Luke Mohamed has been a sports fan and enthusiast all of this life, and that led him to his current position as the Director of Partnership Sales at the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. In his career, Luke has also worked with D.C. United and IRONMAN, while earning an MBA in Sport and Entertainment Management from the University of South Florida. Also, Luke was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, teaching Sports Ethics to the Sports Industry Management Master’s program.
Recently, The Sponsorship Space had the opportunity to speak with Luke to gain some valuable insights on his journey, the industry, and the future of sports partnerships!
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you decided to study Accounting and Sport Management at Robert Morris? What made you decide to major in both of those?
I started as a Sport Management major because I liked sports and the idea of making a living related to sports seemed desirable. Probably less strategic than your typical life-impacting decision, but it’s worked out pretty well!
At the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do in sports. In my sophomore year, I looked more into the outlook of working in sports and realized that you wouldn’t get paid a lot, you’d have to move, and you’d start in sales. At the time, none of those things were appealing, but in hindsight, none of those things are important to me, and I’ve come to love sales.
Because of this, I switched to a double major, but ultimately went the sports route. Accounting is still beneficial in my day-to-day. Most business decisions involve money and the ability to understand cash flows and organize data into a table applies to just about any job.
Q: It doesn’t seem like you have a sports background in the sense of competing, so what got you hooked about working in the sports industry?
I didn’t realize I came off as so unathletic! I played hockey my entire life, but obviously, a pro route wasn’t in the cards. At a young age, I did have a knack for organizing sport-related things for my friends. We designed logos and sold shirts for our roller hockey team to our high school. One year we sold 250+ shirts and the proceeds covered most of our league fees. I also organized an Oliver Perez fan club “Posse de Perez” during his Pirates stint (there wasn’t much to cheer about during those days!).
Q: You are a Pittsburgh native, what's it like being back in your hometown and working for such a historic NHL organization.
Pretty surreal. Having grown up here, I understand how important the team is to this community and how their growth story intertwines with Pittsburgh’s renaissance.
Q: Diving into the Penguins organization, what are some of the day-to-day duties that you are doing for them?
My job is to develop new partnerships. Getting there is a long process, so I need to understand the market, meet with key people, build relationships, and eventually create impactful partnership programs. Our partnership team has been very successful in the past, so as a result, it’s required us to think beyond the traditional partnership categories, as many of those are filled.
Q: What are some differences between working at your previous jobs selling and overseeing sponsorships to what you are now doing at the Penguins?
The scale changes with property, but probably the biggest difference is the initial recognition of the Penguins. The organization has an excellent global reputation and the majority of the Greater Pittsburgh region are fans of the team. Without that recognition, many meetings could start with someone saying they had never been to a game or an event - or knew nothing about your product. Even with the Penguins, there’s always more education to be done, but having an existing level of credibility (versus starting from scratch) helps warm the conversation.
Q: How does the upcoming 2021 season seem to look as compared to past seasons (mainly due to COVID-19)?
Very fluid. The teams that are creative and are good partners will be the ones to maintain strong relationships. If a property has treated a partnership transactionally in the past, the partner may look to cancel or materially reduce the “transaction” due to fewer games, fewer fans, or whatever Covid-related issues arise.
Q: You were an adjunct professor of Sports Ethics at Georgetown University. What kind of lessons were you teaching in that position?
We would focus on creating real-life situations and helping students understand how other factors may shape their decision-making. For example, say your backup punter is arrested the weekend before a game. Do you cut/bench him? What if it’s your starting punter? Your starting quarterback? What if it’s your starting quarterback… and he’s an endorser of your largest partner… and that partner has voiced their support for the player… and may not renew the partnership based on your decision? It’s an extreme, but realistic example. With a weak ethical compass, your decision becomes increasingly difficult. A strong ethical compass will do the right thing regardless of external pressures.
Q: Do you think that sports sponsorships will be something you stay in or do you think you may change it up a bit and go in a different direction? What is your 5-year game plan?
I love the challenge and enjoy working each day, so I think I’ll be in partnerships for the foreseeable future. That said, I’m always open to listening and considering other things.
Q: When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My dog and I are usually out and about. Covid and working from home means he gets more walks, so at least someone is enjoying quarantine. I also watch and read a lot of history - those who don’t know the mistakes of their past are doomed to repeat them.
Q: If you can leave us with one piece of advice for not only well-established individuals but some up and comers, what would that be?
A lifetime is a long time to do something you don’t love. Find your passion and make it a career.