On February 9, 2022, Senior Vice President of Oklahoma City Thunder Sales and Marketing Brian Byrnes joined our American Marketing Association student chapter to answer their burning questions on marketing best practices and how to break into the sports industry.
Byrnes joined the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2005, but has an incredible career history in marketing and sports, including time with the Phoenix Coyotes (Hockey), Dallas Stars (Hockey) and the Texas Rangers (Baseball).
Having experience in developing and executing strategic marketing efforts, Byrnes opened up the floor for students to ask questions, to garner some of his expertise. They asked:
"How do you land a job like yours?"
Bottom line? Networking. Much of his hour in the class was spent emphasizing the importance of networking in landing your dream job. Byrnes said that often times drive and a desire to learn outweigh whether you have the required skillset for the job.
"Many businesses value curiosity more than any other skill set," Byrnes emphasized to the students.
Byrnes recommended that you not only apply for the job, but that you also encourage a reference to reach out to the hiring manager or boss and advocate for you - bonus points if they happen to know each other! In the sports industry especially, the odds are that you're among a LARGE pool of qualified applicants. Your application may or may not be looked at thoroughly. Make sure it is!
"How important is a Sports Management major when looking through applicants?"
With the recent increase in Sports Management programs (check out ours!), the importance of a Sports Management major in a sports-related career has grown. Byrnes pointed out that majors didn't matter nearly as much 10-15 years ago. However, especially coming out of school with little to no experience, having a Sports Management major helps applicants stand out. Is it necessary? No! Does it help? Absolutely.
"How did COVID impact the Thunder's marketing efforts?"
Byrnes said COVID challenged his team to think outside of the box in their marketing. Like many other sports, basketball is a high-contact sport where the in-person viewing experience creates a family-like community. Fans love to be there to cheer their team on. Once COVID hit, fans no longer filled the arena, and that community-oriented atmosphere vanished. They had to create new ways to reach people. Cable took a drastic dive and streaming soared, and not everyone had the access to watch live games they once had.
So, they brainstormed ways for fans to connect outside of the game itself, shifting their focus in a way they hadn't since the team's inception. Social media grew in importance, and they sent out gifts to season ticket holders. Each game is truly a multimedia experience, and the pandemic demanded that each digital platform be high quality.
"Where do you see the Oklahoma City Thunder going in the future?"
Growing! The team started fresh in the 2021-22 season. It's young and filled with potential. Fans are connecting with the new athletes that grace the court of the Paycom Center, hopeful for growth in this new season.
"As an organization, we're looking toward the future, how to build out 7 to 10 years from now," Byrnes said. "Some companies look at 3 to 5 years, we're looking 7 to 10."
Byrnes let the students in the crowd know that a lot of marketing strategy is built out of where you see your team or organization in the future. In the Thunder's case, engaging with younger fans now means they're building a connection with their future season ticket holders.
AND, a lot of sports are cyclical. Players change, leaders change, strategies change, the makeup of the fans change. Not always all at once, but looking out at 7 to 10 years allows the team to stay out in front of the cycle.
To wrap up, Byrnes challenged the crowd of students to put themselves out there. He encouraged them to get his email and send a follow up introducing themselves and requesting a meeting to talk further about the industry and possible job opportunities. Byrnes encouraged them to do the same with each guest speaker they had, especially if they were interested in that industry.
After the Q&A ended, several students took his advice and visited with Byrnes at the front of the classroom, giving rise to a new generation of sports marketing professionals.
The World Awaits Your Story
Become a Business major at Oklahoma Christian University so you can learn from leading industry experts like Brian Byrnes and earn hands-on experience through campus organizations and internships. With an American Marketing Association chapter, Student Government Association, Student Investment Fund, Ethics team and more - you'll be one step ahead of your peers in the field.