Chicago Fire Offers MSA Students More Than a Game
Free beer, hot dogs, transportation, and the region's best soccer action — what’s not to like? Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Sports Administration (MSA) Student Board arranged for a group of students to attend a Chicago Fire game against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park in Bridgeview on October 3rd. But it was more than a chance to spend time with fellow students. The event included a behind-the-scenes tour and a Q & A session with Mike Ernst, the Fire's vice president of ticket sales.
"It was a great experience," said MSA student Brad Bauer, who is group sales account executive for the Chicago Fire and VP of alumni relations for the Board. "It was a little hectic, because we had to have our meeting during halftime. But the group got to go through private access ways and see different aspects of a sports office."
Bauer worked with Kevin Mroz, VP of student events for the MSA Student Board to coordinate the outing. Opportunities within Chicago's rich sports scene, including networking and tours, are one of the benefits of the MSA program.
"As an MSA student, it's great to get out and speak with people working in the sports industry," said Mroz. "Mike [Ernst] shared some great insights about his personal career path. I've often heard that a good way to break into the industry is by selling tickets. Mike explained how this position helped him rise quickly. He started off selling courtside tickets with the Seattle Sonics but later decided to join the Fire. He chose a less mainstream league, and it led to his promotion as VP of ticket sales. "
After achieving a historic double in their first season — winning both the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in 1998 — the “men in red” have amassed an impressive history. But soccer remains less well known, which poses a challenge for sports administration professionals.
"We heard first-hand from department heads describing what it's like to promote a relatively new team in an up-and-coming sport," said Bauer.
Mroz agreed that the Chicago Fire event wasn’t just a good time; it was a valuable view into how other kinds of sports organizations can succeed.
“This was my first time at a Chicago Fire game, and I was surprised by the amount of fans in Toyota Park, especially for a Wednesday night,” he said. “Mike spoke about how initially the Fire tried to compete with the larger teams in the Chicago market, but realized they needed to differentiate themselves. One of the ways they’ve done this is marketing to families and the Hispanic community. Their effort has paid off. The atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the fans was great.”