Who would’ve thought that an MLB Racing Sausage would not only go on to become a local “legend”, but also go on to work for multiple sports organizations across the Greater Milwaukee Area? Like a lot of people, Israel became interested in the business end of sports during his time at university. But Israel initially gained his inspirations after hearing multiple the post-playing stories from former NFL linebacker, Super Bowl Champion and close family friend, Otis Wilson. Israel took this learning to multiple internships over the next few years, including the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks. These intern opportunities eventually led Israel to full-time positions with the Bucks that grew his professional network and established him as a passionate sports businessman. He now works as the Director of Corporate Partnerships for ROC Ventures, a local company that owns, manages and operates over 20 brands, including professional sports teams.
The Sponsorship Space had the chance to sit down with Israel to chat about his role on the Corporate Partnerships team at ROC Ventures, his past experiences and his extracurricular activities outside of work.
1) Take us through your career journey. What was your first role in the sports world?
As soon as I started as a student in the Sports Management Program at Cardinal Stritch University, I understood that I would have to get into the sports industry any way possible. After a couple weeks of searching, I landed a job as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers Brew Crew. Little did I know that I was quickly going to become a Milwaukee legend. Well, my legs and arms were. For an entire year, I was known to Brewers fans as #5, numero cinco, Chorizo. As a member of the World Famous Klement’s Racing Sausages I won two races, and no, they aren’t fixed races, whoever comes in first gets to leave early!
Since then, I’ve had Sales & Marketing internships with the Lakeshore Chinooks, Milwaukee Brewers, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, MKE Sports & Entertainment and the Milwaukee Bucks. These positions have all molded me into who I am today, both personally and professionally.
2) Your career has grown a great deal since your days as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers' Brew Crew. What do you think led you to pursue a career in sports?
Every 10 year-old has a dream to be the next Bryce Harper, Tom Brady or Lebron James. I was a little different, in that I wanted to be their agent. Growing up, former NFL Player Otis Wilson was a close friend of the family. Listening to his stories about playing in the NFL was amazing, but what really impacted me were his stories after his playing days. More specifically, his stories influenced me to dream about the business end of sports. It wasn’t until my first class at Cardinal Stritch University that I realized that there was so much more than just playing in the game or becoming the player’s agent. As a result, every internship I had throughout my time in college, I wanted to try something different.
3) Did you always think partnerships was going to be your career path?
I did not! As I previously mentioned, I wanted to go into player representation since I was young. After completing different internships and graduating college, I accepted a role with the Milwaukee Bucks as a Sales Associate. Working for a world-class organization such as the Bucks was a very humbling experience for myself. I quickly learned the ins and outs of the sales process and made meaningful professional relationships. Without the help of my sales manager and advisors, Jeff Lesko, Dylan Synder, Matt Splan, and Evan Ronayne, I would not be where I am today. After learning of the position opening at ROC Ventures, formerly MKE Sports & Entertainment, and consulting them, they encouraged me that this would be the right fit for me & they were right!
4) In late 2016, you started your current role as Director of Corporate Partnerships at ROC Ventures. Take us through what ROC Ventures is all about and what the experience has been like since you started there?
ROC Ventures, formerly known as MKE Sports & Entertainment, is a newly formed company that owns, manages, and operates over 20 brands that include professional sports teams and entertainment venues. Our Return On Community, or ROC, approach allows consumers access to unique and affordable family entertainment to valuable assets within their communities.That being said, my experience since jumping on board has been amazing! Between a professional soccer season and the summer season upon us, there has not been an ‘offseason.’ Within a couple weeks of joining the team, I realized that I not only had more freedom to be creative in the work that I do, but also the unity that is required between departments to make each partnership work is essential. Whether it was the marketing team, ticket staff, or the game day staff, communication has been crucial in the activation component of the partnership.
5) What is a typical day like as the Director of Corporate Partnerships? Tell us more about the role.
As a Director of Corporate Partnerships for ROC Ventures my focus is in the Milwaukee market. I cover brands such as the Milwaukee Wave, Milwaukee Marathon, The Rock Sports Complex and the forthcoming Ballpark Commons development. Our Return On Community approach offers a unique opportunity for partners for each brand and with so many properties to manage in Milwaukee, the job is nothing short of challenging but at the end of the day, which usually ends with a sunset at the Umbrella Bar, it’s all worth it.
6) Since you have a Bachelor’s Degree focused on Sport Management, how crucial did that education play a factor in obtaining the job you have now?
Going to Stritch allowed me to have conversation with faculty, alumni and visitors of the school. Classes specific to sport were crucial in my development as a young professional and helped me get ready for life after college. Dan Underberg, Cori Kaplan and Rainer Meisterjahn pushed me to strive for more in everything I did. Going to a small school also allowed me to network with the tight knit Stritch Alumni. Alex Ridolfi, a Stritch Alumni and Corporate Account Executive with the San Antonio Spurs, has been my mentor for any professional development to this point in my career.
7) Are you involved with any extracurriculars or passion projects outside of your work environment?
I am a huge baseball junkie. As soon as I get home from work, I open my laptop and turn on the White Sox game. Then, I turn on the Brewers game on TV. To make it better, my girlfriend comes home and watches the game with me! I am also a huge foodie and a Social Media Influencer for a number of companies in Milwaukee. Rochambo Coffee & Tea house is by far my favorite because of the free coffee!
8) Where do you see your career headed within the next five to ten years?
Good question. I love my role with ROC Ventures and hope to spend more time here learning and growing with the company. That being said, I am a very progressive person and would be interested to enhance my knowledge in partnerships with teams or leagues, or possibly even fulfilling my childhood dream of going into player representation! Meanwhile, I’m just trying to be the best asset to the team that I can be.
9) What's your advice for young professionals trying to break into the partnership/sports business field?
Internships are the lifeblood of your professional development in college. I was never the smartest student in the classroom but I did make it a point to learn as much as I could in each internship I had.
Israel Lugo III
Israel Lugo III
Director of Corporate Partnerships