In Sports Careers, Business Badgers

Lead the Field
Ryan Omerus, BBA '97

Ryan Oremus
(BBA ’97)

Vice President of Finance
BOSTON RED SOX
Read Ryan’s story »
Tessa Ruid, BBA '15

Tessa Ruid
(BBA ’15)

Digital Marketing and Fan Insights Coordinator
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Read Tessa’s story »
Joe Simler, BBA '08

Joe Simler
(BBA ’08)

Senior Manager, Corporate Sponsorships
DALLAS COWBOYS
Read Joe’s story »
Kelly Linstroth, BBA '03

Kelly Linstroth
(BBA ’03)

Director of Marketing and Fan Insights
CHICAGO CUBS
Read Kelly’s story »

It’s a familiar routine, one Kelly Linstroth (BBA ’03) experiences any time she tells someone what she does for a living. First, there’s a nod of approval as they tell her that her job sounds really cool. Then, as if the person were following a script, Linstroth knows exactly what comes next.

“The follow-up question is always the same,” she says. “It’s, ‘Can you get me tickets?’”

Linstroth is director of marketing and fan insights for the Chicago Cubs, and is not alone in getting that reaction to her job. From ownership and the C-suite to interns and most levels in between, Business Badgers are everywhere in the world of sports. The vast majority aren’t the athletes that people have cheered over the years but instead are those who work behind the scenes. They crunch numbers, negotiate contracts, study data, and plan strategy so that everything else a sports organization does seems like just another day at the ballpark.

“There are a lot of really interesting, good jobs to be had in the sports industry,” says Ryan Oremus (BBA ’97), vice president of finance for the Boston Red Sox. “If you think about a sport like baseball, everyone might want to be a general manager, but there are only 30 of those jobs. Every business needs accounting, every business needs human resources. Sports is no different.”

A changing industry

In recent decades, the sports landscape has changed from being a passionate pastime to a multibillion-dollar industry, creating markets and employment opportunities along the way. Career opportunities come not just with professional and college teams, but with marketing firms, television networks, and sales teams as well as sports-related nonprofits and philanthropic organizations.

“It’s not just a hobby, this is big business across the board,” says David Cohn (BBA ’08), executive director of First Tee of Southeast Wisconsin, a nonprofit youth organization that teaches life skills through golf. “A lot of organizations look at it that way and are looking for students and talent that think about it that way, too.”

Some Business Badgers found unexpected opportunity in sports, and some prepared for it while they were still in college. For all, a good business foundation from WSB helped pave the road to an entertaining and influential career.

“It’s fun. You go to work and people really care about what you do,” says Kevin Mather (BBA ’84), CEO and president of the Seattle Mariners baseball team. “We’re a small business in the area, only about 200 front-office employees, but more people know what the Mariners are up to than they do about the bigger businesses.”

Mather has seen the evolution of sports as a business since his first job in the industry, as finance director for the Minnesota Twins in 1990. He was already working for the family that owned the baseball team and went to the Twins on an interim basis to establish new accounting controls. He’s been in baseball ever since.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, rich guys owned the local sports teams as a community asset. Then with television, free agency, and labor laws, it turned into big business,” Mather says. “When I went to work for the Twins, the owner said, ‘This had been run like a hobby business and I wish I had made changes as soon as I bought it instead of waiting a few years.’”

David Cohn
It’s not just a hobby, this is big business across the board.

David Cohn (BBA ’08)
Executive Director, First Tee of Southern Wisconsin

Data creates marketing opportunities

Opportunity came for Linstroth after the Cubs changed ownership in 2009 and made significant investments to build out several departments, including the marketing department. By establishing a plan to collect and leverage fan data to better market to them, the Cubs uncovered potential revenue opportunities well beyond the cozy confines of Wrigley Field. Where once there were limited resources, Linstroth now leads a team of six within a department of 30.

