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"The Virtual Sports Internship provided SAEM students with one-on-one interaction with high-level sports professionals. Students were able to display their research and analytical skills by providing solutions to team challenges. They also developed relationships with each professional sports expert beyond the classroom."

Robert Derda, M.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the internship landscape for sports, arts & entertainment management students seeking sports industry experience this fall. Through leveraging connections within the industry, Assistant Professor Robert Derda, M.S., launched the Virtual Sports Internship program, a weekly class designed to offer students meaningful, face-to-face time with accomplished professionals covering a range of roles and sports organizations to help them become day-one-ready for their careers.

Robert Derda 2017_300.jpgRobert Derda

Assistant Professor and Chair, SAEM

How did the idea for the Virtual Sports Internship come about?
We modeled the program after our successful virtual meeting program launched over the summer called SAEM Next! In that program, SAEM faculty used professional connections in sports, arts, music, technology and marketing and led virtual conversations with regional and national experts on current topics. We held eight virtual webinars involving more than 30 experts in their areas of expertise. As a result of SAEM Next!, we had 10 students interested in sports who needed an internship to graduate and the Virtual Sports Internship program was born.

How was the program structured?
Each week, SAEM students were presented with a challenge facing a sports executive. Students then researched the sports organization, prepared questions relative to the challenge facing the organization and attended a one-hour virtual workshop led by the sports professional.  After the session, students wrote an academic paper to the sports expert on their challenge topic. In addition, students completed weekly LinkedIn Learning exercises as part of their career development.

Who were the guest speakers for the semester?

What were some of the challenges covered in the class?

  • The Cleveland Cavaliers are challenged with staying engaged with their members (season ticket holders). Provide ideas as to how they can stay relevant to members during the pandemic.
  • One of the Pittsburgh Penguins' biggest challenges right now is how to keep fans engaged with the organization, especially season ticket holders, who haven’t seen a game at PPG Paints Arena since March 8, 2020 and won’t see another until January 2021 at the earliest. 
  • How do we drive fan engagement and revenue for the Denver Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, building on the success of both teams' 2020 playoff runs?
  • How do we convince fans that it is safe to attend live events, leading them to purchase tickets now during a pandemic for championship events that occur next spring, summer and fall?

The pandemic put students looking for an internship at a disadvantage, but what were the advantages of the Virtual Internship course versus a typical internship?
The Virtual Sports Internship provided SAEM students with one-on-one interaction with high-level sports professionals. In addition, SAEM students were able to display their research and analytical skills by providing solutions to team challenges. Finally, SAEM students had the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with each professional sports expert beyond the classroom.

Pictured is Miranda Ferguson. Submitted photo.Miranda Ferguson ‘21
SAEM major

What made you want to participate in the Virtual Internship?
The internship I had set up for the summer was canceled due to the pandemic. I knew the virtual internship would be a good opportunity to get to talk to professionals in my desired field.

Who have been your favorite guest speakers? Topics covered?
My favorite speaker was Declan Bolger with the Denver Nuggets and Denver Avalanche. He made us all feel included and open to give our opinions on the challenge. I had the most fun with completing that assignment. Fan engagement has been a big topic with most presenters, but I also enjoyed hearing about sales strategies from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Cleveland Cavaliers because I do see myself in a sales position in the future. 

Dana-Drewniak.jpgDana Drewniak
Group Events Specialist, Cleveland Cavaliers and SAEM alumna

What do you think the creation of the class says about the SAEM program?
I think it is going to be a huge help to these students down the road. There is nothing as beneficial as hands-on learning with industry professionals.

Why is it important for students to have conversations like this with industry professionals?
People of the industry are able to tell their own personal story and how they reached their current role, and students can ask questions to dive deeper and have them expand upon their points which is extremely helpful. 

More About: sports, arts and entertainment management, Sports, Arts, Entertainment and Music Partnerships, faculty, alumni, Rowland School of Business, internships