Seattle is undeniably a sports town.
Home to some of the greatest athletes of all time, the city also has a fanbase obsessed with the Seahawks, Storm, Kraken, Sounders, Reign and the Mariners. But did you know that Seattle University educated a slew of professionals playing key roles in the success and operations of these beloved franchises?
Earlier this month, we had a chance to sit down with Jordan Babineaux, ’21, McKenzie Mitchell, ’17, and Karen Spencer, ’91, to learn more about their fascinating careers in the sports and entertainment industry.
What is your current title and what are the responsibilities of your position?
I started off with the Seahawks as a player for seven years and then joined the radio and TV broadcasting team in 2015. Additionally, I’ve done ambassador work for the franchise – which has entailed engaging with the Seahawks’ corporate and community partners. On top of my work with the organization, I’m also an international bestselling author, keynote speaker, small business owner and currently in the midst of completing a coaching certification to help business professionals grow, increase performance and effectively deal with change.
I am the On BASE (Baseball and Softball Everywhere) programs and communications coordinator for the Seattle Mariners, which is our youth baseball and softball program. The program is designed to help kids who are less affluent, or have less opportunities, engage with the sports – whether that’s getting them introduced, helping them continue in the sports once they reach an age where they may not have the financial means to continue, mentoring, etc.
I also oversee our diversity and inclusion programs. This includes grant making and implementing our community impact and equipment donation grants. Additionally, I oversee our mentorship program – Hometown Nine.
I am the Chief Financial Officer of the Seattle Seahawks and First & Goal Inc. (the entity that manages Lumen Field). My primary day-to-day responsibilities include the planning, implementing, managing, and controlling all financial-related activities with the primary objective of protecting and growing revenues and profits and safeguarding of assets. This includes direct responsibility for accounting, finance, budgets, forecasting, payroll, treasury function and financial analysis. I also have oversight of the Business Analytics and Technology departments.
What was your career path that led you to this position?
My initial major at Southern Arkansas state was in computer science. After a rough semester of balancing football with calculus and plane trigonometry, I approached my college advisor who pushed me to pursue broadcast journalism – he saw that I had a natural way of communicating with people. So, I ended up graduating with a degree in print and broadcast journalism – and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Playing in the NFL was just a bonus. I always knew that life after football was somewhere in the media industry. So, for my last four of five years in the league, I would go in and do radio shows at no cost – just to brush up on my skills because I wasn’t sure when the transition from football was going to happen. But I knew it was going to happen.
After I had a big game with the Tennessee Titans, I was interviewed by the NFL network. They went to commercial break and I said to the producer “I spend the off-season in LA…can I just come in the studio and do some work as a contributor for no pay?” And that’s how I got started; simply by asking. When I retired from the NFL, I got a broadcast agent who helped formalize a deal with the NFL Network. I spent three years there before coming back to the Seahawks.
My first job with the Mariners was as a Fielder, which I found while completing a mock job application exercise for a class my freshman year. It was the perfect summer job that entailed handing out bobbleheads to fans, breaking down batting cages, running the manual scoreboard for home games – you name it.
After doing that for two seasons, I went and studied abroad to fulfill a requirement for my major in Spanish. I picked the Dominican Republic because I wanted to learn the type of Spanish that a lot of our players spoke. While I was in the DR, I reached out to the Mariners about an internship in the community relations department – and interviewed for the position when I got back to Seattle. I got that job and was then hired in 2017 as a full-time coordinator. My role has since shifted to program management.
I was “loaned” to the Seahawks while working for the public accounting firm Arthur Andersen. The Seahawks were a client needing accounting assistance. I was also studying Accounting at Seattle University. Upon graduating, the Seahawks hired me as a Staff Accountant in 1991. I have since grown with the organization over the years, with promotions to Controller, Director of Finance and in 2009, I replaced the outgoing CFO.
How did your education at Seattle University prepare you for a career?
This has really come through in my career coaching. One of the requirements in my final semester at the Executive Leadership MBA program at SU was completing a Legacy Project, which essentially incorporates all of the learnings and teachings from the Leadership Executive MBA about social issues, social awareness and leadership. And then obviously, the impact in creating change that centers around SU’s mission of creating a just and humane world.
My Legacy Project built off of my book, Pivot to Win, which is focused on personal and professional development. Prior to graduating, I spoke to the director of the Albers School of Business and Economics MBA in Sports and Entertainment Management (MBA SEM) program about teaching a course about the topics in the book. The director was in alignment, so much so that they gave me an opportunity to create a curriculum for MBA SEM students focused on career development. We wrapped up the first program this month. It’s been really fun teaching young minds who have an ambition to penetrate and disrupt the sports world.
I studied strategic communications and Spanish because I felt having a public relations and Spanish-speaking background would be important if I wanted to work in baseball. And it turns out those things are really important. For example, I’ve had to do a variety of public speaking opportunities on Root Sports and in front of the team and staff. I think you can learn a lot of those skills at a lot of universities, but what Seattle U did so differently is that it made me think about the world, and society, and dynamics, and social justice in a really different way.
