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Monday, January 21, 2019

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Mike Kitts (left) and Dominic Lucq show off their 2017 NBA Championship rings. Mike Kitts (left) and Dominic Lucq show off their 2017 NBA Championship rings.

From Classrooms to Championships

Even on the business side of the sports industry, SDSU alumni get to experience the thrill of winning.
By Ryan Schuler

“Having that championship ring is validation of working for a first-class organization with tremendous ownership and leadership.”

Jack Tipton (SMBA ’06) never imagined he would be part of a championship organization when he entered the sports industry. It’s a rare honor that few people in sports have the opportunity to experience.

But as director of partnership sales for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tipton has been fortunate enough to experience two consecutive NHL championships.

“When you work on the business side of sports, the results on the field of play are out of your control,” said Tipton. “But the magic of being connected to a team on the ice makes every emotion enhanced, especially when you win. I am grateful and lucky to have been associated with a championship team.”

Mike Kitts (SMBA ’07), vice president of corporate partnerships for the Golden State Warriors, is another program alumnus who has experienced two NBA championships in three years during Golden State’s recent stretch of dominance.

“It certainly is an amazing feeling, but you can’t appreciate the high without experiencing the low,” said Kitts. "When you work as hard as you do in sports, the championship means so much because of the overall context. Losing game seven (in the finals) the year prior put into context the feeling you get when you win it all. As an organization, you grow so much during a championship season. Having that championship ring is validation of working for a first-class organization with tremendous ownership and leadership.”

Dominic Lucq (SMBA ’14), who works with Kitts as the manager of partnership sales for the Golden State Warriors, was able to exult in the Warriors’ 2017 NBA Championship.

“It’s a little surreal to have an NBA Championship ring considering my playing career ended in high school,” Lucq said. “We received the rings from ownership and were able to take photos with Kevin Durant. I sent the pictures to my parents, and I think they shared with everyone they know.”

A pipeline to the industry

Since its inception, San Diego State University’s Sports Master of Business Administration (MBA) program has been a pipeline to the sports industry. Much of the program’s success in past years can be credited to its alumni network and opportunities for real-world experience. Alumni mentor current students in the program, return to campus to lecture about real-world scenarios, and occasionally offer current students the opportunity to suggest ideas and work on proposals for the organization.

“The alumni are the lifeblood of this program,” said Tipton. “They care deeply about its success. SDSU’s Sports MBA program has produced so many individual success stories in such a short period of time, and I credit that success to the willingness of alumni to help everyone who is, was, or will be in the program.”

Scott Minto (SMBA ’06), director of the program, said alumni have put an incredible amount of emphasis on building a bridge between students and alumni as part of the program.

“If alumni are heavily engaged in the program, it supplements the educational product put out by the university,” Minto said. “At every stage of the program, we have alumni involved, from admission interviews to guest lectures. As a result, they’re involved with those students in their careers going forward.”

Tipton is a perfect example of this.

In August 2016, Tipton returned to campus to speak to current students in the program and offer the opportunity to contribute to the Pittsburgh Penguins' Golden Ticket promotion. Following the lecture, Amy Wesson (SMBA ’17) prepared a marketing proposal for Tipton. The following year, Wesson, who was interning for the Anaheim Ducks as a student at the time, was alerted by Tipton of an opening for an account specialist position with PPG Paints Arena and the Pittsburgh Penguins. She applied and was offered the position.

“The alumni are very engaged in the program,” Wesson said. “We consistently had the opportunity to connect with alumni on a personal basis through email, phone calls and speaking engagements.”

Awards and accolades

SDSU’s Sports MBA program was recently recognized as one of the best programs of its kind in the world. SportBusiness International, the leading ranking system for postgraduate sports management courses, named the Sports MBA program No. 4 on its list of graduate-level sports business programs.

One highlight of the program is the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic to learn how Major League Baseball and its team operate in a foreign country where many prospects are recruited. The international component not only allows students to see the impact of international player recruitment, but also adds the benefit of networking with representatives from MLB teams.

“We structure the program the way the industry they’re trying to get into is structured,” Minto said. “Our academics are our foundation. We offer an analytics-heavy MBA that is taught by tremendous faculty in the Fowler College of Business. When you combine that with real-world opportunities and interaction, you see great results.”