Red-carpet ready: Rice sport management students intern at ESPYs and Kids’ Choice Sports Awards

Red carpets, professional athletes and celebrities are likely among the last things that come to mind when thinking about university internships. However, a group of Rice University sport management students rubbed elbows with luminaries from the sports and entertainment worlds while interning at the 2018 ESPY and Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports awards shows July 18 and 19, respectively, in Los Angeles.

During their time in the City of Angels, students also visited local professional sports facilities to maximize their educational experience.

The students were invited to work at the ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) Awards as talent escorts (people who escort VIPs from their red-carpet arrival to their departure) following Rice sport management students’ involvement with the Super Bowl Host Committee prior to Super Bowl LI held in Houston in 2017. During the Super Bowl experience, those students met and interacted with Claudia Valdez, who is hired by production companies to provide talent escorts, event staffers and seat fillers for major sporting and entertainment events.

Valdez prefers to hire students from local colleges who are either majoring in sport management, public relations communications or television so they get real-life experience in their fields. But “she was blown away by the organization and professionalism of our students, and made this opportunity available to future students,” said Kerri Barber, administrator for Rice’s Department of Sport Management.

Rice sport management students intern at ESPYs and Kids' Choice Sports Awards

Rice students Tayler Bennett, Lauren Grigsby, Frank Li, Brandon Hayes, Adam Gurin and Kristian Stengel and incoming student Marcus Thompson went to Los Angeles along with Barber and Tom Stallings, a professor in the practice of sport management and head of the department’s internship program.

Stallings decided the group should take full advantage of the trip. On the morning of July 17, he arranged an opportunity for the students to visit with Joel Adams, director of season tickets and inside sales for the Clippers basketball team. Following this meeting, the group traveled to Dodger Stadium to hear from staff members from the Dodgers baseball team, including Jimmy Buffi, senior analyst of performance science, and Claire Miller, manager of fan development. The students also received a behind-the-scenes tour of Dodger Stadium and even got to step on the field.

“The meetings with the Clippers and the Dodgers provided me with some very valuable information that can help me as I pursue a career working in sports,” Thompson said.

“Although Rice is in Houston, many of our sport management students are from outside the state of Texas,” Stallings said. “For this reason, we are always creating opportunities for student engagement and networking at events and potential intern sites across the country. For example, we have 40 students interning in the sport industry this summer in 13 states and 15 cities in the U.S., as well as students interning in Toronto and Spain. In the past six months, in addition to the ESPYs and Kids’ Choice Sports Awards, we have also had students work for the College World Series, MLS All-Star Game, NBA All-Star Game, NCAA Men’s Final Four and five college bowl games: the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Frisco Bowl and Texas Bowl.”

On the afternoon of July 17, the students and Barber, who also served as a talent escort, began their training for the ESPYs. This included walk-throughs of the Microsoft Theater, where the ESPYs were presented, and the Barker Hangar, the venue for the Kids’ Choice Sports Awards, along with briefings on expectations for being a talent escort. In the evening, the students had the opportunity to watch race car driver Danica Patrick’s dress rehearsal for hosting the ESPYs. Barber, who served as a talent escort for the 141 survivors of former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar who were honored at the ESPYs, had special training to go over logistics, including credentials, the check-in process and a run-through of escorting the honorees onto the stage.

The ESPYs took place the next day. The students escorted Mexican actress and singer Eiza González, rapper G-Eazy, Olympic gold medalist alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, Paralympic gold medalist snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, Paralympic snowboarder Mike Schultz, NBA player Dwight Howard, actress Olivia Holt and some of the women who had been sexually abused.

The Kids’ Choice Sports Awards show was taped the following day and aired July 20. At this event, the Rice students escorted Olympic gold medalist alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, “Double Dare” host Marc Summers, Olympic gold medalist snowboarders Chloe Kim and Shaun White, WNBA player Candace Parker, NBA player Isaiah Thomas and NFL player Martellus Bennett.

Thompson said he knew he would have many amazing opportunities because of the connections the Department of Sport Management has with the sports world, but never expected to have the chance to work the ESPYs before he was officially enrolled on campus.

“I was able to see all the preparation and hard work that goes into executing a massive event such as the ESPYs, and I was able to see all the media obligations that are part of being a big-time athlete, which could be beneficial if I ever decide I want to become an agent or something along those lines,” he said.

Tayler Bennett, a Jones college junior, decided to participate in the trip to Los Angeles following her experience working at the Final Four in Houston in 2016.

“Working the Final Four allowed me to make connections that could help with potential future internships and jobs,” she said. “I chose to partake in the ESPYs experience so I could make the same valuable connections.”

Bennett called the experience of working the ESPYs a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

“We were able to interact with the talent we were assigned and be in the same environment where countless of famous athletes and celebrities are in the public eye,” she said. “This allowed me to understand the various details happening backstage that are needed to put on a major production such as the ESPYs. I was proud and lucky to have been a part of such an incredible creation.”

The L.A. native said the events in her hometown also enabled her to make useful connections.

“The manager in charge of the talent escorts offered me the opportunity to partake in any future events when I am in L.A.,” Bennett said. “I hope to take advantage of this opportunity in the future.”

Both Thompson and Bennett agreed that the trip was an all-around incredible experience.

“If it’s indicative of what my next four years at Rice will be like, then I am very excited,” Thompson said.

For more information on Rice’s Department of Sport Management, visit

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.