Ava Irwin will have a chance to win a sports sales competition – and maybe land a job – at the
National Collegiate Sports Sales Championship on February 26-27 in Atlanta.
Sponsored by Baylor University and the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, the contest matches students in a March Madness-like NCAA bracket format to test their sales skills by pitching either a ticket package or a sponsorship idea to a mock buyer.
The buyers are actually recruiters for professional sports teams, and students who advance in the bracket get the opportunity to impress more recruiters.
The ticket sales competition entails students running a face-to-face sales meeting where they promote Atlanta Hawks ticketing packages to potential buyers. The corporate partnership division requires students to role-play as account executives and pitch a partnership to the Atlanta Hawks.
Irwin is ranked #8 in the corporate partnerships field, based on a preliminary virtual round that was held last semester. More than 100 individuals made online pitches that were scored based on a predetermined rubric.
“I had 30 minutes to pitch my own unique idea to the Atlanta Hawks,” she recalls. “The buyer really liked the pitch, graded it, and sent it to another judge for a second opinion. The results came out in early December, and I was #8.”
The Hawks provided the contestants with a mini workshop about their organization before the virtual competition to determine ranking, and Irwin remembered the team’s emphasis on building community relations during that presentation. So, she assumed the identity of a local bank for her pitch and proposed a partnership to bring financial literacy classes to high schools in the area. She argued that the combination of practical financial advice and NBA star power would appeal to young adults, persuade them to open accounts with her bank, and enhance the reputation of the team.
An honors student from Downingtown, Irwin has a resume filled with volunteer and internship experience. As a sophomore, she started selling 50/50 tickets for the Philadelphia Union and later landed an internship with the Union Foundation. She then began an affiliation with the Philadelphia Flyers and moved from handling marketing giveaways to being on the game-day staff to an internship with the corporate partnerships team.
She even worked at last year’s Super Bowl with Living Sports. During the 10-day program, which she discovered from a guest speaker in a Sport Management class, she talked to members of the Arizona Diamondbacks sales team, the Phoenix Suns social media team, and the Savannah Bananas social media squad. She also worked one of the VIP experiences with the Super Bowl host committee and the game itself -- from 3 a.m. until 1-2 a.m. the next day -- managing one of the entrances and a main concourse area, focusing on client services and hospitality.
She credits Neumann for helping her amass her real-world experience. A marketing major at first, she switched to Sport Management in her sophomore year and “everything started clicking for me.”
Her desire to catch up after changing majors drove her to seek corporate experiences. “Every little step has pushed me to go out of my comfort zone. That’s where I learn the most.”
She tipped her cap to Dr. Julie Lanzillo for her great advice and willingness to help her students.
Regarding the February competition in Atlanta, she says, “I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited.”
Last year’s contest included recruiters from the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, NASCAR, the New York Mets, Philadelphia Flyers, San Diego Padres, Tennessee Titans, Washington Commanders, and more. Students from more than 70 colleges participated.