Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law program the only one of its kind in the country
Arizona State University student Zade Shakir is on a roll.
Two weeks ago he reported to work in Oakland as an intern for the Golden State Warriors. Last week they took the NBA championship title away from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“First week on the job and we’re the champs,” Shakir said. “What a job!”
A former collegiate soccer player and a self-described “sports junkie,” Shakir interns for the Warriors’ legal department, working directly under their legal counsel and team vice president. He has been busy reviewing vendor agreements, corporate sponsorships and even helped organize the team's victory parade on June 15, which cost the Warriors an estimated $4 million.
“It’s everything I thought it would be and more,” Shakir said. “I’ve found my calling.”
Shakir got the job in large part through the help of the Master of Sports Law and Business at the Sandra O’Connor College of Law at ASU, the only graduate program in the country that combines sports law and business.
Recognizing that sports is big business, ASU Law partnered with the W. P. Carey School of Business and Sun Devil Athletics in 2014 to begin offering the one-year, 36-credit hour degree designed for students seeking careers in the sports industry.
Shakir is one of 48 students enrolled in the program, which has placed 100 percent of its current students in internships, clerkships, legal externships and as graduate assistants in a variety of positions.
That means the program, now in its third year, is batting a thousand.
“The internship is a culminating experience in an academic component,” said Glenn M. Wong, executive director of ASU’s Sports Law and Business Program. “It gives them the opportunity to implement what they’ve learned in the classroom in the field.”
Wong added that their placement percentage in these internships, which include professional sports franchises, collegiate sports and nonprofit businesses, are “recognition that the industry feels these people are prepared and it’s a credit to students to be qualified enough to land these positions in a highly competitive field.”
He also gave significant credit to Professor Sam Renaut, the program’s assistant director, who joined the program in 2015 and was one of the driving forces behind its creation as a student of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law from 2008-2001.
Renaut now spends a large chunk of his time talking to sports franchises and teaching students how to approach prospective employers.
“A lot of students will say, ‘I’m interested in this job. Do you know anyone there?’” Renaut said. “Chances are that we do.”
In the past few years, students have worked internships for NASCAR, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Fiesta Bowl, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the NCAA.
Those possibilities exist because Renaut has spent years doing legwork in the sports and business community, knocking on doors, talking to sports and business executives, finding out what their specific needs are.
He said one of the things that franchises are facing is getting people to fill the seats at sports venues.
“Sitting on the couch in front of your 70-inch screen in an air-conditioned house is better to a lot of people,” Renaut said. “You don’t have to deal with traffic, pay for parking or concessions.”
And that’s where his students can offer help.
Renaut said niche efforts such as the Fan ExperienceThe Fan Experience is a variety of promotional opportunities to enhance a live sporting event. , social media and attracting a more diverse audience are rapidly expanding in sports. Young minds, he said, have their finger on the pulse of what entices new blood to attend a sporting event.
In the case of 22-year-old Kwyn Johnson, a new Las Vegas hockey franchise is looking for her to help the build the brand as well as create a new following.
Johnson started working for the NHL’s Golden Knights on May 15. In a month’s time she has written bios for their media guide, compiled a media list of contacts and worked on a “Kids for Sticks” community event that drew more than 1,500 local youth.
“Las Vegas historically has not been a hockey town, so education is huge,” Johnson said. “It’s an insane amount of work we’re doing every day and an insane list of things that need to get done. It’s crazy, but it’s a ton of fun.”
For 24-year-old Kelli Benjamin (pictured at top of this story), she has found that college sports is her calling mainly because of the academic component. Her internship is with ASU’s Office of Student Athlete Development, which helps keep athletes on track with their studies.
“Every student athlete has different goals, but I remind each one to think about the long term because some of them unfortunately won’t make it to professional sports,” Benjamin said. “Seeing them get to the overall goal of graduation is what I want for every one of them.”
It’s a vision similar to what Renaut has for his students, but his vision of graduation are students who land good jobs and passionate about their work.
“It’s important to educate our students, but it’s equally important they get good jobs,” he said. “The goal of the program is to get everybody to that next step.”
Top photo: Sports Law and Business graduate student Kelli Benjamin is working a summer internship mentoring football players; above, she and ASU safety Jeremy Smith are pictured at the Carson Student Athlete Center on May 23. Benjamin is a former collegiate swimmer and works in the Office of Student Athlete Development. Smith is in his second year and is studying business and sports media. All of Benjamin's Sports Law and Business classmates are accepted in internships. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now