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MSA Alumni Q&A: Wade Martin

Tuesday, October 18 2016 12:00am

Francesco Marini (MSA '17) recently caught up with Wade Martin (MSA ‘07), who just accepted a new position as VP of Naming Rights – Global Partnerships with WME | IMG.

Martin, who grew up in Athens and is therefore 101% Bobcat, spent his undergrad at The College of Wooster before moving back to Athens for his graduate studies. During his MSA year, he was Assistant General Manager with the Southeastern Ohio Copperheads

Prior to his new role, he spent his 10+ years experience in the sport industry with IMG College, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, and Property Consulting Group (PCG). Here is an excerpt from Martin and Marini's conversation in the form of a Q&A: 

Q: Could you talk about your new role as VP of Naming Rights in Global Partnerships at WME|IMG? What kind of challenges did you expect and what excites you about the new position?

This new role is one of those things that came about when I wasn’t looking for a new opportunity. Before my new role here at WME | IMG, I was in an ideal position at PCG. I was fortunate to be surrounded by great people, including some great Bobcats. Dan Migala and Brian Gainor are great professionals and, most importantly, friends. We added Andy Szabo and Becca Hemby during my tenure as well. I was happy there and wasn’t actively looking for a new opportunity.

After evaluating this opportunity and what it could mean for me professionally, it turned out to be an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. This is a brand new division in Global Partnerships.We have the opporutnity to work with some of the most iconic brands in sports, including the Chicago Cubs. We are currently in the midst of positioning their new development for naming rights which will include some amazing assets in and around Wrigley Field. I have been around the sport industry for 10 years now. I’ve had exposure to international brands and gained some experience in the area of naming rights, but adding the great resources from WME|IMG along with our property partners is incredible. I am very excited to work with some great professionals; I see it as a unique career opportunity.

Q: You have spent a considerable portion of your career so far working for professional teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and the Detroit Lions. What do you like the most in agency life compared to working for a team? 

When working for a team, you wake up every morning thinking about that specific property, how to convey and represent its culture. You do have exposure to many partners and other entities, but at the end of the day you are focused solely on one property. The experience revolves around building strong relationships internally, while being a steward of the team with the business community. You are part of the fabric of your team’s brand as well as its partners.

Agencies can be very different because of the diverse projects and different brands you wake up thinking about. You must develop an in-depth knowledge of your clients but you often aren’t always aware of the internal challenges that they face. I do miss working with so many departments in each team I have been with, but at times the internal dynamics can be challenging.  It’s fun to represent an organization (like the Cubs) in the marketplace, especially after having spent so much of my career on the team side.   

Q: How did some of your previous work experiences help you get to where you are today?

To be fair, I have learned a lot from every opportunity I have had so far. If I had two pick two, I would have to say the Assistant General Manager role with the Southern Ohio Copperheads and the position as VP of Corporate Partnership with the Lions. 

The former experience was incredibly impactful, it allowed me to put my hands in everything: sponsorship, tickets, operations. It made me more well-rounded before I really even officially started in the industry. 

The Lions represented another turning point, especially having to take responsibility in putting together my team. I had never hired/fired anyone, so that role was definitely an important step as it allowed me to build a team culture, establish accountability within the group, and really take part in building something from the ground up. I learned a ton, made some mistakes, had some great successes and, most importantly, met great people and was able to build enduring relationships with many.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you have received in your professional career and how has it affected you? What's one piece of advice for every student currently enrolled in the MSA program?

Anyone in the program knows Doc’s advice: “Make a decision, make it the right one.” Work one step at a time, on a daily basis, and make sure to make each decision you make, no matter the size, right every time.

My other advice would be to make yourself comfortable being uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong being in the same position for a while, but if you are open to new experiences you will learn so much and grow so quickly. Find ways throughout your day or career to add elements of discomfort.  It will add an unexpected element of fun and make you better at the same time.

Q: What advice would you give to someone that aspires to work specifically in the agency world?

I have to admit I am still learning a lot from the agency world. I was with PCG for slightly less than a year. I think the first step is to understand there are so many applications to the word “agency”: there is talent representation, activation agencies, strategy, etc. It’s an incredibly diverse universe.

Secondly, it is fundamental to grasp the culture of an agency, which is very different from professional teams and brands: that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for every agency, as agencies can be very different from one another. It is crucial to know what the agency is about and its main goal.. I would caution anyone that is thinking about working in this segment of the industry to say, “I want to work for an agency”; it oversimplifies the subject. 

Q: What do you believe is the most beneficial aspect of the MSA degree from OHIO?

Ninety-nine out of 100 grads would likely say the people and the experiences you share with them. The folks you meet in class and in the industry all have a common denominator: a high level of accountability to yourself and one another. The bond you build with fellow alums and classmates is incredible and sets our program apart from any other.  

I would also add that many outside the program may think that some OU graduates are overconfident at times, taking their position in the industry for granted. I think, instead, that this program comes with additional pressure and it does a great job of teaching its graduates to push harder in order to make a true difference in the sport industry.  Our successes pave the way for others after us, just like those before us opened doors on our behalf.

Q: How has the OHIO Network affected your career after graduation? Do you have a few specific alumni that made a difference in your career?

It is honestly hard to list them all. The first to come to my mind is Luke Sayers. He was my first boss at OU when I volunteered to work for IMG college to grow my knowledge of sponsorships. He gave me so much autonomy and trust, and I will always be grateful. I talk to him on a weekly basis, he has been a huge resource personally and professionally along the way and I couldn’t ask for a better friend.

My class of 2007 is special; I am thankful to all of them. Brian (Gainor) and Dan (Migala) in particular over recent years. They are not only great friends but incredible professionals. They were the first to offer their help and support after my decision to leave PCG and I respect that very much as not everyone in our industry would have reacted that way.

Hard to answer this question without leaving people out, but Ryan Holmes and Jeff Webster are two more who have meant so much to me personally as much professionally.  I had the fortune of calling each a teammate at one point, giving me the chance to learn from them each day.  Although we are no longer teammates (for now), they remain very close friends.  

Q: When you came to OHIO, did you ever think you'd end up where you are today?

I honestly would not have seen myself in this role, probably even a few months ago.

Back in school, I wanted to be in college athletics. My dream was to become an AD. I was raised in Athens, went to OU games, college sports were my world and I didn’t know enough about the sports industry at that time. It was through Jim Kahler and Doc K that my eyes were opened and I am truly grateful for that. Thinking back to those days I would have never expected to be here at this point of my career.  

Q: What's your favorite memory of Athens and Ohio University?

The toughest question! Probably two stand out aside from the daily laughs and experiences with my classmates.

The first one was the last game of the season with the Copperheads. Together with two of my closest friends in class – Molly Wurdack-Folt and Karen Rickard who were working on the team with me –  as well as the coaches, we stayed on the field after the game, cranked up the music, took batting practice, and laughed and talked for hours. The next day, my left side was so sore from trying to hit a homerun at Bob Wren! It was definitely a great closure to a season of hard work.

The second would be the setting up the tents and the entire tailgate on football game day with the rest of the class. I remember the Saturday mornings at 6:30 a.m., freezing cold. Nobody wanted to be there, but once you got there everyone really had a good time. It is an awesome tradition and I think it provides a great snapshot of the culture of the MSA program.

For more information on the OHIO MSA program, click HERE