Over the past 6 years, Mike Minnella has been leaving major footprints in the world of sports partnerships. His passion for developing strategic relationships paired with his expertise in sales has allowed him to excel in numerous roles. Currently, Mike is the Senior Manager of Business Development for the National Football League (NFL). His role is one of the many factors that drives the league's external relationships.
This month The Sponsorship Space had the opportunity to speak with Mike and gain some valuable insights on his journey, the industry and the future of global partnerships!
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in Global Partnerships?
While I was in college learning the different departments/careers in the sports industry, I was always drawn to the creativity and valuable impact that partnerships have on every aspect. Then when I secured my first internship in sports, it was a role within a group sales department which ended up truly igniting my passion for sales. As I learned more about the organization, I set my goal on working in partnerships which I am proud to have been able to achieve. I learned early on that imagination and creativity drives these partnerships, but not without understanding the goals and objectives of each partner, and then ultimately aligning them with your goals in a unique way. Being able to see a partnership come to life that started as an idea, and witnessing the impact it has on enhancing the fan and consumer experience, is a very rewarding feeling that keeps me inspired on a daily basis. In addition to that, something that I have always found exciting about partnerships is building personal, authentic relationships (of which many turn to friendships). I enjoy working with and getting to know all departments throughout an organization — from marketing, to legal, to community etc., which helps me to understand the industry/organization holistically.
Q: What were some of your favourite projects and partnerships developed at BSE Global?
Fortunately, BSE Global as an organization has always pushed to be a challenger brand and have been at the forefront of doing things “outside of the box”, which allowed me the opportunity to work on a number of unique partnerships. I always try to find those “categorically untraditional” partners that tend to generate a lot of buzz for being trailblazers/the first of their kind to do something. One of the partnerships I was able to develop during my time at BSE Global was with Zappos. At the time, with Zappos being an online shoe retailer, it wasn’t a traditional type of sports sponsor for a multi-purpose sports and entertainment venue like Barclays Center. After building a strong rapport through better understanding their brand characteristics, we came to a mutual realization of how much both of our brands aligned and could benefit from each other’s support. We worked to build out a fun, unique and ultimately cool partnership framework. What came of it was an out-of-the-box idea to build a physical footprint/fan experience on the area concourse, which was outfitted with a shoeshine, selfie couch and sneaker wall that highlighted Zappos newest and hottest items.
Q: How have business development/partnership strategies changed since the current pandemic began?
The way the industry approached sports partnerships has changed quite a bit during the current pandemic. However, I do feel that when we look back on it in a few years from now, there will be areas that advanced the industry (in a positive way) significantly due to the forced innovation related to fan engagement that is currently happening. For my role specifically, the pandemic has changed my day-to-day job functions in a variety of ways. Being in an industry where entertaining and relationship building is a key component of my job, and not being able to do that in typical fashion, meant I needed to adapt and find ways to build relationships with clients/prospects that are not typical. Pre-pandemic, my job heavily relied on hosting prospects and clients in hospitality settings and traveling to meet clients in-person. We have all had to transition to the new normal and find creative ways to engage with prospects virtually.
Q: What do your day-to-day responsibilities look like in your current role (Senior Manager, Business Development, NFL)?
In my role, no two days are the same. The way each day plays out truly depends on where we are in the sales process. My role is focused on driving revenue for the NFL, so my goal doesn’t change — but how I achieve that goal does. There are a number of steps throughout the sales process, and on any given day I can be working through some (or all) of them — including prospecting potential partners, ideating around platforms that align with partners goals/objectives, meeting with prospects to pitch ideas, negotiating deal terms and/or finalizing agreements.
Q: What does the NFL look for in other businesses when developing partnerships?
At the NFL, we truly believe in building authentic partnerships. This means aligning with the right brands that can help us achieve our goals just as much as we can help them do the same. We try to find the right partners that bring value to our game, and are looking to drive it forward and enhance our fan experience. If you look at our roster of partners, you will see plenty of them regularly supporting the game of football and our fans. Using Microsoft and Bose as examples, our partnerships with each of them have advanced our game on the sidelines through technology. Another partner of ours, Sleep Number, helps our players with performance by educating them of the importance of sleep both on and off the field. Our partnership with Verizon has components that focus on enhancing the in-stadium experience by integrating 5G technology into stadiums. Another partnership that we have with Postmates focuses on driving at-home engagement with our fans. So as you can see no one partnership is the same and our goal of all of our partnerships are to create meaningful stories that helps separate them from their competitors, and each form their own success story that helps them to stand out in their category.
Q: What advice would you give to young sports professionals who want to pursue a career in business development and partnerships?
This is a great question, and I think there are two things that I found to be extremely helpful which I still keep in mind each day. The first one is finding a way to differentiate myself from my competition, and do something so unique that 9 out 10 people wouldn’t think to do. This industry is very competitive and there are people waiting in line to take your job. However, if you can find a way to stand out in whatever you are trying to achieve, whether that is interviewing for a job or trying to close a partnership, I would highly recommend always going the extra yard. Second, build a network of mentors. Mentorship means so much to me, and having experienced people that you trust to be able to go to for advice and support is invaluable. I have always said that it is more important who you work for than where you work, and knowing that person has your back and is invested in seeing you grow goes a very long way.
Q: What extracurricular activities do you participate in outside of work?
The reason I am so passionate about the sports industry is because I grew up playing sports. Outside of work I try to still get out and play some basketball. I’m also trying to get better on the green!
Q: Where do you see your career headed in the next 5 years?
I certainly see myself continuing to grow in the sports industry, and I want to always feel challenged in my role. I feel like once you are complacent and don’t feel challenged, then it’s time to see what new challenges are out there to continue your growth. I’m excited for the future, and for the opportunity to take on new challenges that will help my professional development, my skill set as a sales person and my goal to become a leader in the industry.