The Impact Series: Rachel Steinberg
Updated: Jan 15
In the past few years, Rachel Steinberg has become a force in the partnerships space working with the Philadelphia 76ers, BSE Global (Brooklyn Nets), and The Madison Square Garden Company (New York Knicks). Her unique background in basketball and partnerships has led to her current role as a Manager of Business Solutions in Digital Partnerships for MSG. In this role, Rachel acts as an integral part of the partnerships team while liaising with the Knicks digital and marketing teams for an impressive list of clients that includes Chase, Squarespace, Anheuser-Busch, Lexus, Kia, Delta, and Dunkin' to name a few.
Recently, The Sponsorship Space had the opportunity to speak with Rachel to gain some valuable insights on her journey, the industry, and the future of digital partnerships!
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in sports marketing. How did you end up working at The Madison Square Garden Company?
Originally from “outside Philly,” I became passionate about the sports industry back during Allen Iverson’s prime but didn’t know that I could realistically work in anything related to sports until college. College helped me discover my best skillsets (a hybrid of marketing, business, and communications) and apply them to the sports industry. I started from the ground up as a volunteer contributor for a Philly sports blog, where my samples helped me land a communications internship with Penn State Athletics. Simultaneously, my advertising classes and on-campus involvement helped me secure an advertising/sales summer internship at NBCSports Philadelphia, where I first learned about partnerships.
After spending my first year out of college on the sports marketing agency side, my NBA team journey started with the 76ers as an associate in their marketing department for a season. I then moved to NYC with the Brooklyn Nets (part of BSE Global) in their partnership strategy department for four years before transitioning to my current digital partnerships role earlier this year with MSG focusing on the Knicks property.
Q: Explain to us your current role and what a typical day looks like.
As a Digital Partnerships Manager, I sit in our Business Solutions department (the strategy vertical of our partnerships team) and work in tandem with our sellers and account leads to manage Knicks digital partnership strategy and activation efforts (ideation, development, production, and analytics).
Being an internal marketing liaison is a big component of my role. I meet with the Knicks digital team daily but especially since COVID, I’m constantly communicating with team marketing, community, PR teams, and more to digitize and monetize their efforts and to make sure that what we’re putting in front of partners aligns with the Knicks as a brand. The typical answer here but there’s no such thing as a “typical day” because each day differs based on the department projects, corporate partners, and/or marketing platforms I’m focusing on building out.
Q: It's a unique position, in that digital is such a huge part of it. You moved from traditional sponsorship roles to now focusing on digital partnerships. What's been different and what's been most surprising to you as you took on this role?
I switched roles in February and had one “normal” month on the job before COVID hit and drastically expanded my position’s importance. This opportunity has allowed me to become more focused and tactical in the digital space, as I work to back-up our creative digital ideas with detailed content plans, corresponding partner attribution, and dedicated support across our digital assets.
I’ve always been a numbers person and this is the first time where I’m analyzing how campaigns are performing and tangibly learning best practices for future partners. I was able to scratch the surface on digital in Brooklyn, but this new specialization allows me to dig deeper in an area I think is vital to the business.
Oddly enough, the most surprising part of this role is how useful my traditional sponsorship experience has been since the digital space in the interim has become the lens to execute traditional partnerships.
Q: You work with a diverse client portfolio ranging from Anheuser-Busch to Chase. What are some of the challenges you face as you work with clients in different categories?
Every partner has different brand objectives / KPIs and how they see themselves being best marketed through our assets - especially in 2020. Therefore, we need to work hard to create custom solutions in return (even if we have partners in similar categories it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach). This year especially we’re also being extra patient with our partners since 2020 has made everyone rethink their marketing plans. While it can be challenging at times, the feeling of successfully creating these strategic solutions and making our partners happy is why I do my job.
Q: There's been a huge focus on our industry on make goods and rightfully so. How has your team changed your approach this year and has there been a larger emphasis on digital assets as a result?
Spot on – as mentioned earlier, our digital channels have become our main voice to communicate. In recent months we’re doing as much as we can to get both our department and our partners to think of digital as more than just our owned social channels. When applicable, we can weave in paid media support, email marketing, website and mobile app inclusion, any potential PR support, extensions on MSG Networks to further amplify messaging…anything to make what we’re trying to sell a comprehensive digital package.
