Nicole Taylor, MBA ’16, a graduate of American International College’s MBA 4+1 Program, describes her fast ascent through the male-dominated ranks of sports marketing to become an executive in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Springfield Thunderbirds organization, and how her AIC experiences helped her along the way.
When did you start working for the Springfield Thunderbirds?
I graduated in May 2016 and secured a job with the Thunderbirds that August. I was shocked to get a job in the sports industry that soon. Being in the right place at the right time paid off.
Nicole Taylor, MBA ’16
What is your role within the Thunderbirds organization?
I am the business development and special events executive for the team here. Essentially, I sell corporate partnerships. I am one of the three members of our corporate sales team. All the advertising here in the arena, any corporate community programs—such as our Stick to Reading program, our Kids Club program, anti-bullying programs—I typically sell those to different companies in the area, and I activate them. A huge portion of my job is brand-activation as well as special events. So making sure everything in a contract is being fulfilled on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s in-season or out-of-season, and entertaining our clients with special events and player appearances. That’s a big, big piece of my job.
A huge aspect of my job that I love is that I’m building fans for generations, not just seasons. I’m able to be as creative as I want when it comes to selling a brand and making sure that all of my partnerships are geared toward the people that are going to keep this business alive—making sure our fans are happy, making sure they’re walking out of the MassMutual Center like, ‘Wow, Mom, I want to come back.’ And it all starts with the kids—bringing these kids into the locker room, something as simple as giving them access to the players, letting that player sign their little Kids Club t-shirt or a puck, bringing them down to the penalty box and they get their first puck tossed to them over the glass, one player smiles at them and that becomes their idol.
Those are the moments that I cherish the most in my role, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to offer kids and families and even millennials the opportunity to tap into a market that maybe they thought they weren’t going to be accepted in. Or maybe it’s been a tradition in their family for a long time, so being able to continue that tradition, being able to reach new fans, and being able to do that in my city means the most to me.
How has the Thunderbirds franchise changed in the four years you’ve been there?
Growing up in Springfield, I didn’t see much hockey in the community. Our team now has a vision for its role in the community, and our front office and ownership group is invested in grassroots marketing, getting our players out to as many community and corporate appearances as we can, making sure Boomer, our mascot, is out at every community event possible.
What was your path to American International College?
I started visiting AIC in maybe my junior or senior year of high school, started to get a good feel for the campus, and it felt pretty welcoming and like home. I met an admissions counselor from AIC—Herman Wilkinson, who’s still in the admissions office—at a college fair here in New England. He played a big role in getting me interested in the PT (physical therapy) program at AIC.
What were you looking for in a college?
I did not want to go to a large school. I grew up in a small town, went to a smaller high school. I loved how diverse and intimate it was, and that’s what I was looking for in a college. I loved that AIC was so diverse. The classroom sizes were smaller, which meant you could get more one-on-one attention, more of a chance to build relationships with your peers and network with the faculty and staff there. I felt like that was a greater opportunity than becoming just another number at a larger university.
You lived on campus?
For one year. I commuted the first three years. The last year, I decided to become an RA. It was definitely a fun opportunity; I enjoyed it very much. Students would actually forget that I did not live on campus, because I was so involved.
How was it, as a freshman commuter, acclimating to college life?
It wasn’t bad. I met quite a few friends that summer at an overnight orientation, so that allowed me to connect with new people and get my friend group situated. And, during that time, I met quite a few alumni and upperclassmen who showed me the ropes. That’s what I loved about it so much: they took me under their wing.
What made it so easy for me to transition and gain so many friends on campus was that my first work-study job was in the Hines residence hall where I was kind of like a receptionist, checking in people who were going in and out of the building. It was a great way to get involved on campus.
Were you involved in any other extra-curricular activities at AIC?
I was the president of the AIC Enactus organization for one year and a member for three. Enactus was the business organization on campus where we would develop and pitch different programs to help the economy. Back in 2013, we actually won the regional competition in New York. It was another good way to step outside of my comfort zone; I’d never competed before. It allowed me to work on my presentation skills, get out there and network with different people from different colleges and companies.
It was a pretty cool way to get creative on campus and have fun while doing it, getting my own personal brand up and running on campus. I was able to get to know a lot of people through those RSOs (Registered Student Organizations).
Are there any professors you’d want to name-check here?
Professor Mei-Lin (Yeh-Lane, PhD). She’s the director of the sports and recreation management program. She was definitely a huge influence for me, being another woman that had worked in sports marketing. To know that there are women of diverse backgrounds that are in the field, that was very encouraging.
What are some of the challenges that still exist for women in your historically male-dominated field?
On the more traditional end, when you get to the sales, it’s still more male dominated. I would love to see more women enter the field, because there are some great women sales reps out there who know how to crunch these numbers, they know how to pitch, they know how to interact with people of different backgrounds. I feel like it’s slowly but surely happening.
Also, on the operations side, you’re beginning to see more female coaches. Obviously, we see that in the NBA and the NFL more female coaches are popping up. These women have raw talent, so I would love to see that be a more regular thing, and then eventually that stigma would be eliminated. We’re taking steps in the right direction. I cant wait to see it in ten years or so; if we keep moving at this pace, there will be some major shifts. We’re on the right path.
And you studied PT?
Actually, my freshman year I went in undecided. I originally wanted to study PT and eventually land a job in the sports industry. I quickly realized that PT may not be for me, so I decided to go into sports management—the business side of things. I declared my major during my sophomore year, I picked up a minor in marketing, and, ultimately, I graduated with a bachelor’s in sports and recreation management, minor in marketing, and went on to pursue my MBA through the 4+1 Program.
Why wasn’t PT for you, as you say?
The business side came easy for me. What I loved most about the marketing aspect of sports was that it allowed me to be creative. Everyone has their thing that sets them free, makes them happy and full of joy, and my thing was, and still is, having the opportunity to create. Having the ability to work with an athlete on their brand, create concepts for different companies that are going to make their brand more prominent in a community, that’s something that piqued my interest. I loved creating things that were different, were outside of the box, were community-involved. And that’s something I realized early on because we worked on those projects in class.
Nicole Taylor, MBA ’16
Interning with the Basketball Hall of Fame as a corporate partnership intern in hospitality while an undergraduate at AIC, I had a chance to meet the ‘Dream Team’ one year. I worked with some of their VIP programs, as well. I met different athletes and their sports agents, their publicists. Speaking with them, they were so confident in their field. We connected very well, and that’s just something that kept me going. One day I wanted that to be me. Ultimately, I would like to represent athletes directly—work on their personal brands and dabble in contract management and negotiation.
AIC is a huge part of me. It helped me get my footing and figure out who Nicole Taylor really was. I’m thankful for my experience and, most importantly, the people. For any student on campus—but especially the sports and recreation management students—who are looking to get their footing in the sports world, I’m definitely not a shy resource. I’m happy to give back to the community that helped mold me into the woman that I am today.
By Brendan Gauthier :: Photos Courtesy of Nicole Taylor