Q&A – Whitney Wagoner, Former NFL Account Manager

Whitney Wagoner is a former Account Manager with the National Football League.

A 1996 graduate of the University of Oregon, Wagoner spent seven years in a variety of marketing positions with the National Football League in New York. While at the NFL, she was responsible for the management of several key sports sponsorship programs including Motorola, IBM and Sony. She completed her graduate business studies at the Stern School of Business at New York University, earning an MBA in Marketing & Economics. Wagoner now teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in sports marketing and sponsorship at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.

How did you get started at the NFL?

I started as an unpaid intern at the NFL, which was an opportunity presented to me during my studies at the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. After three months, I began working as a contract employee via a temp agency the NFL used. I was eventually hired full-time as an assistant in the corporate sponsorship department and was promoted to Account Executive then Account Manager during my tenure with the league.

What were the day-to-day activities associated with your job as an account manager?

As an Account Manager, my job had three primary tasks: generate sales of new sponsorship agreements, execute the contractual elements of existing sponsorship deals and consult sponsors on activating & marketing current NFL relationships. I was responsible for prospecting new leads, making sales presentations, maintaining financial documents related to my accounts, providing customer service to sponsors, delivering on contractual elements and helping to develop, approve and launch all sponsorship marketing activities of my clients.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job was the relationship-building, not only within the NFL office, but with my clients.  I overcame many challenges and launched many creative projects in the course of doing business on behalf of the NFL, but I am most proud of my development as a professional and the rapport I was able create with my colleagues.

The least rewarding?

The travel. It often surprises people to hear that I got tired of flying to NFL games all season, but the in-season travel to entertain sponsors and the out-of-season travel for sales & planning meetings was significant.

What surprised you most about your field when you were just starting out?

I was surprised to learn how little my job had to do with sports. I was forced to become an expert in all of the business sectors that were represented by my sponsor roster (e.g., motor oil, telecommunications, credit cards). It was much more important that I understood how my sponsors’ business models worked, than it was that I understood the realignment of the AFC and NFC conferences.

What do you believe were the keys to your success?

The keys to my success were my “people skills” and my attention to detail. The field of sports sponsorship isn’t difficult, but it certainly does require the ability to communicate effectively, to present yourself professionally, to network successfully both inside and outside the company, to follow-up consistently, to be extremely well-organized and quite often to prioritize multiple competing pieces of business properly.

What advice would you give a young professional looking to get into corporate sports sponsorship?

I would advise anyone interested in corporate sponsorship to keep a wide-eye on their options. That is to say, be open to working for a property, sponsor or an agency of any size. Know that sponsorship experience is equally valuable whether it be in sports, the arts or community-based events. I would also remind everyone to be wary of burning bridges; the sports sponsorship industry is relatively small and you just never know who might end up on the other side of the table from you!

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