Celebrities, athletes and fans from around the country flocked to Atlanta on Feb. 3 to enjoy the biggest football game of the year, Super Bowl LIII. Also joining this crowd were 12 sport management students from Ithaca College who made the trip down South on Jan. 30 to volunteer at the Super Bowl Experience event.
The students spent their first day in Atlanta volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta to set up for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award celebration. Junior Liam O’Connell said the visibility of the event was especially exciting for the students.
“It was hard work, but totally worth it,” O’Connell said. “It was cool to see our work in the background all over Twitter and the newspaper the next day.”
On Feb. 1 and 2, the group helped staff the NFL Host Committee House, a VIP space for sponsors, celebrities, media influencers and the athletes’ families. They checked credentials for those entering, greeted guests and assisted with events in the lounge. O’Connell said they were able to see and interact with many high-profile individuals.
“We got to meet Tom Brady Sr., and Tom Brady’s mother and brother-in-law came in for lunch one day,” he said. “John Legend walked in for a little bit. We were also across the street from the team hotel, so a lot of players and coaches were walking by us all the time.”
While working, the students were able to develop connections with sport management alumni from the college, as well as with locals and event staff. Freshman Meghan Matheny said she enjoyed getting to know so many experienced people who will be resources for her in the future.
“We had two visits with alumni from the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Braves,” Matheny said. “We had the opportunity to talk to them and ask them questions and really get to know them. Also, people who came into the VIP host house and the guy who ran that and his assistants are all really great connections that we now have.”
This was the second time that students from the college have worked at the Super Bowl. In 2017 the sport management program brought volunteers to Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas. Additionally, the major offers many opportunities for hands-on experience throughout the year, with other volunteer experiences at the MLB All-Star Game and NCAA Final Four basketball games.
Selecting the students who would travel to Super Bowl LIII was a competitive process. The opportunity was limited to sport management majors, but the department received more than 50 applications. It was eventually narrowed down to the group of 12 who attended, which was comprised of students from all years. Matheny was one of only two freshmen on the trip but said she felt she had even more to gain as one of the youngest volunteers.
“People knew I was young, but we were treated the same as everyone else,” she said. “It was really great to have experience this early in my college career.”
The event also allowed the group to apply what they have learned from the sport management program at the college in the real world. Annemarie Farrell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sport Management, said the hands-on experience was important for students to combine with their classroom instruction.
“Our students gained invaluable experience in brand activation, event management and sponsor hospitality services,” Farrell said. “There is no better place to connect classroom learning and professional development. Our students were at the heart of it all — learning, networking and building their resume.”
O’Connell said he took away several lessons from the weekend that he feels will have a positive impact on him going forward. He said he has developed a greater understanding of the importance of professionalism.
“I sort of consider myself a fanboy, but I could not really do that in this setting,” he said. “As an official volunteer, we were held to a higher standard, and you are not supposed to be whipping out your phone for a picture or anything. That was definitely something where I had to take a step back and realize why I was there.”
Sophomore Ny’Rayah Mitchell said that their work showed her first-hand how much goes into an event as large as the Super Bowl. She said she feels she has gained a new perspective on her future career.
“I know now that time management and hard work are what make an event successful,” Mitchell said. “I had the opportunity to physically see how the NFL Host Committee House event was planned and see how the event managers were constantly running around making sure that the guests and staff were doing fine. There will be long, sleepless nights, but if you are dedicated and committed, you will be very satisfied with the results.”
While the students went to Atlanta seeking career experience, their proximity to the most-watched sporting event of the year was a huge perk. O’Connell, a New England Patriots fan, said watching his team win the game in such a dynamic environment was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“We found a great spot [to watch],” O’Connell said. “We got tickets to a Patriots Fans of Atlanta tailgate and we were, like, a hundred feet from the stadium. We were all together to watch the game, and there were Patriots fans and not Patriots fans, but we were all kind of rooting for each other.”