Q: What's one area you're trying to improve in right now and are there ways that you're staying involved within the digital community outside of work?
Since I’m still relatively new to my role, does mastering my job count? I took this role to challenge myself and still have a lot to learn within creating and monetizing digital content. Staying involved in this community has arguably been my biggest positive takeaway during COVID and how I’ve honestly remained alert during an otherwise stagnant time. Virtual conferences, panels, happy hours, Slack channels, and more have allowed me to participate in meaningful group and/or 1v1 engagement opportunities with people all over the world. I’ve been working to expand my network equally in all directions, ranging from specialty (marketing, digital, partnerships, etc.), level of experience (students, entry-level, mid-level, experienced), industry (sports, entertainment, anything else), and demographics (gender, race, and ethnicity) because those all contribute to building a truly diverse network.
Q: What're a few digital trends that you're watching heading into 2021?
More than anything, I’m excited to see how digital platforms (whether in the voice of a brand, a team, the players, and everywhere in between) will continue to be used for amplifying important issues and truly making an impact. 2020 has shown us that using our voices can create purposeful action and cause positive change.
I’m definitely watching the constantly evolving sports betting landscape - partnerships continue to be announced that will change the way we consume sports, especially as more states legalize it. Additionally, I’m curious to see how virtual fan engagement will continue post-COVID. We’ve always known we can only reach a limited audience in-arena, so continuing to engage viewers at home should remain important.
Q: This will now be the third sports & entertainment property you have worked with. Are there any moments that stick out to you in your career so far?
While I, unfortunately, haven’t seen any championships or long playoff runs, I think about how I’ve been able to evolve professionally and personally in each opportunity. Brooklyn was my first long-term position, so being able to stand inside Barclays Center and physically see partner activations come to life that I built the proposals for was always a humbling experience. And as I grew in Brooklyn, I started to use what I learned to mentor others seeking to break in. Transitioning from solely asking for advice to being able to give some has been truly rewarding, particularly since I constantly doubted myself in the beginning.
If I had to say a specific moment, I’d go with my only playoff experience with the Nets in 2019. Not only did I get to feel real playoff energy in the office, but we ironically played the Sixers in the first round, turning it into a professional reunion I’ll always remember.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
This question is always tough for me. I think if I plot out timelines with too much detail, then I might miss out on something I never knew was possible or be disappointed if my future ends up being different. I think the next 5-10 years (more so 10) are going to be pivotal for me because it’s in those years that I’d potentially be looking to balance family with work. Looking at people higher up in the industry, especially those who have kids, are heroes to me because I have difficulty just managing myself.
Ideally, I still see myself working in NYC (or Philly if I decide to come back home, or somewhere else who knows) in an innovative leadership role in the sports partnerships, digital, and/or marketing space (property, brand, media, agency, anything). Maybe it’s a role that doesn’t currently exist so how can I predict where I’ll see myself? Wherever I’m at in my career I’ll still be working equally as hard to learn, network, and grow because the grind never stops.
Q: What advice do you have for current and future partnership professionals who are aspiring to work in a role similar to yours?
I’m in my current position in part because of the foundation I built over the years, starting with the base. It’s like building a sandcastle: build the base before you can build up because it doesn’t happen overnight. Everyone starts somewhere, and while you may question whether or not your first couple of experiences will benefit you in the long run, they form the base for you to grow. Building a base means more than just roles: it involves learning tangible skills (creative software, analytics, etc.) and growing/diversifying your network (which is critical in partnerships). You never know when you’ll need the tools you’ve acquired in your base but the more you have, the more versatility you can offer. For example, I learned Photoshop in college and didn’t use it again until it became a mandatory program for my Brooklyn role years later. I know it may seem tough to get started but once you start to build your base, you’ll gradually find your way upward.
One other thing I’d stress is the importance of pacing your career at your own speed to run your own race. It’s not a sprint and there are going to be bumps in the road along the way. College felt like I had to cram everything into four years, whereas after graduation it became an open track. It took me two full years out of college to land my first full-time job and during that time I thought I was way behind everyone. In reality, I was just running it differently which made me uniquely qualified for strategic partnership roles with BK and now MSG. I don’t think I’ll ever run a marathon in real life so I view my career through that lens.