As football fans from around the country descended on Houston for Super Bowl LI and all of the festivities surrounding one of the country’s biggest sporting events, six Rice University students from the Department of Sport Management had a front-row seat to all the action leading up to and during the showdown between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.
All of the students held internships of varying lengths with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, the centralized planning entity for Super Bowl LI. The organization acted as the liaison between the NFL, city of Houston, Harris County and the local community and was responsible for the event’s festivities and logistics.
“Because Houston is such an amazing sports town, our students benefit greatly from the opportunity to work major sporting events like the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and NBA All-Star Game,” said Clark Haptonstall, chair of the Department of Sport Management. “As faculty, it is our goal to provide our students with as many opportunities as possible to network and gain practical experience at the highest level.”
In addition, five of the six students were selected to participate in the NFL’s prestigious White Glove Program in the days leading up to and on the day of the Super Bowl. The students were responsible for hosting high-profile Super Bowl guests, including four NFL team owners. The students met these VIPs at their hotels, offered suggestions for dining and other events taking place around town and stayed with them in their suites in the stadium on the day of the game to make sure they had everything they needed.
“Working with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee was a process that began two years ago when we placed our first interns in their office,” said Tom Stallings, a professor in the practice in the Department of Sport Management. “During their experiences, these students represented our program so well that they, in addition to a couple interns who came on board this academic year, were offered the chance to work in the White Glove program.”
Jeremy Reiskind, a Duncan College senior majoring in sport management, called his internship “probably the most amazing professional experience imaginable.”
In addition to hosting Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Bryan Glazer as part of the White Glove Program, he was heavily involved with marketing and promotion for Super Bowl Live, a nine-day family-friendly fan festival in downtown Houston celebrating Super Bowl LI. The event featured live music and performances, interactive exhibits, food and more.
Reiskind acknowledged that it was “pretty surreal” to see the details for the events finally coming together.
“The experience I’ve gained has really been phenomenal,” he said.
Taylor Scott, a Baker College freshman majoring in sport management, interned with the host committee’s operations, logistics and community relations team in addition to participating in the White Glove Program as an escort to Falcons and Patriots personnel throughout the stadium.
“I’ve been given a lot of responsibility and freedom to work on numerous projects,” she said of the experience.
Pax Kaplan-Sherman, a McMurtry College junior, hosted New York Giants owner John Mara on the day of the Super Bowl as part of the White Glove Program. He was also involved with organizing shifts for the 10,000 volunteers recruited for the host committee. During the months leading up to the Super Bowl, he worked to coordinate communication with volunteers to make sure they knew what they were supposed to be doing and where they were supposed to be during the events leading up to the Super Bowl.
“There was just so much going on throughout the city,” he said. “Each volunteer worked three shifts at different locations throughout the entire city supporting all different kinds of events including Super Bowl Live, the NFL Experience and more.”
Laurel Smith, a Duncan College freshman majoring in film, became interested in sport management after taking a class last semester and decided to double major in the subject. Stallings approached her to see if she would be interested in interning for the host committee.
“As I’m doing this, more and more I realize I really enjoy event operations, including managing venues and managing talent,” she said. “This big operations internship [with the host committee] has been amazing for me, and I find that I really enjoy doing it and think it’s something I want to focus on in the future.”
Ben Schragger, a McMurtry College sophomore majoring in sport management, hosted Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie as part of the White Glove Program and was involved with marketing for the host committee. His responsibilities included working on logistics for this year’s Puppy Bowl, which was a sponsorship initiative aimed at promoting pet adoption.
While Schragger said he learned a lot during his internship, he said it’s not all new to him thanks to his Rice Sport Management education.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot of experience through the various programs at Rice,” he said.
Mai Pham, a McMurtry College sophomore, sport management and economics major and a self-described “football fanatic” and Patriots fan, spent the days leading up the Super Bowl working with the host committee to plan various events throughout the city.
“The people in charge of [the Super Bowl Host Committee] have tons of experience and are leaders in this industry, and I learned a lot [from working with them],” she said.
She also participated in the White Glove Program and was assigned to Robert Kraft, chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group and principal owner of the Patriots. In 2012, she met Kraft in Denver and built a relationship with him. She interned with his company, International Forrest Products, in 2015.
Pham called the opportunity to welcome Kraft to Houston “a great privilege.”
“We were excited to have him come here to Houston again,” she said.
Thanks to its location in Houston, Rice’s Department of Sport Management is one of the few programs of its kind where students have opportunities for internships throughout the year, said Kerri Barber, administrator for the Department of Sport Management.
“Our program is so unique in that students are able to complete full-time internships during the school year so they get amazing in-season experience, which is awesome!” Barber said. “My undergrad degree is in sport management and my internships were completed during summer, which is off-season for most professional sports teams, so I didn’t get anything close to the experience as our students get. I am definitely envious of them!”
In addition to unique opportunities like working at the Super Bowl, students have the opportunity for multiple internships in professional sports, apparel companies, sports agencies and more, Stallings said. He noted that the internship process has yielded a variety of full-time job offers for students graduating from the program. In the last five years, graduates have accepted positions all over the country with organizations such as Nike, Under Armour, the NBA, the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Broncos, Houston Astros, Houston Rockets, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, Academy Sports + Outdoors corporate office and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
“The diversity of opportunities in various segments of the sports industry allows our students to gain the experience to perform internships with progressively more responsibilities from one internship to the next,” he said. “Over the past couple years, the incredible opportunities landed by our students have almost become routine and I have to remind myself that is it not that common for a student to be graduating from high school in May and less than a year later find themselves working at the Super Bowl on behalf of the NFL.”
“I feel really fortunate that I was allowed to have this type of experience, especially since I’m only a freshman at Rice,” Scott said. “It was so very exciting to see everything come together!”
“This is my first semester in college, and I already completed this enormous internship, which means the only way is up,” added Smith. “It just makes me excited about what possibilities lie ahead in the future.”
“What an amazing ten days,” Reiskind said. “It is crazy to think that something I have helped plan for sixteen months is now complete. From the first day that Super Bowl LIVE opened, to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, we showed off our great city. Personally, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to work with the Host Committee and to the Sport Management Department for helping me obtain this internship. I have made amazing connections, learned so much about the industry, and enjoyed it all.”
For more information on Rice’s Department of Sport Management, visit http://sportmanagement.rice.edu/.