Updated: Jan 26, 2021
John Nowicki works as a Director of Corporate Partnerships for the Oakland A’s and has spent most of his career in partnerships. Before his role with the A’s, John worked with NASCAR and IMG, where he built his foundation of selling and activating sponsorship deals. In John’s current role, he does everything from sourcing to closing deals for an impressive list of clients.
Recently, The Sponsorship Space had the opportunity to speak with John to gain valuable insights on his journey through the industry and while earning his MBA and MSA. Take a read below to learn more about his view of the partnerships industry!
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into partnerships. How did you end up working at the Oakland A’s?
My journey into the sports industry and partnerships began at the conclusion of my time as a student-athlete at the University of Detroit-Mercy. After I graduated from undergrad, I received the opportunity to intern with Miami University’s athletic department, which opened my eyes to a career in the business of sports. During that internship, I was introduced to Ohio University’s MBA and Masters in Sports Administration program, which became the springboard for my career in partnerships.
While at Ohio University, I worked as an assistant account executive with IMG College, in addition to volunteering with the Cincinnati Bengals corporate partnership department on game days. Through these experiences, I was able to become connected with my current vice president and mentor, Wade Martin, who was leading partnerships for my hometown Detroit Lions. After spending three seasons with NASCAR (formerly International Speedway Corporation), Wade invited me to join him in the Bay as he recently accepted a leadership role with the Oakland A’s. It’s been a heck of a ride and I recently celebrated my three year anniversary with the club.
Q: How did your role change this year compared to last year? What did March and April look like compared to July and August?
Overall, my role from last year to this year has remained relatively the same - create opportunities to connect prospective and current brand partners with A’s fans and the greater Oakland community. The location, format, or medium that the ‘moment of connection’ happens has evolved considerably given the current environment created by the pandemic.
In comparing March and April to July and August, both periods had plenty of unknowns, however, my focus was controlling the factors within our control and assisting our brand partners through the process. As we headed into the July restart or Spring Training 2.0, our department was specifically focused on identifying revised partnership opportunities with internal & external stakeholders, amending contractual agreements, and solidifying plans to bring those partnerships to life in a 4-6 week sprint.
Q: With no fans in stadiums, what has your team focused on this season to keep Oakland A's fans engaged?
Our leadership stressed remaining nimble throughout the year, given the ever-changing environment both locally and across the country. As a club, we have been dedicated to supporting initiatives that are of importance to our fans and community that involve both on-the-field and in the community campaigns. I am very proud of the club’s efforts to engage our fans around topics of social injustice and voter access and education.
Q: As a team, or individually, how do you determine the right brands to target based on the team's priorities?
As a team and individuals, we lean heavily on primary and secondary research to determine the right brand partners to align with the A’s organization. In a crowded sports and entertainment marketplace like the Bay Area, brand partners have a multitude of marketing vehicles to choose from, making it all that more important for us to do our research and present a compelling ‘Why’. Our partners at YouGov Sports, Nielsen Sports, SponsorUnited, and MLB Advanced Media all play a role in helping make us smarter and more knowledgeable when approaching current and prospective brand partners.
Q: Can you speak to the transition from NASCAR to the Oakland A’s? What have you felt are some of the core differences working for the two properties?
The transition from NASCAR to Oakland Athletics was a significant one, both as an industry professional and marketer. In both examples, I had the distinct benefit of entering both sports as a fairly “inexperienced fan” and outsider. This provided the unique opportunity to think critically about the intricacies of the fan experience, and in turn, the ways that we as the rights holder can best connect our fans with our facilities, players, personalities, and community.
NASCAR and MLB share a number of similarities and characteristics (rich with history and tradition, family-oriented, patriotic, and extremely loyal fan bases). As a professional and marketer, there are some differences. NASCAR provided me a wide breadth of experiences, specifically allowing me to immerse myself into 10+ markets for 1-2 mega events each calendar year. The A’s have provided me the ability to dive extremely deep into one market for the entire 12 months, which has allowed me to weave myself into the fabric of the community and its culture.
Q: NASCAR operates differently than most leagues as it runs on a touring schedule. How did your team lean in on partnerships to make them successful in different racetracks, states, and demographics?
The NASCAR schedule from February through November and the touring model across the US certainly creates some advantageous opportunities for partnerships. Our team definitely leaned into the time of year, geographical location, type of racetrack (Short Track, Road Course, Superspeedway), and fan culture to align partnership opportunities to elevate the onsite experience. From Florida in February with the Daytona 500, to California in March with AutoClub Speedway, to Upstate New York in August with Watkins Glen International, to Arizona in November with the Phoenix Raceway, there were countless opportunities to align our partners with the right market and audience to support their overall sports marketing strategy.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career in partnership sales?
I am most proud of the personal and professional relationships that I’ve been able to form over the last 7+ years in the industry. From internal teammates, external agencies, and brand partners, to other colleagues in the industry, the relationships make me proud to be a member of the sports business community.
Q: You went to Ohio University and earned an MBA and MSA (Masters of Sports Administration). What are some of the most important lessons you learned in graduate school?
The Ohio University MBA and MSA is a cohort program, which allows each student in the program to gain the experience of working together as a team/unit for almost two years. The most important lesson I learned from that experience was how powerful team collaboration can be when you have a diversity of thoughts, experiences, and backgrounds. As a cohort, we were stronger and better as a unit when everyone contributed and added their perspective to a particular presentation, case study, or consulting assignment. That lesson has remained true during both of my career stops since graduating.
Q: How did your various internships prepare you for a career in sports?
I feel extremely fortunate to have gained internship experience in a number of sports organizations, including time in a college athletic department, college conference office, headquarters of sports apparel brand, and front office of a professional sports team. Each of the roles had a slightly different core responsibility, however the variety of organizations that I was able to experience helped me to understand the type of environment that aligned with my professional interests and highlighted my skill sets.
Q: What advice do you have for younger professionals who are interested in going back to get a postgraduate degree in Sports Management?
The decision and program you consider should be very personalized to you and compliment your short-term goals, long-term goals, existing skill sets, and experience gaps you are looking to fill. I also recommend establishing a very clear set of goals for what you are hoping to get out of your experience while in the graduate program. It is also important to consider what opportunities that degree provides you at the conclusion of the program.
In undergrad, I was an education major with a minor in psychology, therefore a graduate program that allowed me to gain an MBA, work for IMG College, and further my education in the business of sports with the MSA was the perfect mix for me.
Q: What do you do to continue your growth outside of your work?
Earlier this year, I established a peer-to-peer learning group with two friends, Travis Misner and Brett Baur, along with other Ohio University grads that are currently selling partnerships across North America. The group has allowed us to openly share best practices amongst ourselves, while also allowing us the opportunity to invite senior leaders from the industry to speak with the group.
I am also continuing to build my habit of reading books and listening to industry/leadership podcasts. I’m always on the lookout for a good recommendation!