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Women in Sports: Charting a Path

Dr. James ReeseFaculty Member, Practicum Coordinator & Community Relations, Sports Management & Esports and
Sarah Jamieson, Director of Communications, MLS NEXT Pro

In this podcast, Dr. Jim Reese – coordinator of internships and community relations for the Sports Management and esports programs at APU – speaks with Sarah Jamieson. Sarah is a former student of the University, currently excelling in the field of sports management.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Jim Reese: Hello everyone and welcome to today’s podcast. I’m Dr. Jim Reese, coordinator of internships and community relations for the Sports Management and Esports programs at APUS. This is the first of two programs in our series, “Women in Sports: Charting a Path.” I’m really excited to introduce you to a former student, Sarah Jamieson, the Director of Communications with MLS NEXT Pro. Good afternoon, Sarah.

Sarah Jamieson: Hi, Dr. Reese. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Jim Reese: It’s a pleasure. You’ve come a long way from that sky box at Bird Arena. And I use sky box loosely.

Sarah Jamieson: Yeah, that’s probably being gracious.

Dr. Jim Reese: Can you believe it’s been more than 20 years?

Sarah Jamieson: No. In fact, it’s actually kind of depressing to be honest with you. Oh, God. Sometimes it feels like just the other day though.

Dr. Jim Reese: Sometimes it does and we’re really happy to have you today. So, to get us started, will you share a little bit about your education, work experience, and your responsibilities at Major League Soccer?

Sarah Jamieson: Yeah, of course. So it all goes back, of course to Ohio University, OU. Oh, yeah. The greatest place on earth. I have been out for over 20 years now. As you just said, I graduated in ’02. I started actually in our journalism program there. I always wanted to work in sports media and then actually I took a coaching class in the sports industry program with Dr. Carr my sophomore year. And then I kind of learned more about the sports management program there, and that made me shift to really work on the business side of sports rather than on the media side. And then I kind of dropped out of scripts and joined the sports management program and never looked back. I still got a minor in journalism, but I really focused on the media relations, public relations, communications aspect.
And within sports management, I luckily took a lot of your classes. Technically, you weren’t my advisor. However, I always say you were my advisor just because I obviously bonded with you a lot, really enjoyed your classes. One thing that I always talk about if I’m talking to college students now is what I really appreciated about you was that you actually lived it and breathed it. You weren’t teaching from a book, you were teaching from real life. And of course, I’ll never forget you standing up in classrooms with your Broncos Super Bowl ring on. I mean, it’s been 20-plus years and I still remember that clear as day.

Dr. Jim Reese: They’re pretty obnoxious, yeah.

Sarah Jamieson: They are. And it’s actually probably more obnoxious than my NBA championship ring. That was a subtle flex right there. But hearing from you about your experience at the Broncos, even though your experience was in ticket sales. Mine, I was going down the comms path, but hearing about the real world of sports was really what drew me to you and to sports management. You helped me start working with the hockey team there at OU doing media relations, which was literally faxing score sheets. Now I think about it, I just laugh, but anyway, had the best time ever in my life at OU, had tremendous experience.

I interned with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission during my senior year. We were in quarters back then, so we had a six-week break between Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s. And I was able to be with the Sports Commission, which really set the groundwork, I would say, for the rest of my career in terms of, that was my first, aside from the hockey team, but really my first foray and experience hands-on in the sports world. And so I actually worked on the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards that was coming up in January. And so I worked on a lot of that.

Funny story, that was actually when LeBron, who will come kind of full circle into my life later on in my career, that was when he was still in high school and he was nominated for High School Player of the Year. So I still have that memory, that must have been 2001, I think. Anyhow, I did my internship there, finished OU, thought that I would just magically graduate with a job. I couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t have a job. I remember just applying anywhere and everywhere.

And then lo and behold, I ended up applying for a communications media relations spot in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which I had never heard of in my life. Went down there, 22 years old, interviewed probably very underqualified, but made a connection with my boss, who was the commissioner there. I worked for the USA South Athletic Conference, a small NCAA Division III athletic conference based at Methodist College, one of the member schools there in Fayetteville, working with a lot of private religious schools DIII within North Carolina and Virginia. So I’m familiar with the area that you’re in nowadays, Dr. Reese. So I was the sports information director for the conference.

