IT’S RAINING MENTORS: Sports mentorship program, pairing students with marketing pros, graduates first class
Lisa Motley has long believed that the people best equipped to promote sports in Las Vegas are already here.
But Motley, director of sports marketing and special events for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), noticed that hiring scouts on the hunt for sports-marketing recruits tended to overlook homegrown players. (The LVCVA produces Las Vegas Newswire.)
“We had so much great local talent,” she said, but found that “everybody would hire from out of market. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for local students to advance in the sports world.”
So Motley decided to make opportunities for them. She created the LVCVA’s Sports Mentorship Program, which launched last year in cooperation with UNLV. The program matches UNLV students interested in sports careers with accomplished sports-marketing pros.
The idea was to give hometown students opportunities to network and learn from those who have helped turn Las Vegas into a mecca for sporting events. Such contacts would help students land internships, part-time jobs and, eventually, full-time positions.
“We decided to build a program for those students who want to stay and build careers here,” Motley said of the project, which does not carry college credits.
Nancy Lough, professor and graduate coordinator of educational psychology and education at UNLV, loved the idea. As faculty advisor for the UNLV Sports Marketing and Management Association, she frequently interacts with students interested in working in sports, and she was happy to help spread the word to potential mentees on campus.
“I think (the program) is really innovative,” she said. “We appreciate that they want students who understand the Las Vegas market — that means our students. It really sets them apart and helps us out.”
The six-month program graduated its first class of 28 students at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center on April 23. Its inaugural success depended on an impressive team of accomplished sports-marketing leaders who served as mentors, including professionals from the Las Vegas Raiders, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Caesars Entertainment Corp., MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Aces, Vegas Golden Knights and others.
Among the graduates was Christian Garcia, a UNLV senior and marketing major born and raised in Las Vegas, who loves sports but until last year “had no idea what kind of career path” he wanted to take.
“I didn’t realize how many different jobs and career opportunities there are in sports,” said Garcia, 22. “I honestly had no clue about it.”
The mentorship program matched him with Jim Lambright, executive director of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame and vice president of marketing and communications for the Las Vegas Lights FC soccer team. This led to a part-time job for Garcia with the Lights, where his tasks include helping create flyers, learning graphic design and assisting with game-day production.
Lambright happily agreed to serve as a mentor, in part because his own career was influenced by “a number of people that I look up to.”
“They provided great opportunities and wisdom and training,” he said. “I just hope that I can give that back.”
Mentor Melissa Harkavy, vice president of community relations and customer experience for the Las Vegas Aviators, also was inspired by a desire to pay it forward. She credits her own mentor, a professor in her sports management program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, with encouraging her to make the connections that led to an internship with the Aviators (formerly the Las Vegas 51s).
“That was 16 seasons ago,” Harkavy said. “I truly believe in the power of mentorship because somebody went to bat for me.”
Harkavy’s mentee, UNLV hospitality management student Daria Kalafut, now works part-time as an administrative specialist for the Aviators.
The mentorship program comes at an auspicious time for sports in Las Vegas. Already known for hosting a plethora of bigtime sporting events (National Finals Rodeo, NASCAR, boxing, NBA Summer League and four NCAA conference basketball tournaments, to name but a few), the addition of professional-league heavyweights—the Golden Knights, Lights, Aces and Raiders (coming in 2020)—has rocked the local sports landscape in a good way, helping position Las Vegas as the “Sports Capital of the World.”
As such, opportunities for those seeking careers in the local sports business have skyrocketed.
“I’m lucky,” Garcia said. “I’m graduating at literally the perfect time.”
Kevin Camper, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, delivered the program’s inaugural commencement address. (He’s also Motley’s mentor.) He shared stories from his long career in sports — which began with a stint as a batboy when he was 11 years old — and underscored the importance of good mentors.
“You’re going to figure out quickly that you need some folks to help along the journey,” he said, likening a career to a whitewater rafting trip. “When you’re going through the rapids, you have to have people that are paddling in the right direction.”
Motley hopes to eventually expand the program beyond UNLV, offering it to students at other local institutions of higher education, and to turn it into a very competitive, elite program. She also wants it to have staying power.
“My hope is in 25 years I get to come back and give the commencement address.”
Applications for the next Sports Mentorship Program open in September. (The program begins in October.) For more information, contact Jenny Bundschuh, sports marketing and special events manager for the LVCVA, at (702) 892-2970.
To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.