Shannon Pratt’s career goal is fairly straightforward: the Xavier freshman would like to be general manager of a Major League Baseball team someday. Ambitious, yes. Easy, no. But this semester, she’s completing an internship that may inch her closer to her goal.
Pratt is one of six Xavier students chosen for the Reds Ambassador Program, a partnership between Xavier and the Cincinnati Reds that aims to accomplish two goals: Give budding sports executives some real-life experience with a professional team, and give the Reds insight into capturing the hard-to-reach college audience.
While the Reds have offered internship programs to Xavier students for almost a decade, the Ambassador program was launched just last year. It is the brainchild of Doug Olberding, chairman of Xavier’s Department of Sport Studies, and Reds executives Ryan Niemeyer and John Davis. Niemeyer and Davis are both Xavier alumni—Niemeyer earned a degree in sport administration in 1999 and Davis a degree in sport management in 1999. They knew a stint inside a professional sports team is invaluable for students hoping to break into the industry.
“So many entry-level jobs are in sales and marketing, and having experience that includes measurable results through ticket sales is a valuable thing to have on a résumé,” Olberding says. “It’s a way for them to get their feet wet and see what it’s like on a day-to-day basis to be involved in the sports world.”
Pratt, a Denver native, learned about the internship on a visit to the Xavier campus while she was still in high school. She is a diehard Colorado Rockies fan and scouted schools based on their sport management programs. “I came to Xavier mostly for sport management, because it’s a good program and known throughout the country,” Pratt says. When she arrived on campus, she followed up with Olberding and applied for the 2010 Ambassador program. She is the only freshman chosen as an intern so far.
The group launched its internship in early December by working at Redsfest, the annual offseason event to stoke fan awareness and show appreciation. When classes resumed in January, the students began meeting with Reds executives both on campus and at Great American Ballpark at least once a week, sometimes more often.
They were charged with planning and executing an event to draw the Xavier community to a Reds game in April, but along the way they also learned about accounting, community relations, groundskeeping—everything it takes to run a professional sports team. In planning the April event, the Xavier group had access to Reds mascots, group-ticket sales strategies, a dedicated budget and any other support they needed from the Reds.
“What’s cool about the program is it isn’t a typical entry-level experience where you do the grunt work,” says Chris Butler, a sophomore from Philadelphia who is also in the program this year. “We’re planning it ourselves. We can pitch Ryan Niemeyer any idea and he’ll say, ‘Sure, as long as it works.’ When I graduate in two years, I can put on my résumé that I planned a student-run event with a professional sports franchise. I don’t know many sport management programs that will let you connect with a major-league franchise and let you run the show.”
In turn, the Reds get help figuring out how college-age students decide to attend professional sports events and how teams can entice them to attend more often. It’s a tough market for teams to crack. Games can require advance planning for tickets and transportation, while college students are more likely to choose entertainment at the last minute. And the price of tickets is another barrier to perpetually cash-strapped students.
“A lot of the internship is us trying to pick their brains, explore social networking and digital media on a college campus, an environment they’re in every day,” Niemeyer says.
Last year’s event was a Xavier Night for students in April. The game attracted 30,000 fans to the ballpark, and Chris Mack, who had just been named head coach of the men’s basketball team, threw out the first pitch. This year’s event broadened its target to reach Xavier faculty, staff and alumni as well as students—including six students who will no doubt be drawing on its lessons for years to come.