“Sports teams realized that if we are to run our brands like a business, similar to consumer goods and retail, not only can we be successful on the field, we can be successful as a business,” she says. “People can engage with the brand without ever going to the ballpark.”

Technology has also opened up opportunities for revenue. While streaming services allow viewers to pick and choose when they watch something, sports remains must-see TV—be it on an actual TV or a digital device.

That’s a big change that Paul Leff (BBA ’83, MS ’84) has seen since he became a part owner of the Oakland Raiders in 2007.

“Live sports is the best way for advertisers to reach audiences,” Leff says.

The past decade or more has also seen a proliferation of technology-enabled data, making everything from advertising to athletic performance heavily reliant on analytics. Acquiring analytical skills is a must for industry professionals, Leff adds.

A range of careers within sports

Opportunities that go beyond working for a team are part of what WSB lecturer Moses Altsech emphasizes in a popular sports marketing class he teaches.

“When a lot of students think about sports marketing, they often don’t think about working for a company that has a partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks; they want to work for the Bucks,” he says. “They want to work for high-profile teams and be part of the excitement. It’s like being in the auto industry and working for Lamborghini.”

But opportunity abounds beyond the teams themselves, at places like GMR Marketing of New Berlin, Wisconsin, where several WSB alumni work. GMR actively recruits at UW–Madison, hiring graduates to work with some of the world’s top brands that have a presence at major sporting events such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl.

What makes the class interesting, Altsech says, is that even for people who aren’t fans, sports provides the ultimate marketing case study.

“It’s the intersection of where every aspect of marketing comes together: consumer behavior, marketing strategy, advertising and promotions, communications, logistics, global marketing, sales, public relations,” he says. “Everything we talk about applies to one industry that people can relate to.”

Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin
Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin spoke to the sports marketing class this fall. He shared with students the guiding principles that became the cornerstone of the team’s success.

Student club helps create network

Many alumni who have taken jobs in sports over the last dozen years were members of UW–Madison’s Sports Business Club. Cohn, now working for the golf-based youth development nonprofit, founded the club as a WSB senior in 2007. It provides a wealth of speakers during the academic year, information on internships, and networking opportunities as students connect with sports business alumni the club brings to campus.

When Cohn was in college, he attended a conference for would-be sports professionals in Chicago and launched the club when he returned. He had come to college already interested in a sports business career and through his own initiative landed internships with the Wisconsin Section of the PGA of America, the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department, and the Milwaukee Bucks. He knew there were students interested in a sports career path that had nothing to do with being an athlete, and wanted to connect them to resources and to each other. Most of the club membership comes from WSB and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“It’s an appealing field and when you told people you were starting a sports business club, they were interested,” Cohn says. “We got 125 members that second semester. It’s been cool to see where some of those members have gone in their careers.”

The club has now grown to 310 members and its president this academic year is Alec Dimmig (BBA ’20), who is majoring in business management and human resources—areas of study he believes can help him achieve his goal of working within the business operations of a professional sports franchise.

From business departments to bobbleheads

Last summer, Dimmig was a corporate partnerships intern with the Milwaukee Brewers. His work varied from researching theme opportunities such as a bobblehead night to coordinating with the baseball team’s other departments.

“I really switched from having a fan’s perspective to having a business perspective,” he says. “There were days I worked with finance, ticketing, and suite sales and it gave me a very holistic view of how a team is run from top to bottom.”

Dimmig also met many people in the organization who didn’t start out working in sports, a valuable lesson in a competitive industry.

“They got experience somewhere else and then came to sports,” he says. “That’s what we try to stress in our club as people look for an internship or job. If it’s not in sports, it’s not the end of the world. It’s what you get out of it that matters.”

There are a lot of really interesting, good jobs to be had in the sports industry. If you think about a sport like baseball, everyone might want to be a general manager, but there are only 30 of those jobs. Every business needs accounting, every business needs human resources. Sports is no different.

