clients. That is our main goal. Depending on their needs we are really looking to put an idea together to move the needle for their business through branding or call to action. You have to be creative and resourceful.