I was 22 years old and I’m working with the SIDs at the member schools who were probably significantly older than me and got a lot of experience there. I mean, that was, again, to date myself, that was pre-social media. We were just starting to get websites, doing some email, but it just was so different obviously back then. So kind of laid the groundwork for my career in pro sports by starting in college at such a small level. And it’s funny, as an adult now, I can look back and my dad used to always tell me like, “You’re going to have to start in Podunk wherever and start at the bottom.” And I of course was like, “No, not me.” I’m going to start higher up and wherever I want to be, etc.” And that’s another thing I tell college students now like, “You have to go wherever and whenever and be willing to do whatever it is to get your foot in the door.”

So I was there in Fayetteville for three years and then made a huge jump to New York City where I conveniently am right now, but to work at Madison Square Garden. And I did PR there for the New York Liberty who were part of the WNBA. So I grew up playing basketball, I have a huge affinity for women’s basketball, of course. My mom and I had season tickets to the Cleveland Rockers, which was an inaugural WNBA team, they started in my senior year of high school. So it kind of was full circle for me to be able to have that opportunity to now work in the WNBA. And they were part of the Knicks, Rangers family at the time. Now they’re over actually at Barclay Center with the Nets. Spent two years there working as the main PR person. Again, probably very underqualified at the time, but with the WNBA team.

And I was traveling with them, I was sending up media, was also doing their community relations. Again, kind of dabbling in websites, but that was still pre-social media. I think if I remember correctly, Facebook was just getting started and that’s when it was only for college kids. So I spent two years there, really focused on the Liberty, doing a little bit with the Knicks and Rangers as well as needed, put in those two years and felt like it was an adequate time in New York City back then. And then an opportunity came open at the Cavs, and that’s really what changed my life. 2007, I got this job back at the Cavs, moved back home to Cleveland, which was incredible, of course.

So I started the Cavs in April 2007, and that was the first time that we went to the NBA finals. Didn’t go as well for us that time, we got swept by the Spurs, but I started April 2nd, and then two weeks later the playoffs started and then we went on that first finals run, so it was definitely jumping into the fire. I actually started that fall with our hockey team there. We were just starting an AHL team, which at the time we were the top affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche. And so that really is where I honed my love for publicity, for the hustle, really proactively pitching.

Cleveland is a huge sports town. Even I can say now, when we were winning our championship with the Cavs, it was still a Browns town. And so starting a hockey team in that city, it took a lot to get us up and running to get our brand out there, to get our name out there for fans to want to come to our games because they have so many other options there. And I worked with the players, the coaches, etc., in terms of getting them out there in the market, in the media.

I primarily focused on the Monsters my first six years there at the Cavs. And then in 2013, switched over to be full-time, just focused on the Cavs, which was fortuitous because then the following year, of course LeBron ended up coming back in 2014. And then we went on an incredible run of four straight NBA finals. 2016, we won the NBA championship. Golden State blew a 3-1 lead, which I could go on and on for hours about.

Dr. Jim Reese: And I got to go to one of those games for $25 a seat.

Sarah Jamieson: Oh my gosh, that’s right.

Dr. Jim Reese: That you got for me.

Sarah Jamieson: Oh, man. That whole time, everybody was just so happy in this city. At our team, everyone was so happy. It was so surreal in so many ways, especially the whole experience of when we came back and then we planned an event at the airport when the team arrived and 25,000 people showed up for it. And then we had the parade with 1.3 million people. I mean, it was very much a fairytale. I mean, there’s a lot of work that goes into that fairytale, and no one will ever know kind of the behind the scenes nitty-gritty of it, but just having that experience was once in a lifetime.

And for me as a PR person being able to be on the stage that LeBron was on specifically nothing could ever compare to that. I feel like no matter what I am to do in the rest of my career, that was really such a high level, high attention experience. And therefore I can handle anything that comes our way from that because we went through all of that together.

So anyway, I was at the Cavs through the end of 2020, and even though I’m not a huge baseball person, I compare myself to a utility player, I worked on the basketball side in terms of media interviews, working with the players, coaches, etc., but I also worked on the business side. One of my main priorities was promoting our community relations efforts. That was a huge initiative from our organization and from our owner down all the way through the company and really making an impact there in Cleveland, especially within the inner city, and especially within the education system. So I was responsible for promoting that, getting media to come to the events we were doing in the community, etc.

So really just able to promote the organization in any way that was needed. Like I said, it’s wearing a lot of hats, which I feel like in PR you do that anyway, but it really, I think, prepared me, made me a well-rounded PR person. I also was able to really have my hands in all the different areas of our organization, whether it be marketing, corporate sales, game presentation, etc. So anyhow, worked at the Cavs until the end of 2020, and then fast-forward a little bit to the beginning of 2022, and I got my job here at MLS. And I didn’t know anything about soccer, and nobody seemed to care that I didn’t, but I knew that soccer was a huge growing sport here in our country especially. And so when I was going through the interview process, it just was really enticing to hear about the opportunities here.