Ryan Oremus (BBA ’97)
Vice President of Finance, Boston Red Sox

Business skills a priority

Mather says he looks for job candidates with specific business skills because those skills matter more than knowledge of the game. There are other people for the baseball part, he says.

“It’s good to be a fan, but I’m not going to hire you because you went on for 10 minutes about how much you love the Mariners and baseball,” he says.

The Red Sox’s Oremus agrees.

“A lot of people are trying to specialize in sports management, but we’re not hiring sports management,” he says. “We’re hiring specific needs like HR, IT, finance, or analytics.”

Linstroth believes her background working with a nonprofit and with Walgreens was an advantage.

“When I went through the interview process I said, ‘I’m not a big baseball fan and here’s why that’s a good thing,’” she says. “I wasn’t going to be blinded by my own fandom and I was going to look at it logically. It worked.”

Still, the illogical world of sports fans is part of what makes her job so fun, she says. While at their core, the teams are a business like any other, the customers are in a league of their own.

“It’s rewarding to market a product that people will tattoo on their body,” Linstroth says. “It’s that personal to them.”


Ryan Oremus (BBA ’97)

VICE PRESIDENT OF FINANCE | BOSTON RED SOX

Boston Red Sox logo
Ryan Oremus

In some ways, Ryan Oremus’ job is just like any other at a mid-sized company. As vice president of finance, he is responsible for all treasury services, risk management, payroll, and financial reporting. The big difference for Oremus, though, is that when he opens a door in his office there might be 37,371 people outside of it.

Oremus is on the staff of the Boston Red Sox, and he works at the team’s venerable stadium, Fenway Park. He didn’t set out for a career in sports; he was working for a paper company when he was approached about an opportunity with the team, which was adding positions after an ownership change.

“I had the right experience and technical knowledge for what they were looking for, and I happened to know the right people at the right time,” Oremus says.

On the business side, what sets his finance position apart from others are rules set by Major League Baseball that he and his colleagues have to follow and communicate to ownership. Another big difference is what his job sounds like—being in his office during a game and knowing what’s happening just by the cheers.

“A home run is louder than a double, and the crowd noise is always about five seconds ahead of the TV,” he says.

Three months after Oremus joined the Red Sox, the team won a World Series. They won three more after that.

“I’ve had an amazing run,” he says. “It’s been a dream job.”

Tessa Ruid (BBA ’15)

DIGITAL MARKETING AND FAN INSIGHTS COORDINATOR | GREEN BAY PACKERS

Green Bay Packers logo
Tessa Ruid

It makes sense when Tessa Ruid says she has been in her job for five seasons and not five years. Because in Green Bay, the Packers and nearly everyone else measure time that way, too.

As the digital marketing and fan insights coordinator for the professional football team, Ruid sees firsthand what the Packers mean to the people who follow them. She builds digital marketing campaigns and emails, oversees fan research and surveys, and analyzes data.

“Our fans are already engaged, so selling tickets isn’t the number one goal like at other organizations,” she says of the team with approximately 137,000 names on its season ticket waiting list. “It’s more how we engage with fans and market our internal business units—the restaurant, the hall of fame, stadium tours, and retail.”

A former high school athlete, Ruid originally majored in meteorology and her social media feeds are filled with dramatic weather photos at Lambeau Field.

She also had passions for business and sports, and changed her major with a goal of combining the two.

Her career got a jumpstart when the Milwaukee Bucks saw how she wrote about them on social media and invited her to share the fan perspective on their social accounts for Bucks Media Day while she was still in college. Then came internships with Fox Sports Wisconsin and the National Basketball Association headquarters in New York. She started with the Packers after graduation.

“I never thought I’d work for the team I grew up cheering for,” she says.

Joe Simler (BBA ’08)

SENIOR MANAGER, CORPORATE SPONSORSHIPS | DALLAS COWBOYS

Dallas Cowboys logo
Joe Simler

Joe Simler means it when he says he works for a small family-owned business. That business has a big imprint, though.

