Sports Business Association prepares students for work in athletics


Courtesy of Sports Business Association.

By Steve Rotstein / Staff Writer

Before Melissa Mele and Kelley George decided to put a non-sports fanatic in charge of Pitt’s Sports Business Association, previous leaders couldn’t seem to keep the club itself in business.

“[Mele and George] needed that outside look, that person that could tie in everything other than sports to the organization,” Alexis Bovalino, the SBA’s current president, said. “I never thought I was going to take over the club. It just kind of fell into place.”

Since taking the post this year, Bovalino has worked to build on what founders Mele, a former student, and George, a senior, established in January 2015.

After going in and out of existence at Pitt, the SBA, a student-run organization that offers resources and support to students going into sports business, appears to be settling in.

The Association now has about 30 active members, with around 40 more who attend events. Bovalino has adopted a strategy for offering those members networking and educational opportunities with local contacts, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Steelers.

“The SBA had been around on and off for a while, but the problem with it every time is that there’s never a succession plan, so the club always dies out,” Bovalino, a junior marketing and human resources management major,  said. It last disbanded in fall 2013 during Mele’s sophomore year.

George is just finishing up an internship at Heinz Field, where she works in the office directing calls and works guest services during games. She said it was hard to keep the organization alive at Pitt because there isn’t an existing curriculum to attach the SBA to.

“A lot of clubs here, you can tack it onto a specific major,” George said. “[Sports business is] not a part of the everyday curriculum and the everyday conversation.”

Pitt-Bradford has a sports management major, and since George and Mele started the organization, Pitt’s main campus instituted a sports management class, which George said is a start.

“[Now it’s] just kind of figuring out where it fits in,” George said.

Looking for someone whose lone qualification wasn’t a love of sports, Mele and George initially recruited Bovalino in 2014 to be the SBA’s vice president of marketing.

“I was new to the business school and knew nothing about sports, other than the fact that I’m passionate about Pittsburgh teams,” Bovalino said.

Bovalino has since split the SBA’s events into three categories: professional events, including site visits to local sports arenas and a diversity conference coming up on Feb. 5, community service events, including a charity flag football tournament, and social events — last week, the group went to the Pitt-Virginia Tech basketball game together.

While most of the professional events partner with Pitt Business and are limited to students in the business school, the other events are open to anyone. To be an active member in the club, there is a $10 fee per semester, and open meetings are usually held in 2400 Sennott Square on Sundays at 7 p.m.

Bovalino became president of the SBA this January but has been involved since 2014, when plans to re-launch the club first began.

After handling the marketing side of things for the SBA last year, Bovalino created a newsletter in December 2015 to circulate among the club’s corporate contacts, which range from FitCrunch to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ entry-level sales program, B.U.C.S. Academy.

Chuck Ziants, who recently became assistant manager of B.U.C.S. — which stands for Building Ultimate Careers in Sports — at 25 years old, has spoken to the club to offer career advice.

Ziants has been involved in inside sales and new product development with the Pittsburgh Pirates since graduating from Bethany College in June 2013. Now, he focuses on teaching people how to sell to businesses — wisdom he imparted on the SBA.

“My thing is building the professional brand. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Ziants said. “Most kids my age didn’t really know how to speak, so I decided to hone in on speaking for a living, which set me apart.”

Grant Colbert, a junior majoring in finance and supply chain management, said the club has widened his idea about the opportunities available in athletics.

“Every athletic team is going to need a finance department. Every athletic apparel company is going to have a supply chain department,” Colbert said. “And SBA has brought in real people telling us the importance of LinkedIn and resumés and networking. Before SBA, I didn’t even have a LinkedIn.”

According to Bovalino, preparation for the corporate world is one of the club’s top selling points. She said members have opportunities to learn about their prospective professions, as well as actually get experience.

“Unlike a lot of organizations, we are trying to get our members involved early, so that as they get older, they can get internships,” Bovalino said.

Having a title in the organization has certainly paid off for past members.

“We realized this past fall that the club is working because our executive board got positions,” Bovalino said. “One of them was studying abroad in London and got an internship with ESPN there, Kelley got an internship with Heinz Field [and] Melissa got hired by the United States Golf Association. Everyone was really starting to delve into these next roles.”

George met the woman who would go on to hire her at Heinz Field while building the SBA and working in Pitt Athletics. She also met employees from Steelers’ management at a conference that the SBA hosted.

Ziants emphasized the importance of building connections early as a way to maximize potential success.

“If you’re interested in going into sports management, at the end of the day, the degree is a means to an end,” Ziants said. “It’s what you do with that degree, and the connections you build while doing it, that are going to make you successful in life.”

Author’s note: A previous version of this article said that the fee for joining the SBA was a one-time $10 fee when it is actually $10 per semester. The article has been updated to reflect these changes. 

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