And so I started mid-February of 2022 remotely, and then I started in the office March 8th. And then our first game where I was in St. Louis was March 25th. So talk about, again, jumping right into the fire and that we haven’t slowed down since then. And so it’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been awesome. I’ve learned so much about soccer, I am continuing to grow as a PR person, even though I have been doing this for a long time the learning and the growing never ends, and I’ve really been enjoying this opportunity here. And it’s never been a better time to be involved in soccer, which is super exciting.

Dr. Jim Reese: That’s fantastic. And there’s part of that background that I was not aware of your time with the College Commission. For the sake of our listeners that might not be familiar, would you be kind enough to take us through the evolution of MLS to MLS Next Pro?

Sarah Jamieson: Absolutely. So think of Next Pro as our version of the G League to the NBA or the AHL to the NHL, AAA to MLB, etc. So we’re the development league, and they saw this need for basically a bridge to be created between, we have what’s called MLS Next, and those are academies, which are youth teams. So it’s basically elite. Maybe you’re used to a travel team or an AAU type of thing, but it’s all within these MLS clubs. So they have the academies, then there’s kind of a gap, and then there’s the first teams, the MLS teams. And so MLS needed to figure out how to bridge that gap. And so they came up with the development league, MLS Next Pro that now the goal is, we call it the Pro Player Pathway.

The goal is you start off young, say you’re 12, 13, 14 in MLS Next, then you go to MLS Next Pro and you’re playing with professionals, and then you make it up to the first team in MLS. Whether you’re in PR or you’re in ticket sales, or you’re an usher or you’re an athletic trainer, now we have 27 more teams that are there for more jobs, more opportunities. So we’re growing the game, we’re getting more people involved. So it’s really been a tremendous platform for MLS.

Dr. Jim Reese: I’m curious, you touched on this a little while ago, Sarah, has your career path been different than what you expected when you first broke into the industry? And if so, how?

Sarah Jamieson: That’s a really good question. I mean, I always wanted to work in sports. Like I said, I wanted to work in the PR world of sports because I would be at games and I would see somebody running around working. And that always intrigued me and I later found out that was the PR person, and then one day became that person. It has worked out the way I hoped in terms of being able to work in pro sports and work in comms. I don’t think I could have ever imagined that it would’ve resulted in me being home at the Cavs, working for my hometown team, the way that played out in terms of who played for us winning the championship, etc. I certainly could not have expected working in soccer. I never saw that coming nor working back in New York City.

So to be completely transparent, at the end of 2020, I lost my job at the Cavs when they went through a restructuring and they eliminated about 30 positions, one of which was mine. And I certainly didn’t see that coming either, and so that was a big twist in my career. It took a long time for me to get this job at MLS, and there was a lot of times where I doubted myself, and I doubted my abilities, and I doubted my path. And ultimately, I had to stay firm in my belief that I was meant to do this and that the right thing was out there waiting for me, and it was.

Dr. Jim Reese: Now, I was going to ask this question at the end, but it ties in nice here, so I’m going to ask it now. What’s next for Sarah Jamieson? What’s your ultimate goal? What would you like to do?

Sarah Jamieson: That’s a really good question. I don’t know if I have an easy answer to it. There’s a couple different things. One, I do miss the team aspect. There’s just a different energy working live events all the time. On the other hand, I very much respect and appreciate our leadership here. I’m very fortunate to work for my current boss, and I think that he has an extremely bright future. And so therefore, I’d love to be able to follow him where he goes, which will probably be just as continuing to ascend in MLS.

Dr. Jim Reese: I think you’re far from done. There’s just a lot of room for you to continue to grow in the industry. That was easy to see early on, even back at Ohio. So when you were tearing around in that sky box, you were one of the few that when we talked about building your resume, you listened and you understood that if you didn’t build your resume, the competition was just too great to break in for an internship, and you jumped on that and I think that was really beneficial for you.

Sarah Jamieson: It’s so funny you say that because when I talk to college students these days, that’s one of the things I actually talk about is I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities there at OU as much as I should have at all. I mean, really, the hockey program was the only thing I really did besides our sports management program. And nowadays, when I’m seeing these resumes, it’s remarkable how much kids are doing when they’re in school. And back then I studied and I had a really good time, did some of the hockey, and that was it. And nowadays, you could never get away with that.

