Sports Ad Diversity Series: Tara Jackson (MSA '11), UFC
Tuesday, February 2 2016 11:33am
Tara, International Partnership Activation Director for UFC, comments on the state of diversity in the sports industry, and ways students and professionals can address the issues and opportunities head on.
Q & A by Darryle Bajomo ('17)
What are your main responsibilities with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)?
I have a staff of four managers located in Sao Paulo, Singapore, London, and Toronto that activate all UFC events outside of the United States. I have oversight over UFC’s account with AB InBev internationally and domestically. I lead the partnership team that manages UFC’s EA Sports relationship outside of licensing.
What skills are needed to succeed in your current role?
One has to know a little about everything and be able to work well with others. The cool thing about sponsorships, other than being the best part of sports, is that I have to interface with every department. I work with all of UFC, from fan engagement to public relations, everyday. From an international perspective, I have to have an understanding of different cultures since I’m working across various markets.
There are different cultural protocols that you have to take into account when doing business in other countries, so before any call or meeting with international partners I have to reflect on that culture in order to understand how I’ll be received while doing business. In addition, having a working knowledge of local laws, customs and policy is important when conducting strategy. A strategy that works well in Brazil may not necessarily work (or be legal) in the UK.
What are challenges that UFC faces with Diversity?
I would say that UFC has the youngest and the most multicultural fans in all of sports. In fact, some of our partners will divert money from other sports to market towards UFC’s audience. However, I believe that every sports organization has a struggle with cultural sensitivity when diversity within the front office doesn’t reflect the audience.
A few years ago, Adidas released a sneaker [JS Roundhouse Mids] that had chains attached to the ankle. The sneakers caused a firestorm of negative media attention and thus Adidas had to remove the product from the market. One seriously has to wonder if there was an African American in the room when the decision was being made to release that sneaker.
You have to take a serious look at the talent on and off the court, as well as fans and speak to them in an authentic way. Another example, you can’t have a strategy that targets millennials without consulting millennials. You have to be able to relate to the audience you’re catering to.
Furthermore, I think that organizations have to create a safe space to talk about diversity. There are some organizations that don’t have a safe place; therefore a minority may feel like they could become ostracized for being a crusader for diversity.
What was your experience at OU regarding diversity?
I attended the oldest and largest African American boarding school for my high school experience. I completed my undergraduate degree at American University which is in Washington DC. I attended The University of Memphis for my MBA. Suffice to say, I’ve always been in diverse places. So when I attended Ohio University for my MSA, it was not very diverse. I was slightly older than the majority of my classmates and I was the only African American female.
However, I think it was educational to those with little or no background interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. In the MSA program you’re so close with your classmates, you become like family and that shared experience provides insight into other diverse backgrounds that some people may not otherwise experience.
For graduate programs in general, I think that there are a lot of cultural implications that have to be taken into account. Depending on your background, finances could be an issue or even simple things such as finding a hair salon within reasonable driving distance. Overall I think Ohio is open-minded in trying to understand those implications. For instance, the Diversity and Inclusion Council would not exist without Jim Kahler. Jim came to my classmates and I wanting to address our program’s diversity problem head on.
How do you empower women and other minorities in the sports industry?
I was apart of the National Sports Forum Business of Diversity in Sports and Entertainment program’s first cohort. It was a great opportunity to expand my network. I believe that the biggest challenge for women and minorities in the sports industry is gaining access to those networks. At Ohio, we have that network which is exemplified by our alumni directory. However, many don’t have the benefit of that type of network and it’s hard to build that on your own.
As a committee member for the BDSE program, I’m able to provide a cohort of approximately thirty professionals the opportunity to tap into what is normally a homogenous network. There was a young lady who attended BDSE while working in events and two to three months later she got a job in sports. I believe giving back in this way provides an opportunity to teach how we socialize and do business in this industry without bombarding someone’s inbox.
Looking back, what’s one thing you learned that would be invaluable to current MSA students?
Don’t fast forward though the program. I was an MSA exclusive student and Athens was not on my top places that I wanted to live because I’m a big city person. My mindset when I first started the MSA was that I just have to get through this year and one of my classmates quickly gave me a reality check when they realized I was not socializing enough. You really have to experience and develop experience with your classmates and peers.
In the last three days alone, I’ve talked with several of my classmates. During winter storm Jonas, I ended up stuck on the East Coast. I crashed on the couch of my one my classmates, Jose Duverge. Another of my classmates reached out to me about a pending move to Las Vegas to talk about opportunities here. I talk to my former roommate Alicia Lawrence probably on monthly basis.
If you’re in it, you’re it – get to know your classmates.