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ODU Alum, Panthers Executive, Tells Students How to Follow his Path to the NFL

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Commenting that the Old Dominion he was returning to scarcely resembles the University he graduated from in 1991, Carolina Panthers marketing executive Mike Mahoney said the business of marketing and sales has also undergone seismic change in the past two decades.

Mahoney '91 told a rapt, overflow audience in Constant Hall on Feb. 28 that marketing for a National Football League team is much more relationship-focused than it once was.

"When we are working with a company, we want to be true partners, bringing real value to the company through their sponsorship," Mahoney said during the Landmark Executive-in-Residence lecture series. He cited the example of a sponsorship with Krispy Kreme that offered a free doughnut the day after the Panthers scored 20 points in a game. The promotion earned North Carolina franchises of the doughnut chain a gold mine of sales during the Panthers' 2015-16 Super Bowl run.

Mahoney, who graduated with a degree in economics, has an extensive background in sales, working at FedEx as a national account executive and with SAP as an account executive, selling supply chain solutions to Fortune 500 companies.

His job with the Panthers followed a move to Charlotte with FedEx, which opened doors to the relatively new NFL franchise. He told audience members, who asked many questions about how to break into the sports industry, that you never know when a professional contact can provide an opening to the organization where you want to work.

"That's how I got in. I know a guy who knew a guy. Network, network, network. You never know when your opportunity will come," Mahoney said.

His work with the Panthers involves engagement through a variety of marketing platforms and customized packages to help reach fans, whether in or out of season. Some of the companies he has brokered sponsorships with include Frito Lay, AT&T and, after nearly a decade of trying, Papa John's Pizza.

One of the key tools Mahoney has used for outreach and engagement with potential partners is social media, which he urged students to use to their benefit as well.

"I went for lunch with a colleague in 2009 who told me about Twitter," he said. "I started the team's first Twitter feed @PantherTalk, which has become @PantherPromotion." Creative use of the social media site - such as organizing a Twitter scavenger hunt, which included several sponsors - has helped the team underwrite several lucrative sponsorships, Mahoney said.

He offered other advice to the students, including the value of internships.

"Internships are the best way to get in with us. We hire a lot of people who are interns first. If you want to work for an organization, reach out on social media, use your LinkedIn. Use Twitter. It's about making your resume float to the top of the pile," he said.

Established in 2001, the Landmark Executive-in-Residence program is funded by an endowment from a group of former Landmark Communications executives in honor of Frank Batten Sr., former chairman of the executive committee of the Landmark board and first rector of the Old Dominion University Board of Visitors.

The program is dedicated to bringing accomplished business leaders, many of whom are University alumni, to campus to share their history and vision, giving students the opportunity to learn firsthand about the strategies and experiences that forge great ethical global leaders.

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