It’s also amusing to me that you say that I actually listened because that’s probably a first that I actually listened. And it’s funny too, that makes me think about, I remember, I think it was you actually probably, but our professors talking about the internet, this new big thing like, “If you’re smart, you’re going to take classes in this, learn this, learn this about the internet.” And obviously look at where we are now, it changed the whole world. Again, that’s dating myself, that’s when it was really kicking off. So it’s funny that you say that about actually listening to that advice.

Dr. Jim Reese: Now, this is a delicate question, okay?

Sarah Jamieson: Okay.

Dr. Jim Reese: In your opinion, has being a woman hindered your path? And when I say that, I mean every organization has politics and favoritism and things like that. Only you would know the answer to this because you would be feeling it along the way. I’m not asking for names or organizations, but anything that you can share for our listeners and how to handle that when you’re going through a difficult time, how do you get through that?

Sarah Jamieson: That’s a really great question. You’re right, it is kind of delicate. But I think that there has been, I’ve seen the pros and the cons of both of that. And to be honest, one of the first things that stands out to me is actually a pro of being a female in this world. I think that men respond differently to women.

So for example, the way that I approached, let’s go back to when I was with the Cavs and working with athletes, the way that I would speak to them, to these athletes and the way that I approached them and the way that I worked with them is very different than how my male counterparts did. And I think that they were more open to and receptive to me and my requests, for example, if I was asking them to do something because they respond differently to women in a positive way.

And I think also because I looked at them more on the human level and tried to connect more on a human level. And so I think that that is very much a female attribute, and so I think that that has helped me along the way. Now, that being said, there has certainly been times where I have been asked why I was in the locker room or told to leave or told to move, or things like that. And I, as you can imagine, do not take kindly to that. I will admit those have been few and far between and I am not going to complain at all about my experience. It also has changed tremendously. It has varied based on sports.

Sarah Jamieson: When I was working in hockey, hockey’s a very different world than basketball. And so hockey, there weren’t many females around the locker room, around the team, etc. In the NBA, for example, there were a lot more women around that were in the locker room, etc. And so seeing kind of that juxtaposition, and of course things have evolved. I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, so things have been evolving, thankfully. And they continue to evolve. It’s still not equal by any means, but there’s been some experiences. But overall, I am very, very, very passionate about women in sports. I will go out of my way any day of the week to kind of preach that and stand on my milk carton, or not milk carton, whatever that phrase is. Soapbox, there it is. Milk carton? I don’t know. I was thinking milk crate, but soapbox. I’ll stand on my soapbox every day about that.

I also think it’s very important now as a woman in this industry to give back to other women. What am I doing if I’m not trying to make things better and help other women coming after me? I do actually, really, it’s fresh in my mind in terms of talking to college students because I literally just finished doing that before I came here to chat with you. First of all, I was super excited to see that I would say the majority of the interns that we were speaking with were women. The room was very diverse, and that all makes me extremely happy, but I will always go out of my way to help other women that are trying to come into this business.

I just said when we were leaving the room with the interns before I got here, “If anyone wants to hear about comms, please reach out to me. I’m happy to chat with anybody.” I’ll always go out of my way to reach back behind me to bring up the next person because we’ll always need more females, we’ll always need more diversity.

Dr. Jim Reese: And I’m glad that you take that approach because you’re right, it is needed very much, very much so. To piggyback on that, as far as advice that you would give to the women that are listening that may be current students, is there anything that you can share that you think would be beneficial for them?

Sarah Jamieson: Boy, I feel like I could give a lot of that. We could be here for the rest of the afternoon on that. The first thing is if you want to work in sports, then you work in sports. Don’t let anything stop you, don’t let anything get in your way, don’t take excuses from anybody. If this is what you want to do, then this is what you should do. Whether that be ticket sales, PR, etc., you just don’t take no for an answer. And something that I’ve tried to learn, I would say in these later years is sometimes I have to think to myself, “Would a man do that? Would a man in the same position do that or say that?” It sometimes makes you think a little bit differently.

For example, maybe this is the Midwest in me as well, but I always am first to say, “Oh, sorry, let me blah, blah, blah. Oh, sorry.” I’ve been working on trying not to say sorry all the time. Just small things like that that maybe you don’t think people notice, but little things like that that are almost subconscious that we don’t have anything to apologize for. And we deserve a seat at the table, and so if you are wanting to work in sports, then you should work in sports.

Sarah Jamieson: The other thing I would just tell anybody, not just women, but like I mentioned earlier, you have to be willing to do anything, go anywhere, make any amount of money. I mean, I was making pennies at my first job when I was in North Carolina, but had I not have done that, I wouldn’t have progressed the way that I’ve progressed. And now having done this for 20 years, I can look back and see how that laid the groundwork. It makes me more appreciative of what I have now.

