A total of fourteen Rice Sport Management freshmen had the opportunity to work at this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four Championship in San Antonio, TX, serving primarily in the official NCAA merchandise store and at the PrimeSport VIP Experience pregame party. Kristian Stengel ‘21 and Catalina Santamaria ‘21 were among the students who worked both the official NCAA merchandise store and the PrimeSport VIP Experience pregame party.
There are only a handful of athletic events in the world with popularity levels comparable to an NCAA Final Four. With hundreds of thousands of fans swarming San Antonio and the historic Alamodome, this proved to be a perfect opportunity for Stengel and Santamaria to experience what it’s like behind the scenes of one of the main sports events of the year.
“Throughout the weekend, a group of us worked the Official Merchandise Store as well as the PrimeSports VIP pregame party,” said Stengel. “Regarding the merchandise store, imagine a busy shopping mall on Christmas, now multiply that by 50. The coolest part was that we were able to see all of the planning and management that went into controlling such madness. On the other hand, the VIP Party involved meticulous planning, timing, and constant communication. This opportunity to look behind the curtain to see how these events are run was priceless. It was a great experience, and one that was only available to me through the Department of Sport Management.”
However, this experience did not only serve as a great opportunity to observe. Even though both students were only freshmen, there was also plenty of very intense and exhilarating hands on work.
“My first position was inside the retail shop and consisted of logging inventory, working the shop, and engaging with customers,” said Santamaria. “This was very intense due to the insane amount of traffic but also proved to be rewarding when we exceeded our sales performance goals by generating over $300,000 in sales in a single day. My favorite part was championship day when I partnered with PrimeSport and was responsible for escorting people such as Jim Boeheim, George Gervin, and Seth Davis. This was overall an incredible opportunity. It also provided me with a better idea of what it is that I am interested in doing after graduation.”
In addition to Kristian Stengel and Catalina Santamaria, other freshman who were able to work the Final Four included Connor Ayubi, Hayes Cochrane, Jason Gardner, Andrew Ledet, Marcus Martinez, Derick Kagwanja, Jackson Bouley, Max Boekelmann, Michael Price, Adam Gurin, Phillip Chen, and Johan Fotso.
Rice’s Department of Sport Management prides itself on providing students with experiences throughout their four years that coincide with their career interests. This year’s involvement marked the sixth time in the last eight years that Rice Sport Management students work at an NCAA Final Four Championship.
“The Department of Sport Management is always seeking to create experiential opportunities for students outside the classroom,” said Sport Management professor Tom Stallings. “The success of this department is, in many ways, dependent on our ability to foster relationships with potential employers. Our continued involvement with the NCAA Final Four Championship is really just one of many strong relationships that we have within the sports industry and beyond.”
Emanuel Llamas, a junior from El Paso, Texas, is double-majoring in Sport Management and Policy Studies.