Rice Sport Management Students receive a behind-the-scenes look during a Houston Rockets Game

Rice Sport Management Students receive a behind-the-scenes look during a Houston Rockets Game

Rice Sport Management is all about creating opportunities, and when one of the Houston Rockets’ sponsors happens to boast that exact tagline, it makes for a good time. Thirty students learned what it means to get the Sport Management treatment on April 5, when they attended the Rockets’ game against the New York Knicks courtesy of BBVA Compass.

“Our department is always looking for ways to work closely with the professional teams in town, and the Houston Rockets are very good about providing opportunities for our students,” Department Chair and Professor in the Practice Clark Haptonstall said. “BBVA Compass approached the Rockets and asked if there was a group of students that they thought they should invite to a game as part of the bank's ‘Creating Opportunities’ campaign. The Rockets steered BBVA Compass toward the Department of Sport Management at Rice University."

On March 5, Rockets mascot Clutch and sponsorship representatives from BBVA Compass’s Houston office came to campus to discuss the relationship between the Rockets and BBVA as well as to reveal a surprise for the Sport Management students.

Rockets announcement

"We staged an event on campus where we invited our students to attend a lunch where BBVA Compass and Houston Rockets employees were going to discuss their marketing partnership,” said Haptonstall. “Little did the students know that it was a set-up to announce that BBVA Compass was inviting all of these students to attend a Rockets game."

In addition to receiving free tickets to the game, students were given the chance to view the pre-game shoot around, listen to four different speakers from the Rockets’ front office and shoot a free throw on the court of the Toyota Center after the game.

Rockets game pre-game shootaround

“For me, having never been to a Rockets game before, I was super excited,” said Kristian Stengel ’21. “Plus, we were going to have the opportunity to talk to these people in the front office, doing what we want to be doing, and really pick their brains.”

Prior to tipoff, students were able to view the pregame shootout while sitting mere feet away from the likes of Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan and, of course, James Harden. Afterwards, students were led to a conference room where they met with:

  • Jessie Lantz: Event Services Coordinator
  • Steven Goldfried: Digital Content Strategy Manager
  • Zack Devine: Sr. Manager of Partnership Activation
  • Zee French: Vice President of Ticketing

Frank Li ’20, who interned in the Rockets’ Business Strategy department during the 2017-18 academic year, appreciated the chance to learn more about other parts of the organization.

“The speakers were friendly and answered some of my questions that I had been curious about for a while,” said Li. “I was able to gain more insights about the Rockets and the NBA which I would not have learned from a class setting.”

Stengel said he was particularly interested in what Goldfried had to say about the Rocket’s digital strategy.

“It was really interesting hearing about the way that the Houston Rockets decide how they brand themselves on social media, how they advertise, how they do these things that really promote the Houston Rockets brand, because every NBA team is different,” said Stengel. “Each team has their own brand and methods on how they communicate to their fan base.”

After hearing from the Rockets employees, students watched the game with a beautiful view from 100-level seats. The Rockets certainly came to play that night, defeating the Knicks by 24 points.

After the game, Li was the first student to attempt a free throw. Despite feeling some pressure and having not touched a basketball for a while, he sank the shot.

“I still watch the video of me making the shot every day, because I am proud of myself,” said Li, an international student from China. “There are not many Chinese people who have made a free throw at the Toyota Center besides Yao Ming, Zhou Qi and myself,” said Li.

For Li, the free throw may have been the highlight of the night, but for Stengel, getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Rockets organization was what made the experience unforgettable.

“I've been in Houston for two years and this was my first NBA game,” said Stengel. “It sounds crazy because I’m constantly in this sports world, but I just never made it to a game. Seeing how friendly the staff was, how open the people in their front office were, talking to us and answering questions that we asked – it's awesome. I love this industry; everybody's always willing to offer a helping hand. Everyone's door is always open.”

Rockets game

Elliot Stahr, a sophomore from Irvine, California, is double-majoring in Psychology and Philosophy.