When sports and business collide

A photos of Riana smiling with her arms crossed.Riana Ismail, a fifth-year health student, shares with us how she arranged all of her co-op jobs so far in the sport business sector.

Riana is in her fifth year in the Recreation and Sport Business program, with a minor in Event Management. She has completed one internship and five work terms so far, all of which she arranged on her own. 

Internship: U SPORTS, international programs/merchandise intern - Managed team Canada for the 2019 summer Olympics for university students all over the world.

Work term 1: U SPORTS, marketing and sponsorship intern - Worked with national partners, sponsors for national championships and procured a new national partner for them.

Work term 2: Canada Games Council, host relations intern - Working on the 2020 to the 2027 Canada Games. Working with their partners to take each host city through the seven stages of the Canada Games Life Cycle, from the bid process to the execution of the Games themselves.

Work term 3: San Jose Sharks, ticket sales and service intern - Got to work in new business inside sales, membership, and then premium hospitality and premium service.

Work terms 4 & 5: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, VIP hospitality experience and commercialization intern - Working with the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors 905, Toronto Marlies, TFC, TFC II, and LIVE. Working across all of the teams and venues, working with their premium clients and premium spaces, as well as on the business side on creating new business and new revenue streams.


Q & A with Riana 

What were some of the main projects?

A photo of Riana standing inside the Toronto Raptors basketball arena.“One of the biggest ones for me that I really enjoyed and was kind of different was at the San Jose Sharks. I actually pitched and led the NFT cryptocurrency project that they have now launched; I believe it's now known as teal tokens.”

“One of my big projects was to eventually pitch this idea to our senior leadership team. It was almost a currency wallet for members. So, it was targeted towards all our premium members, including suite holders, VIP members, premium members and then regular seat holders as well. It was almost an elevated rewards program that was integrated into NFTs and cryptocurrency, so if they go to enough games, they receive rewards or cryptocurrency.”

“Another project was using beacon technology in the arena that helps the VR experience there. If you hold your phone up to the rink, you can have a show on your phone that isn't necessarily taking place live. It was another aspect to enhance the overall user experience and the fan experience and elevate it to another level.”

“I worked alongside our president and digital labs team and we built it from ground up. All the way from the actual app itself to integrating it into their apps, the Sharks app, the SAP center app, which is their venue, and integrating it into the actual arena.”

What was it like arranging your own co-op jobs?

“There weren't too many opportunities in the sports industry in terms of what I was interested in working in on WaterlooWorks, so I ended up arranging my own job for all of them.”

“I try and tell students that, yes, WaterlooWorks is amazing and it's a great resource, but every single Waterloo student in your program, as well as outside programs, are applying to those same jobs.”

“This process is what you make of it. So if you look at external sources and apply to those jobs, you're just helping yourself in terms of giving yourself more chances at interviews, where there's different competition, rather than having competition from the same university, in the same degree, in the same program. So you're just helping to diversify yourself in that way.”

“Networking was a big part of how I applied for jobs. I didn't have any experience in the sports industry. I had volunteer experience, experience in the financial industry and super random experiences for the most part.”

“So I just went on websites of teams and I started doing my research in terms of what companies there are, how the industry is broken down and what levels there are.”

“I broke it down into the national level, then the provincial level, and then professional leagues, and started from there. I really just applied through their websites. And that's how I got my first job!”

“From there, I would say it's all been referrals through networking. I got my next job because someone I worked with at U SPORTS had moved to the Canada Games Council and referred me and asked if I wanted to do my next one there. And so my name got put in the process, I interviewed and got the job.”

“With the San Jose Sharks, it was a little bit different in the sense that I already knew the VP of ticket sales and service. He had reached out to me saying that they had an internship available and asked if it would be something I was interested in.”

Do you have advice for students going into their first co-op?

“Perseverance is the number one thing. If things don't work out your way, don’t get down on yourself, everything really does happen for a reason.”

“Just put yourself out there, whether that's attending meetings or attending conferences, really just do your research and figure out where it is you're interested in.”

“I would say go into every experience with an open mind. Whether or not the job you got was your first choice or fifth choice, there is something to learn from each one. I know from personal experience, I would not have been able to excel in my fifth and sixth co-op if it wasn’t for the experience I had and the knowledge I gained from my first.”

What has been the highlight of your current work term?

“One of my favourite parts about this job has been the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with and the opportunities I’ve been given. I feel like I’ve been presented the opportunity to not only make an impact on the business as a whole, but I have also been able to network within the company to learn more about how the business operates outside of just ticketing.”

“I was fortunate enough to be a part of a committee who developed a new premium space at one of our venues. Unfortunately, I can't disclose too many details, because it hasn't been made public yet. But I was lucky enough to be a part of the committee that built the idea from the ground up and pitched it to our Executive Leadership Team."

"I was also given the opportunity to develop a new Courtside Engagement Plan and commercialize new away trips and net new products for our premium members. This experience has been incredibly rewarding for me and I feel like I am leaving this experience capable of taking on a full-time position in this industry after graduation.”

What were some challenges you had to face?

A photo of Riana standing on a hockey rink.“The first one is just the recruiting process. It can be very daunting, especially as a first-year student who's going into their first cycle of co-op. You've never really gone through it before, you've maybe never had a full-time job before. It's incredibly daunting to go through this process and put yourself out there and apply.”

“The only other challenge in terms of my actual co-ops is being flexible and time management. I think that's every job, but specifically this industry. It is a lot of hours and it's a lot of time.”

“I'm in school at the same time I'm working full time. And for me, I'm working anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week, plus school on top. So it's hard to find that balance between a personal life, school, and work.”

“I think as long as you love it, you can't go wrong. If you have a passion for what you do then it makes it easier to overcome any challenge you may face. Sometimes I can't wait to graduate but it's such a rewarding experience for me. And I feel like if I had to go through this all over again, I wouldn’t make any changes.”

What are your future plans?

“I've been fortunate enough that throughout my co-op experience, I've networked so much that I now have some full-time job offers after graduation. So I think for me, it's trying to figure where do I want to accept my full time job? Where do I want to be once I graduate? Is it back in California? Is it staying in Toronto? So I think my next step is work-related and figuring out what that next step is and what is best for me.”

“But I do also want to continue my academic career. In a couple years down the road, I definitely want to pursue my MBA and further my education.”