Sports marketing might be field of dreams

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Sean Gibson, great-grandson of Josh Gibson, the greatest Negro League player of them all, was in Las Vegas a few winters back with Babe Ruth's great-grandson.

They came to the baseball winter meetings pitching an education program to minor league ballclubs. That went pretty well, and when it was over, Mr. Gibson wandered into a ballroom filled with young people applying for jobs in the sport's front offices.

Among those hundreds of job seekers, Mr. Gibson could count the number of black faces he saw on one hand. A resulting conversation there with a Duquesne University sports marketing professor ultimately lasted years, and this fall it will result in a new program in Pittsburgh high schools.

The Business of Sports Academy, housed at Westinghouse and Carrick high schools, will be open to incoming sophomores and juniors at any city school. Students in the three-year, six-segment curriculum also will earn college credits through Duquesne.

"Usually, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,'' said Mr. Gibson, director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, "but not this time.''

Let's face it. Most high school athletes, even the best of them, aren't going to make it to the big time. Only the tiniest fraction of kids with dreams of playing in pulsating arenas or stadiums ever get into those venues without a ticket. This academy may direct them toward careers in sports off the field of play.

Steve Greenberg, who now has a very long academic title at Duquesne University, knows better than most how naive Pittsburgh kids can be about those opportunities. A basketball and baseball player at Peabody High in the late '60s, Mr. Greenberg also played baseball at the University of Pittsburgh. But a career in a sports front office didn't occur to him until he was a Pitt senior and heard about a graduate program in sports administration at Western Illinois.

Mr. Greenberg enrolled and found himself energized by peers sharing the same goals. He wound up working for three years in minor league baseball, in Charleston, S.C., and Dubuque, Iowa, and then landed a job in the Pirates ticket office in 1976. He eventually became vice president of marketing and new ballpark development.

"Here's a career where you can wake up every day and want to go to work,'' Mr. Greenberg said.

He sees no reason why such passion can't be stoked at an earlier age. He sees it in the classes he teaches at Duquesne. In partnership with the Josh Gibson Foundation, the Duquesne team will work with high school teachers leading courses in introduction to sports business, sports marketing and media, sports sales and event management and sports law.

"Many say they want to be a football player or basketball player,'' said Angela Mike, director of career and technical education for the city schools. "This will expose them to more options. [Their career] may not be on the playing field but behind the scenes."

Julie-Ann Festivo, 21, a graduate of Duquesne's sports marketing program, said the internships and training she received there prepared her well. She took a job in Buffalo in June with the Aspire Group, a global sports and entertainment firm that sells football and basketball tickets for the University at Buffalo.

It's not glamorous work. Ms. Festivo of Chambersburg knew she'd have to relocate and pay her dues, but she sees the 80 to 100 daily calls she makes selling season tickets as a way to prove her mettle. All her numbers go up in the office on a "Hustle Board'' that all can see, a competition that mirrors the games she's selling. She likes this way of measuring her day, work that one day might help her land a job with a pro sports team.

A postcard touting the Business of Sports Academy went out this summer, and the 50 slots at Carrick and 25 at Westinghouse are said to be filling fast. The courses are part of the existing business administration program. Enrollment is open and more information can be obtained by calling 412-665-2258 or emailing cte@pghboe.net.

With the Pittsburgh Promise offering up to $40,000 over four years in scholarships to qualified city high school graduates attending Pennsylvania colleges, the academy may be the first step for some toward realistic sports dreams.

brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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