Rice Sport Management works events surrounding Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta

Rice Sport Management works events surrounding Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta

Nearly 100 million people tuned in earlier this month to watch the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams square off in Super Bowl LIII. The game may have been the lowest scoring in Super Bowl history, but Rice Sport Management students, alumni, faculty and staff scored big with a trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to work events related to the big game.

Department Administrator Kerri Barber, Professor in the Practice Tom Stallings, and students/alumni Matthew Sams '22, Jen Spell '22, Johan Fotso '21, Connor Ayubi '21, Taylor Scott '20, Samantha Quen '20, Asad Lalani '19, Natalie Kirchhoff '09, and Kelsey Mase '12 all traveled to Atlanta to work seven different events attended by some of the biggest names in sports.

By the time that over 70,000 fans found their seats in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Rice Sport Management had already put in several days of work. Events started as early as Thursday, when Stallings worked as an administrator for NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s exclusive NFL Legends Cocktail Party. Also on Thursday was Dr. J’s Bowling Classic, where Barber, Spell and Lalani tackled a variety of roles from talent escorting to operations.

“I got to see a few NFL Hall-of-Famers and Dikembe Mutumbo, which was pretty cool, but it was only the beginning of a crazy weekend,” said Lalani.

On Friday, Barber and Quen greeted attendants at Jim Brown’s Legends of Football Golf Tournament, while Stallings, Sams, Ayubi, Spell and Lalani worked set-up, red carpet and operations at the Ray Lewis Foundation’s Gold Jacket Party for a Purpose held at Porsche Experience Center. A few students at the Gold Jacket Party were lucky enough to get up-close and personal with some of their favorite athletes.

“I met Keanu Neal, who is a safety for the Atlanta Falcons,” said Spell. “I’m a huge Falcons fan, so talking to Keanu Neal when he walked in was amazing. But, when he walked up to me at the end of the event and asked to take a picture, I was overwhelmed to say the least.”

The capstone of the trip, however, was still to come. On Saturday, all 11 Rice representatives who made the trip worked the eighth annual NFL Honors Awards Show. NFL Honors is the annual ceremony where awards such as NFL Most Valuable Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Walter Payton Man of the Year are presented. The Hall of Fame Class of 2019 was also announced at the show, and it was the second most watched sports awards show over the past year second only to the 2018 ESPY Awards – which Sport Management students and faculty also helped make possible.

2019 NFL Honors

On the red carpet of NFL Honors, Sport Management students worked as talent wranglers for celebrities including Barry Sanders, Keegan Michael Key, and Vanessa Hudgens. Lalani, who escorted Sanders, had the experience of a lifetime which included a rare opportunity to flex his power around the commissioner of the NFL.

“While I was waiting to escort Barry back to his seat after he had presented an award, I was standing in the hallway, and Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, and Deion Sanders all walked right by me,” said Lalani. “I even told the commissioner Roger Goodell to move out of the way, because he was blocking Barry's seat. I told him nicely, of course.”

Both Lalani and Spell, who escorted the 2019 Hall of Fame inductees, listed the NFL Honors as the highlight of their experience in Atlanta. For Spell, it was a picture-perfect moment to declare herself a Sport Management major.

Declaring Sport Management at NFL Honors was a great feeling,” said Spell. “I chose that particular moment because I think it’s representative of several of the reasons I chose Sport Management, as well as representative of a career I would like to have one day. Signing at the NFL Honors was like committing to work hard for a career in the sport industry that makes me as happy as I was working [that event].”

Jen Spell '22 Declaring Major 2

On Sunday, students and faculty helped set up and check in guests at both a pregame party at the world-renowned Georgia Aquarium and the official Los Angeles Rams Postgame Party at American Spirit Works.

According to Stallings, the Department of Sport Management had enjoyed strong relationships to an NFL Honors production team and the ticketing/hospitality organization PrimeSport Inc. prior to working Super Bowl LII based on the department’s previous involvement with the ESPYs, Super Bowl LI in Houston, and the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio.

“With the relationships we have due to the past performance of our students, I knew that we could provide the experience that would really enable their resumes to stand out,” said Stallings. “When a freshman or sophomore can tell a potential employer with sincerity and conviction that ‘I did X at the Super Bowl so I am confident I can do the same for you,’ that really makes them stand out.”

Spell cited this same penchant for providing students with unique opportunities as the reason she chose to declare her major.

“I chose Sport Management because of the commitment this department has to all of its students,” said Spell. “All of the administrators and professors make you their priority, and they know you and care about you on a personal level. They work tirelessly to get you real world experience in sports, and more specifically, they work to get you the experiences you want.”

For Lalani, a senior graduating in May, this will likely be the last major sporting event he works prior to earning his degree. Looking back on his four years, he says he thinks the internships and opportunities he gained with help from the department were the most valuable aspect of Sport Management.

“The Department of Sport Management really does a great job in giving you the tools and connections you need to be successful in sports, and I look forward to taking what I've learned to my next endeavor after graduation,” said Lalani. “I'm very lucky that I was able to be a part of the Sport Management Department and it deserves all the accolades, because it truly is the best major at Rice.”

Asad Lalani '19 at NFL Honors

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