by Paula M. Davis
Watched by millions, Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest one-day sports spectacles on the planet. And at 2012's pinnacle gridiron match-up in Indianapolis (New York Giants, 21, New England Patriots, 17) National Football League (NFL) executive Marc Reeves '95 was in the thick of it.
The Kalamazoo College alumnus was busy hosting a global guest list in Indy because he is the league executive charged with growing the NFL’s brand and fan base internationally, including in Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.
Popularity of the American sport is burgeoning in places like London, where the NFL's yearly game at Wembley Stadium had a sold-out crowd of 86,000 last fall.
So as Reeves worked behind the scenes at the Super Bowl to develop more international inroads for the league, what else was on his mind?
“I thought a lot about K and its immeasurable value to me,” says the 1995 graduate, who was recruited for his current position with the NFL more than two years ago. Prior to that, Reeves held executive posts at IMG, one of the world’s top sports-marketing and sports agent firms.
But his career path toward the business side of sports, working on an international stage, began at Kalamazoo College two decades ago.
A Toronto, Ontario, native and tennis player, Reeves wanted to attend an American college after graduating high school in 1991. The economics and marketing major felt U.S. schools would offer him a more personalized education than the large public institutions in Canada.
Among other options, he chose K for its "balance between academic strength and a progressive tennis program." Nevertheless, he adds, “I don't think I was expecting to fall in love with both the program and school the way I did.”
Much of that surprise had to do Reeves’s six-month-long experience in France during his junior year.
When he chose K, Reeves wasn’t even aware of the college’s renowned study abroad program. But his experience overseas turned out to be the most important six months of not only his K years, but of his life, he says.“It was really crucial to starting to see the world in a different way and seeing the opportunities that are out there. That’s where you really, in a sense, find yourself,” Reeves adds.
As a Canadian citizen 400 miles from home and going to school across an international border, Reeves was already on study abroad by attending K. But he says moving overseas into the home of a family in Strasbourg, France, offered him even greater cross-cultural immersion. “You’re living on your own, living with a family, and experiencing a totally different way of life. As much as you know things are different over there, nothing really substitutes for the actual experience.
“My interest and love of doing things internationally and on a global scale began there,” he says.
A lot of his love for K is also tied to the man who recruited him to the tennis team, Hornet coaching legend George Acker. Around the office Reeves still finds himself quoting the late Acker with remarks such as, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem” and “Good enough isn’t.”
"He taught us more about life than tennis. It was really something special," says Reeves, who returned to campus from his New York City residence last summer to attend the coach’s memorial service.
In the early 1990s Reeves was a member of what former men’s tennis coach Timon Corwin '86 characterizes as an “incredible recruiting class.” There were a number of talented players, and the team sizzled on the court. Corwin remembers Reeves as a hard-working, ambitious young man with a lot of heart.
"He was very passionate about tennis and he was incredibly supportive of his teammates," Corwin says. “He never drifted from his commitment to the team. If anything, it got stronger every year.”
Reeves always had a strong interest in the marketing side of sports. Even before attending K, “I was very focused, from the moment I figured out I wouldn't be a pro athlete,” Reeves says.
While other young sports enthusiasts might have had Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan posters adorning their bedroom walls, Reeves idolized the likes of David Falk, Michael Jordan's agent.
“I realized that people who I looked up to more than the athletes were the people behind the deals,” he says.
The USTA Boys National Tennis Championships hosted annually at Stowe Stadium provided Reeves his first glimpse and entry into the sports marketing world.
“I was all over all the various agents" at the tournament, Reeves says, armed with what he learned from researching the companies, including the two firms he wound up working for—ProServ and, later, IMG.
Representatives from ProServ were impressed enough with Reeves to hire him. He spent part of his senior year working at the firm and on his Senior Individualized Project: “The Economics and Marketing of Professional Tennis.”
“I was a ground-level intern doing whatever work they needed me to do. From tracking down someone's rental car to answering fan mail. It gave me some fascinating lessons about how the industry really works," Reeves says. “It was the first time that I had a chance to glimpse behind the curtain.”
And the peek only fueled his determination to make it in that world.
He also noticed that many of the agents were lawyers. After completing his ProServ experience and graduating from K, Reeves took an entry-level job at the Washington, D.C., law firm, Beveridge & Diamond, PC, a position secured through the help of K alumna Kathy Szmuszkovicz ’77. There he learned that although he didn’t want to work in a traditional firm he did want to earn a law degree.
He pursued that goal at New Orleans’ Tulane University because of its widely recognized and highly regarded sports law specialty program. At Tulane Reeves also pursued an M.B.A. and graduated with both advanced degrees in four years. The D.C. experience showed him a work world he didn’t want, and it provided an entrée into the one he did. An attorney at Beveridge and Diamond had connections that led to Reeves’s first job associated with the NFL.
"I thought a lot about K and its immeasurable value..."As a result of that connection, during his student years at Tulane Reeves got an internship with the NFL Players Association. He later took an internship with the New Orleans Saints in football operations and management.
"Getting these jobs in sports is really hard. So you need a little extra help, and if you know what you want, you look for opportunities where you are to help deliver that," he says.“The lesson you learn is network, network, network.”
He benefited from another personal connection during his time at Tulane and landed an interview with IMG. He spent two summers working for the firm, first in New York and then in San Francisco, both unpaid internships.
“All my friends from law school and business school were making a lot more money than I was (at their summer internships) but I was thankful for the opportunity. You do it because you have a vision,” he says.
That vision materialized into a full-time job at IMG as soon as he graduated from Tulane.
Reeves found IMG “a very entrepreneurial” place where he was supported in carving his own path.
“I found ways to work on deals and help create value for the (clients) I represented, whether a sporting event, an athlete, or a property,” he says. He worked his way up through the ranks and eventually became vice president of the company’s consulting division.
One of his major accomplishments was a $180 million deal with FIFA (the world’s governing body for soccer) to secure promotion rights for VISA at the World Cup, the most watched sporting event on the planet.
“We successfully secured these rights away from Mastercard, which had held them for the previous 18 years,” Reeves says.
In a separate deal, Reeves worked on behalf of VISA’s marketing related to the Olympics, both for the games in Torino in 2006 and in Beijing two years later.
“All of the sudden I’m getting to combine two of my biggest passions”—sports and world travel, Reeves says.
His work for IMG drew the attention of a headhunter who recruited Reeves for the newly created position of international commercial director at the NFL.
“My experience of working really intensely to help VISA grow its brand outside the U.S. through sports was really well aligned with what the NFL was looking for,” Reeves says.
Since January of 2010, Reeves has led all of the marketing, fan development, and sponsorship for the NFL overseas, including the massive game at Wembley Stadium.
“My scope is everywhere outside the U.S.,” he says. And for that, he’s grateful to K.
“From the life and leadership lessons learned from Coach Acker to getting the chance to go on foreign study and see the world to getting a foot in the door of the industry, K certainly played a big role,” Reeves says. “That’s not to say I would not have been able to do it without K, but (the college) certainly was very helpful and monumental in getting here.”
Photo 1 - Marc Reeves, right, at the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
Photo 2 - Hornet tennis player Marc Reeves during his K playing days.