NASCAR’s Tim Clark and I was leaving Starbucks in downtown Charlotte last July after a meeting at an early morning coffee shop where we often turned down ideas from each other and talked about the challenges we faced. In the end, we had an idea – let’s continue with our frequent meetings in order to include others in Charlotte’s sports business community. We didn’t know what would come of it, but on our first dinner in September, 12 executives from various sports organizations in Charlotte shared the challenges we all faced in retaining talent and finding different talent. Together, the group wondered about developing a program that would target students in the region from different backgrounds who could gain hands-on experience in our organizations – but we wanted to do something quickly and together without being trapped by processes or protocols.
I remember Tim and I reviewing the pages of notes from that dinner during our next coffee meeting and we felt inspired, though a little scared, by what was ahead of us. In December on our second night, the group grew to 15 and we pushed each other – let’s do something soon, not just talk about it. We hoped that if several Charlotte sports organizations could come together and provide opportunities to those who may not have access to them and create a channel for future talent, other markets could follow. Elevate Sports Ventures’ Cameron Wagner immediately suggested that we cooperate with Pat Stack, founded by Sports Biz Camps in 2019, which connects high school and college students with sports professionals and is based in Charlotte. Truist’s Joe Smith agreed, saying he had met with Stack and put forward a similar concept after the first meeting at dinner, and so ties were established.
Steck presented an initiative in which Sports Biz Camps could organize and lead a program that will offer educational experiences in our companies. At our third meeting on the evening of March 22, 13 executives went through every aspect of the program to make sure we were comfortable and aligned. At one point we just weren’t sure we had a plan that we could all come up with. But one person spoke insightfully: “It’s a pilot. We can adapt. We still don’t have all the answers. ” That was our mantra. That is how the Charlotte Difference Makers Sports Scholarship was launched in partnership with Sports Biz Camps. It will be a nine-month professional development program that will begin this summer with 12 associates representing the marginalized population who will receive on-site access, professional experience and mentoring at various sports organizations in Charlotte.
Charlotte Difference Makers Sports Scholarship Participants
■ 23KSI Racing SPEED Institute
■ Custom sports and entertainment
■ Carolina Panthers
■ Charlotte 49ers
■ Charlotte FC
■ Charlotte Sports Foundation
■ Elevate Sports Ventures
■ Hornets Sports and Entertainment
■ RFK Racing
■ Sports business magazine
Each company has pledged financial support for Sports Biz Camps to provide resources to fellows and fund all programming costs. The plans are ambitious. Fellows will gain access to each organization, weekly seminars and networking visits. During the 11 weeks of this summer, fellows will be exposed to a variety of career paths and have access to executives in each company who can share ideas and insights. Social events will allow them to get to know each other, and the group will remain engaged throughout the year, with the goal of possible permanent employment in the future. As one member of the group said at our last dinner, “We hope to hire each of these students who go through the program.
So why am I sharing this? Well, first of all, because the group is proud of its collective efforts, and we hope that this will gradually increase from 12 young people to 15, 20 or more who will gain practical experience in the sports business. It will take time and effort in our companies to make sure we have a clear, goal-oriented program for inclusion and oversight, and each organization will have a specific supervisor. At a time when traditional “internships” are challenging, we will be happy to continue with this program and keep you informed of our efforts.
We know that many of you are already doing this in your communities and understand its potential. We hope that there are other markets interested in such an effort, because nothing would make us prouder than seeing Difference Makers Sports Fellowship programs in five or 10 cities in the future. That could mean a difference in the lives of 200 or more young people each year who would not otherwise get the opportunity to work in a dynamic sports business. I am pleased that this group in Charlotte worked together so quickly to try to make a small, subtle, but hopefully important difference. If you want to know more about what we do, let us know. This can grow and provide powerful experiences and opportunities – and we hope that others will join us.
Abraham Madkour can be contacted at email@example.com.