Simler is senior manager, corporate partnerships for the Dallas Cowboys, the football team rated by Forbes as the world’s most valuable professional sports franchise, worth $5 billion. Simler plays a key role in helping the team generate revenues.

“It’s anything related to the team,” he says. “Signage inside the stadium or our headquarters, radio advertising, mobile and digital advertising, use of the logo. Our most valuable asset is the Cowboys’ star.”

Simler joined the Cowboys in 2013, for a second time. He interned in 2008 after graduation, as the team opened a new palatial stadium. The return to Texas five years later was a far cry from his first full-time job: selling season tickets for the Phoenix Coyotes when the hockey team had gone bankrupt and was considering a move. He then went to the Green Bay Packers for corporate suite sales. When the Cowboys called, the opportunity was too good for the Wisconsin native to pass up.

“My family was more upset about it than I was,” he says.

With the 2019 season in full swing, Simler and his colleagues are working on 2020, connecting with current corporate partners and potential new ones. The pressure of the sale gives Simler an appreciation for what players experience, though they’re on TV and face far more public scrutiny.

“Teams focus on revenue-generation and sales,” he says. “It’s still a business and you have to be able to perform.”

Kelly Linstroth (BBA ’03)

DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND FAN INSIGHTS | CHICAGO CUBS

Chicago Cubs logo
Kelly Linstroth

When Kelly Linstroth learned about the Chicago Cubs job that would one day be hers, she got a rush of excitement. It wasn’t because she was a superfan who wanted to hang with her idols.

It was the business problem, the chance to get in on the ground floor as the organization began a process to learn more about their customers—also known as their fans.

“We had to ask, ‘How do we learn who our customer is and market to them? How do we start down that path, execute it, and see how it succeeds?’” says Linstroth, the team’s director of marketing and fan insights.

She had done that before. During her four years at Walgreens, Linstroth helped launch its rewards program that identifies what customers buy so the company can market to them better.

With the Cubs, Linstroth oversees marketing in all areas of fan touchpoints, including email, digital, and social media, as well as leveraging fan data to personalize communication to them.

Linstroth’s job doesn’t typically involve game-day duties, though she’s on call in case plans change. But just showing up for work at a place as beloved as Wrigley Field serves as a reminder to her of why she’s there and who the customers are.

“I’m a Packers fan, so I know how I would feel if their fans weren’t being treated well,” Linstroth says. “I didn’t quite understand that until I came here.”

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Rollie Heath (BBA ’59)

and his wife, Josie, were honored on October 9 by Great Education Colorado for their impact on the community. The breadth of their contributions can be seen in the organizations they have founded and supported, including the Community Foundation of Boulder County, the Public Education Business Coalition, the Women’s Foundation, the Colorado Community College System, and the World Trade Center. Formerly, Heath was a member of the Wisconsin School of Business' Dean’s Advisory Board and served as a Colorado state senator from 2015-2017. More Class Notes »

Nick Millot (BBA ’12)

was named one of Chicago Crain’s "20 in Their 20s." Now vice president of development at Related Midwest, Millot oversees some of the biggest projects in Chicago real estate, including One Bennett Park, a new 70-story luxury residential tower in Streeterville, and 400 Lake Shore Drive, a $1 billion mixed-use proposal that features residential units, the expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk, and the development of a public park. Prior to joining Related Midwest in 2013, Millot worked in the Real Estate Banking Group for Wells Fargo.More Class Notes »

Pamela Hart (BBA ’90, JD ’02)

became executive director of the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School in June 2019. She was the first person to develop and teach an animal law course at the University of Chicago Law School, as well as at UW–Madison. She is also a co-founder of Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims, a Dane County nonprofit dedicated to recognizing the role of animals in family violence. Hart lives in Middleton, Wisconsin. More Class Notes »