NASCAR’s Tim Clark and I were walking away from Starbucks in uptown Charlotte last July after an early-morning coffee meeting where we’d frequently bounce ideas off each other and talk through challenges we were facing. At the end, we had an idea — let’s build on our frequent meetings to include others in Charlotte’s sports business community. We didn’t know what would come from it, but at our first dinner in September, 12 executives from various sports organizations in Charlotte shared the challenges we were all facing in talent retention and finding diverse talent. Collectively, the group wondered about developing a program to target college students in the region from diverse backgrounds who could get hands-on experience at our organizations — but we wanted to do something quickly and collaboratively without it getting bogged down by process or protocols.
I remember Tim and I reviewing pages of notes from that dinner during our next coffee meeting and feeling inspired, if a bit intimidated, by what was in front of us. In December at our second dinner, the group swelled to 15 and we pushed each other — let’s do something soon and not just talk about it. Our hope was that if a few of Charlotte’s sports organizations could partner and provide opportunities to those who may not have access to them and create a pipeline for future talent, other markets may follow. Elevate Sports Ventures’ Cameron Wagner immediately suggested we engage with Pat Stack, who founded Sports Biz Camps in 2019, which connects high school and college students to sports professionals and is based in Charlotte. Truist’s Joe Smith agreed, saying he had met with Stack and floated a similar concept after the first dinner meeting, and so connections were made.
Stack outlined an initiative where Sports Biz Camps could organize and operate a program to offer educational experiences at our respective companies. At our third dinner meeting on March 22, 13 executives went through every aspect of the program to make sure we were comfortable and aligned. At one point, we just weren’t sure we had a plan that we could all get behind. But one person spoke up presciently: “It’s a pilot. We can adjust. We don’t have all the answers yet.” That’s been our mantra. So, the Charlotte Difference Makers Sports Fellowship in partnership with Sports Biz Camps was launched. It will be a nine-month professional development program that will start this summer with 12 fellows representing marginalized populations receiving on-site access, professional experience, and mentorship across various sports organizations in Charlotte.
Charlotte Difference Makers Sports Fellowship participants
■ 23XI Racing SPEED Institute
■ Bespoke Sports & Entertainment
■ Carolina Panthers
■ Charlotte 49ers
■ Charlotte FC
■ Charlotte Sports Foundation
■ Elevate Sports Ventures
■ Hornets Sports & Entertainment
■ RFK Racing
■ Sports Business Journal
Each company has pledged financial support to Sports Biz Camps to provide resources to the fellows and fund all programming costs. The plans are ambitious. Fellows will get access to each organization, weekly seminars and networking visits. Over 11 weeks this summer, the fellows will be exposed to different career paths and have access to executives at each company who can share ideas and learnings. Social events will allow them to get to know each other, and the group will remain engaged throughout the year, with the goal of possible full-time employment in the future. As one group member said at our last dinner: “The hope is we hire every one of these students that go through the program.”
So, why am I sharing this? Well, first, because the group is proud of its collective effort, and we hope this gradually grows from 12 young fellows to 15, 20 or more getting hands-on experience in the sports business. It will take time and effort within our companies to make sure we have a clear, goal-oriented, onboarding and oversight program, and each organization will have a specific supervisor. In a time when traditional “internships” are challenged, we are happy to move ahead with this program and will keep you updated on our efforts.
We know many of you are already doing this in your respective communities and understand its potential. We hope there are other markets interested in such an effort because nothing would make us prouder than to see Difference Makers Sports Fellowship programs in five or 10 cities in the future. It could mean the difference in the lives of 200 or more young people every year who would otherwise not get the opportunity to work in the dynamic sports business. I’m pleased that this group in Charlotte collaborated so quickly to try to make a small, subtle, but we hope important difference. If you’d like to learn more about what we’re doing, let us know. This can grow and provide powerful experiences and opportunities — and we hope others will join us.
Abraham Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.