And the other thing too is be willing to do anything and everything. And the hardest thing for me, I think now seemed not to be an 80-year-old person and say, “Get off my lawn.” But kids these days have a sense of entitlement that we didn’t have when I was that age. And I see that a lot in terms of, “Oh, well, I just am supposed to be doing X, Y, and Z.” Well, X, Y and Z is just the beginning.
There’s a hundred different things that I’m doing every day that have nothing to do with my job description, but you have to be willing to do that. If my boss needs me to do something, then I’m doing it. It doesn’t matter what it is. And so just being willing to roll up your sleeves, and admittedly, sometimes you have to roll your sleeves up even more and get to work even harder if you’re a female, whether that’s right or wrong, but just being willing to do anything and everything.

Dr. Jim Reese: I think you’re right. The people that are most passionate and will not let anything stand in their way, those are the folks that make it and become really successful. That’s that little fine print on the bottom of the job description that says, “And other duties as assigned.”

Sarah Jamieson: “As assigned.” Exactly.

Dr. Jim Reese: That is great advice. Thank you for sharing that. Okay. The million-dollar question, how much has your life changed due to this gentleman named Messi?

Sarah Jamieson: It’s crazy, right? It is insane. So for me personally, because I oversee comms for Next Pro at this very moment, on a day-to-day basis, I’m not directly hands-on affected by it. However, the of course, overall, MLS ecosystem has been turned on its head and it’s going to just… Now he has said that it’s happening, we haven’t even begun in terms of him actually coming and everything that that’s going to entail, his first game, etc. And so I was just in an overall comms meeting this morning with the bigger MLS group and hearing some of the plans that are going on, the meetings, etc. Everything changed the minute that that happened, everything in our world changed overall in ways I’m sure that we don’t even know yet.

This is the biggest thing that probably has ever happened for Major League Soccer, soccer in America.

Dr. Jim Reese: I think that this could really catapult soccer to another level because other athletes will consider coming now that would never have done so before. So it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, but I’m hoping that that will happen because we all know that soccer is the most popular sport in the world. And if it catches on here, boy, I’ll tell you, that would be something.

Sarah Jamieson: A thousand percent.

Dr. Jim Reese: Absolutely. Sarah, before we sign off for the day, is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners? Any advice that you’d like to give to anyone out there that’s listening?

Sarah Jamieson: That’s a really good question. I wish I had prepared an answer for that. I mean, the biggest thing is I honestly can’t speak highly enough about working in sports, I can’t speak highly enough about the communications world in sports specifically. I feel very fortunate and very blessed to have the job that I have, have the career path that I’ve had. Which by the way, I would be remiss if I did not say on this podcast that I would not be where I am today without you, Dr. Reese.

Dr. Jim Reese: Oh my gosh.

Sarah Jamieson: But there is no doubt about that. I think it says a lot that even now, 20-plus years later, that you and I are still close and still connected. And I mean, I wouldn’t have gone on this path had it not been for your guidance and you with your championship ring talking to us, and it makes an impact. But I am very fortunate, and someone was mentioning the other day that it’s a privilege to work in sports. And that’s very true, and I recommend it to anybody, especially if you’re passionate about sports.

And whether it be comms like I’m in, if it’s ticket sales, if it’s partnerships, if it’s anything like that, whatever it is, just get involved. Do whatever you can to pursue this career path because it’s so worth it, it’s so rewarding. It’s a lot of work, a lot of nights, weekends, holidays, a lot of, it’s cliche, but literally, blood, sweat, and tears have been shed a lot over the last 20 years, but it’s so worth it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dr. Jim Reese: That’s fantastic, fantastic. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you came on with us today and shared your experience and recommendations, and I think there are going to be a lot folks that listen to this that will get a lot out of it. So thank you so much and thank you for the kind words as well. You didn’t need to do that, but it is appreciated. Thank you.

Sarah Jamieson: Oh my gosh, of course.

Dr. Jim Reese: For our listeners, please don’t forget to follow AMU and APU Sports Management on Instagram or on LinkedIn. It’s been great to be with you today. Until next time. This is Dr. Reese wishing you the very best.

Dr. Jim Reese is an Associate Professor and Internship Coordinator in the Sports Management program at the University. He is a former NCAA Division III baseball player. Dr. Reese holds a B.A. in business and economics from St. Andrews University, a M.S. in in sports management from Georgia Southern University, and an Ed.D. in physical education and sport administration from the University of Northern Colorado.

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