NYC Trek 2005: Alums Follow Path from MBA to NBA

Seventy trekkers, 22 companies, 2 days. HBS took Manhattan by storm last week when students looking for those ever-so-elusive “non-traditional” jobs made the annual trip to the Big Apple in search of their dream job. The companies participating in this year’s trek included those from retail, luxury and consumer goods, private equity, venture capital, media and entertainment, hedge funds, and for the first time ever, sports.

While many of us love watching sports on TV and may occasionally make it to a game or two, very few MBAs have historically found their way into the sports industry by any other means than making lots of money in another industry and then sinking several million on a sports franchise that might break even over time.

However, times are changing. The sports industry as a whole is becoming more sophisticated at the league levels. To keep up, more and more teams are beginning to hire hot-shot MBAs to run ancillary businesses and apply “professional” management principles to improve the on-field product.

At no other place was this trend more evident than the National Basketball Association where Commissioner David Stern has seemingly surrounded himself with an army of HBS graduates. Ann Sarnoff (HBS ’87), Scott O’Neil (HBS ’98), Mark Tatum (HBS ’98), and Merritt Paulson (HBS ’00) told students about emerging opportunities for MBAs in the sports industry and gave advice how to get there.

O’Neil, who was recently named to the Sports Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list of top young executives in sports, humored us with his story of how he got caught up in the dot com era, went completely broke, but then followed his heart to basketball.

Sarnoff, on the other hand, told us how she was perfectly happy with a successful career in media/entertainment (she was most recently at Viacom as COO of VH-1/CMT) until Commissioner Stern introduced her to the WNBA, a product she felt she was the ideal target customer for but yet had never heard of; she told us how her greatest coup was convincing her son and his friends that women’s basketball is indeed “cool” after taking them to a New York Liberty game.

While the NBA has the most HBS grads of any major sports league, basketball is not the only sport where HBS alums are making an impact.
At Major League Baseball, the lead sponsor of NYC Trek 2005, students were treated to an amazing presentation by CFO Jonathan Mariner (HBS ’78), recipient of the 2005 Professional Achievement Award at last month’s HBS AASU Conference. Mariner dazzled the crowd with his breakdown of the economics of baseball as students struggled to avoid the glare from his 1997 Florida Marlins World Series Championship ring. Afterwards, every RC flocked to him when Mariner informed the anxious crowd that he would be hiring an MBA intern this summer to work directly for him.
Aside from the NBA and MLB, other companies involved in NYC Trek 2005 included the National Football League, New Jersey Nets, Federated Merchandising Group, DKNY, Coty, L’Oreal, Revlon, Schieffelin & Somerset, Liz Claiborne, Apax Partners, Blackstone, Warburg Pincus, NBC Universal, Bertelesmann, EMI Music, Miramax Film Corp, Viacom / MTV Networks, Time Warner, Och Ziff Capital Management Group, Halcyon Management Co, Fir Tree Capital, Thomas H. Lee Capital, and JCK Partners.

NYC Trek 2005 was co-chaired by Stephanie Schwab, Scott Blackburn, and Kelly Egenes. Doing the dirty work was Young-Jee Won, Jungwon Grace Oh, Andrea Selak, Erin Ryan, Jean Kang, Boyd Bishop, Steven Tan, Agnes Sauvage, Beti Varon, Anthony Trani, Erica Keany, Eric Morgan, and Al Suarez. NYC Trek 2005 was sponsored by the HBS Business of Sports Club and Major League Baseball.