In today’s post, we interview Sierra Garcia, who is a key marketing specialist at JMI Sports, which partners with the Mountain West. Sierra was kind enough to share some of her thoughts and experiences, allowing us to learn more about the work she does and how it helps elevate the conference.
1) To start, can you share a bit about your background of your journey so far? Where your passion for sports came from, what led you to work for JMI Sports and what your current role in working alongside the Mountain West?
I was first introduced to sports through wrestling. My dad has been coaching wrestling since before I was born, so naturally, it was the first sport I got into. I decided to play other sports growing up including softball in high school, but I still loved wrestling, so I became the manager of my high school’s wrestling team. It was my first experience working behind the scenes in sports, and I loved every bit of it. I would yell like parents in the stands, argue with coaches and referees, anything to help and support the team.
I decided to major in Psychology when I went to San Diego State for my undergrad because I really enjoyed helping others, especially with mental health, but I didn’t find the passion I wanted in a career. I was no longer as involved in athletics, and I missed it. I continued and eventually graduated with a BA in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (psychology with an emphasis in business) because I was so fascinated by the subject, but I knew I was headed in a different direction.
During my sophomore year, I volunteered for my 9th year at the CIF State Wrestling Tournament when I met a woman who was working in operations for USA Wrestling at the tournament. After speaking with her, I was on fire! I knew then and there that’s what I needed to do and where I needed to be. I had been looking forward to the event every year and never considered pursuing a career in sports. When I traveled back to San Diego, I immediately applied for an internship with the Athletic Marketing department at SDSU. This internship already confirmed what I believed, that I was made for this. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t do anything and everything in sports, so I began my journey by learning as much as I possibly could.
That internship led me to the 1-year Sports MBA Program at SDSU and when I was accepted, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. It was through this program that I learned from many different professionals in the industry and began networking as much as possible. I was exposed to finance, marketing and sponsorship, operations, consulting, accounting, data analytics, and management. I became connected to a wide array of alumni and through that network, I was recommended to apply for a job at JMI Sports. Fortunately, the gentleman who interviewed me for the position was also an alum of the Sports MBA Program, so we had a great connection. I was passionate about the job opportunity because I’m a Mountain West alum who really wanted more experience in sponsorship. As you can see, it all worked out, so I packed up and moved to Colorado Springs to work out of MW HQ.
2) Focusing on your role in securing sponsorships. What goes into securing a sponsor? What makes a sponsor a good match?
When pursuing a sponsorship, we conduct initial research on what brands may be a good fit. What makes a potential partner a good fit can be anything from similar customer demographics to brand similarity, similarity in what both companies’ missions are, and similar markets. We always want it to be a mutual partnership, so we can help a brand meet their objectives, gain exposure, and connect with the Mountain West fan base.
3) How does this process vary for each of the Mountain West’s different conference championships? (big vs. small sports, men’s vs. women’s, even fall vs. spring)
This process doesn’t really change depending on the sport. We strive to gain partners that will want to support every sport, both men’s and women’s, in the fall and spring. The Football and Basketball Championships may receive more sponsorship because they gain national television coverage, which is very attractive to many brands.
Once we find a brand that may be a good fit, we initiate a call and learn more about their brand, their mission, and how we can mutually support each other to achieve a partnership where both parties are happy and reach their goals. After hearing their objectives, I’ll design a custom marketing proposal, and send it to them, and it’s typically a back-and-forth process until both parties are satisfied.
4) On the multimedia side of things, it’s such a big part of the world of sports these days. In your opinion, what makes for a successful multimedia presence for a college football conference and how has the Mountain West grown in this over the years?
5 What have you learned about the Mountain West Conference from working with them that you didn’t know previously?
Some things I’ve learned since I began working alongside the Mountain West Conference is that they were the first conference to live stream all their sports on an OTT platform (available on Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku) and the MW App! They stream 750 events a year worldwide, so there are MW fans in other countries! Additionally, I’ve learned that this is a conference full of hard-working individuals, who are passionate about collegiate athletics, and every single player in this conference. They work incredibly hard every day to be innovative and a pioneer in collegiate athletics.
6) Also, your twitter bio (@sierra_garcia_) is full of hashtags talking about supporting women and equality in sports. How have you seen equality changing or not changing over the past few years and where would you like it to go in the immediate future?
I’m a HUGE advocate for women and diversity in sports, and I have a lot to say. Growing up in the wrestling community it was obvious that women were the minority and I really hated that. I’m so fortunate to have been raised by parents who always instilled in me that I could be the first or that I could set the example. I’d be the only girl in the wrestling room, and that was intimidating, but my parents were always by my side, fighting for change and encouraging me to do the same. I suppose I should mention my dad was my coach and my mom played sports throughout her childhood and in high school. They both are huge advocates for women’s wrestling!
I believe it’s my responsibility as a member of that community to push and support women’s wrestling in every way. For example, just watching the matches. Gaining viewership is so important and it’s such an effortless way to make a difference. Higher viewership numbers bring better TV deals and bigger sponsorship opportunities and the money coming in from these can go to paying the athletes better. It’s our responsibility as sports fans to raise each other up and support women AND diversity in sports. We must take care of our athletes, not because they bring in the money, but because they’re people. People who work day and night to be the best athlete they can be, people who are using their platform to take a stand and make a difference, and people who come from different cultures and backgrounds. We need to care for them.
Strides are being made for women’s sports every day. Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC are wonderful examples. I’ve fortunately had the opportunity to work for both, on the game operations team at the San Diego Wave FC and on the media relations team at Angel City FC, and it’s so inspiring. These teams have proven that women’s sports are something to invest in. San Diego Wave FC are shattering attendance records in the NWSL, and Angel City FC is literally running on women – the soccer club was founded by women, and some of their largest investors are successful female athletes like Serena Williams. While working on game days for both teams, I would see the young girls watching and cheering, and it honestly brought me to tears. I never had that growing up, and I can’t imagine the impact that it’s having on those little girls. They look on the pitch and see women who look just like them; that’s so powerful.
I’m so fortunate to be working for JMI Sports because they are a company that elevates their female employees. Additionally, working with the Mountain West is amazing because I work alongside strong women every day. This conference strives to support its female athletes, and this is demonstrated in the #MakingHerMark campaign which was voted on by MW female student-athletes!
Women deserve to be in the conversation. We’ve had to prove ourselves and still feel the need to do so every day. This comes from feeling outnumbered, and as a Hispanic female, diversity is just as important. I have so much faith in the athletics community, I know the next generation of women will be given opportunities I haven’t even heard of yet, and I‘m so excited for them. I’m so excited for what’s to come and what records will be broken. I’m incredibly proud to be a woman working in the sports industry, and I hope my efforts open doors for young women everywhere. A lot has been done, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and we all must unite and step up to make it happen.