As a Cleveland native and sports fanatic, Christian Portaro always knew where he wanted to go to college: The Ohio State University.
The home of the Buckeyes seemed to have precisely what Portaro wanted in a school: A strong business school, a great reputation and a massive, nationally respected athletics program. Portaro, like most everyone else in Ohio, was a Buckeye at heart.
“Ohio State was my dream school,” Portaro says. “It was always at the top of my list, and I was really pretty set on it.”
Then Portaro and his father made a visit to Arizona State University. While there, Portaro learned that ASU had a lot of the same things to offer as Ohio State did—an acclaimed business school, a top-notch sports program—as well as a couple things that OSU couldn’t offer.
The warm Arizona weather was certainly a factor, but the Sports Business Association ultimately convinced Portaro that the ASU was the place for him.
“When I was visiting ASU, my father and I met with [SBA faculty advisor] John Eaton and the president of the SBA,” he recalls. “They took us out to lunch and they just totally wowed me and my dad. With the opportunity they were providing, they got me. I couldn’t say no. I can honestly say I’m at ASU because of the SBA.”
Portaro isn’t alone, either, because to hear students and faculty tell it, the Sports Business Association at the W. P. Carey School of Business has evolved into one of the most active and respected student organizations on campus.
Get into the game
The SBA has the stated mission of providing students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of sports business through speaking engagements, networking events, sports-focused trips and more. The organization not only gives its members a fuller understanding of sports media and sports marketing, but also helps them make the kind of contacts that can help them gain a leg up when searching for jobs after graduation.
“The SBA is just a great organization,” says Beth A. Walker, chair of the marketing department at the W. P. Carey School and the AT&T Professor of Services Marketing and Management. “The SBA is a large organization, and provides the students with insight into the world of sports business. Though job opportunities in sports are relatively small in number, the SBA introduces students to the sports industry and provides many important networking opportunities and access to internships that help the SBA students set themselves apart.”
As W. P. Carey moves to create a new B.A. degree in Sports and Media Studies (beginning fall 2014), faculty and students say the SBA will continue to provide an important co-curricular element to the W. P. Carey sports business experience—the kind of experience that they might not be able to find anywhere else.
The winning formula
The great work that the organization is doing hasn’t gone unnoticed. The SBA was named the W. P. Carey Student Organization of the Year in April; Portaro, SBA’s vice president, was named the school’s Emerging Student Leader of the Year; and Eaton, the group’s faculty advisor, was named the winner of the Huizingh Outstanding Service to Students Award.
Eaton says the group deserves all of the kudos it has received.
“The group has created this opportunity for students to interact with business executives and to learn up close about the business side of sports,” Eaton says. “It allows them to further their education in the field and, obviously from what we’ve seen, a lot of kids are interested in doing that.”
Indeed, the group is now the largest student organization at W. P. Carey. Every year, about 150 students gladly pay the $75 membership fee to join, and with good reason: Over the years, the SBA has made key contacts with sports executives and organizations throughout the Phoenix area. These contacts help the club host the type of events that smaller or less connected groups simply couldn’t muster.
Recent events include an on-campus appearance by Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, a tour of the Arizona Cardinals football stadium, an outreach trip to Chicago that included visits to the Chicago Bulls headquarters and the Big Ten Network, internship fairs and more.
“In all honesty, it’s not that difficult to get students to pay $75 to become a member so they can hear these great speakers and do cool things like get behind-the-scenes stadium tours,” Eaton says. “It’s not a hard sell at all. And then there are all of the internships that come through. I really think we’ve been successful at letting the Phoenix-area teams know that they can successfully come to ASU for interns.”
He adds: “Its’ really about providing opportunities for these students to get connected with the Nikes of the world, the ESPNs of the world and the pro sports franchises of the world.”
Portaro can attest to that.
In just his first year with the SBA, he made valuable contact with his beloved hometown Cleveland Indians, who hold their spring training in nearby Goodyear, Arizona. Through the SBA, he leveraged what could have been a simple entry-level opportunity at the team’s gift shop into something much more. He told his bosses that he wanted to make the absolute most of his experience, and they let him.
“I got that opportunity because of the SBA,” he says. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Portaro says his dream is pretty simple. Someday, he wants to be a general manager for a professional sports franchise. Ideally, he’d like to be the next Sam Presti, the Oklahoma City Thunder general manager who rather famously made the leap from video intern to coaching assistant to NBA powerbroker in a matter of a few years.
Portaro understands stories like Presti’s are rare and that competition in his chosen field is tough, but he believes this experience both at W. P. Carey and with the SBA will give him a competitive advantage over likeminded students coming out of other institutions. He will earn a Certificate in Sports Business when he graduates from ASU.
He came to ASU because of the SBA.
And he couldn’t be happier with his choice.
“It really adds on to the whole [W. P. Carey] experience,” he says. “W.P. Carey is a great business school and Tempe is a great town. I love the campus, I love ASU and I love that I’m studying sports business. I also love that Tempe is the home to so much in sports—you’ve got college athletics, you’ve got the Suns, you’ve got the Diamondbacks and you’ve got the Cardinals. You’ve got all the sports you need, and the SBA has been a really great experience on top of it.”