In my role, I interface with many nonprofits and community members who have a variety of insights. In order to do this job well, you have to have a really open worldview and also understand that everyone’s experiences are different. I think that going to Seattle U allowed me to really understand what social justice actually means and what it means to be a member of the community.
To be quite honest, when I decided to pursue a degree in Accounting at Seattle University, I never dreamed I would end up with a career in sports. But my education provided me the foundation for a career in accounting and that’s what ultimately led me to the sports industry. I owe so much to Seattle University – my path to a college degree was not exactly traditional. I graduated high school at the age of 16 and really floundered for many years trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Seattle University was ideal for me in terms of the size, location, diverse population, and academic support. In addition to earning a degree, I developed far more confidence in myself and my abilities and that further helped prepare me for my career.
What advice would you give a current Seattle University alum interested in pursuing a career in sports and entertainment?
The differentiator starts with building strong relationships. Being able to pick up the phone, call someone, and in most cases being vulnerable. I also think having clarity around what your skillsets and strong suits are, your weaknesses, and what you want to develop and grow are important. That clarity is a huge factor in being able to verbalize to someone your interest in their organization. It often requires a bit of self-reflection and transparency with who you really are and what you’re interested in.
And then I’d say, be willing to do the things that go beyond your job. A lot of it is about showing value. Ask yourself, where can I continue to add value? In my experience, there is so much to sink your teeth into and create value if you wanted to for an organization.
Don’t be discouraged. Professional sports can be really hard to get into. I think COVID has made a lot of people second guess working in sports because it was paused for so long.
I can’t speak for other people on my team, but I think most would agree that if someone were to reach out to us for an informational interview – we’d be really happy to do that. I am always happy to do that interview or phone call or coffee meeting because I know when I was in that position, I would have been grateful if someone answered the phone or answered the email.
Well given I am on the Advisory Board of Seattle University’s MBA in Sport and Entertainment Management program, I strongly encourage considering enrolling in the program! An MBA is an incredibly versatile degree. Combining that with the Fellowship Program that is part of the MBA SEM allows for real life experience that certainly provides a competitive edge. Understandably this is not a path for everyone, but I think having a broad understanding of the business fundamentals of sports and entertainment is important. Making connections in the sports industry can be very useful, too, establishing relationships may lead to something down the road. Look for internship opportunities wherever possible. Consider looking for jobs outside of the traditional sports and entertainment organizations, such as prominent sponsors of sports teams or large vendors -- they may lead to opportunities as well.
What are some of the challenges or opportunities you foresee in the professional sports and entertainment industry that future professionals will have to navigate?
Something that sticks out is that you often see more sponsorships, be it around nutrition, training and around brand management with athletes. Particularly in the NFL, in the past it was frowned upon to have done more outside of the work of being a professional athlete. Now, if you’re not maximizing the platform then you’re selling yourself short!
So, what does offseason look like for players with new business opportunities, partnerships, and sponsorships? I think looking at those challenges differently as opportunities could be something that someone could find value in helping athletes connect with partners and sponsors to help build brand awareness.
COVID has changed things for everyone. In professional sports, it’s posed the challenge of when are people going to feel safe to gather again. And when they do gather, what are fans’ expectations for safety. If they aren’t safe at games, what are their expectations for the entertainment experience at home? I’ll be interested to see how that landscape changes over the next five years.
I think the other challenge is making sports interesting for the next generation. We know that the generation after mine consumes media so much differently in the form of apps and quick swipes and getting those dopamine hits through likes. TikTok, for example, has blown up over the pandemic, and those are shorter videos – so people are used to watching 15 and 30 second videos. When you work in a game that sometimes takes three to four hours to watch, it’s challenging to make the product feel exciting and fun for a generation of fans who are used to quick hits.
As we emerge from the pandemic, with so much pent-up demand, the future of sports and entertainment appears bright, but we can’t be complacent. There are macro trends indicating an age of transition that must be addressed, shifting demographics, decay of the traditional TV market, digital disruption, shift in consumer spending behavior – millennials entering prime spending years prefer experiences over products. The sports industry must find ways to entice millennials to attend games. Keeping up with technology and social media is a challenge and requires making investment in people and tools. The good news is that these challenges are all truly opportunities and will create new avenues for those looking for careers in the sports and entertainment industry.
All three of these alumni and are involved with the MBA in Sport and Entertainment Management program at the Albers School of Business and Economics. This distinctive program provides a world-class graduate education and access to a strong professional sports network through partnerships with seven professional sports organizations in Seattle. The MBA SEM aims to develop business acumen in concert with leadership skills highly sought after by employers. Inclusive excellence is the cornerstone of our MBA in sport, aligning with the sport industry’s renewed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and Seattle University’s commitment to creating a highly diverse and inclusive community.
Interested in learning more about the MBA SEM program? Visit the website to learn more about program curriculum, admissions deadlines, tuition, financial aid and more.
And if you you’re already a seasoned professional in the sports and entertainment industry, learn more on how you can become a mentor by visiting the MBA SEM Mentor Program page.