Students learned the ins and outs of the sports industry straight from the experts at the third annual Illinois State University Sport Management Symposium.

The event, held January 8 at The Chateau in Bloomington, featured two panel sessions, a networking lunch, keynote speaker, and an internship fair. Katie Nessling and Tracey Lonergan, both second-year graduate students in the sport management program, coordinated the event under the advisement of faculty member Nels Popp.

“Each year we’re growing a name for the symposium,” Lonergan said. “People in the industry are excited to be involved and students are excited to learn what the industry offers.”

“The sports industry is hard to break into,” Nessling said. “Students are looking for an opportunity to get advice from people who have been in their shoes before.”

Lonergan and Nessling spent nearly 100 hours planning for the event, preparing the venue, handling the day’s logistics, and most importantly, securing the high-caliber speakers that attract attendees from six states.

Industry heads such as Jay Blunk 86, Chicago Blackhawks executive vice president; Phil Bedella ’88, Comcast SportsNet Chicago vice president/general manager; and Brad Nagel ’07, Chicago Cubs fan service manager, served as panelists and shared information on breaking into the industry and distinguishing yourself from others.

Sport Management Symposium panelists

Sport Management Symposium panelists, from left, Phil Bedella, Comcast SportsNet Chicago; Jay Blunk, Chicago Blackhawks; Brad Nagel, Chicago Cubs; Clair Peterson, John Deere Classic; Jake Vernon, Get Real Sports Sales.

“We’re looking for people who have a broad base of information—not necessarily just sports,” Blunk said. “We’re looking for people who can help us with our business in the Chicago market, so you have to know what is going on in the marketplace.”

Panelists also shared the best advice they had personally received, which served as the foundations for their own successful careers.

Blunk recalled how School of Communication faculty member Tom Lamonica advised that if he ever got an internship, to be “the first one to turn the lights on and the last one to turn the lights off. Make sure that office cannot function without you.”

It was advice that Blunk took to heart.

“From the first day of an internship you are being judged, so take it seriously. I never wanted to look back and see that I had the opportunity of a lifetime and I was too young to realize I had it. I had one shot.”

Bedella also received valuable advice at Illinois State while he worked on the Vidette staff.

“I was told by the Vidette advisor to get involved. Get involved beyond class. Get involved in projects, clubs, even other departments. That carried over when I went to work for the Cubs—you have that same mentality. Don’t just do the job you have or go to the class. Reach out and do more because that’s how you’ll make connections, develop relationships, and open up paths.”

Nagel also emphasized that students entering the sports industry cannot underestimate the challenges they would be facing.

“It takes more than being a fan,” Nagel said. “This industry is a grind—it takes night, weekends, and holidays. Someone who is adaptable and takes initiative will be able to get through it.”

But above all, symposium speakers told attendees that along with hard work and being lifetime learners, passion was key to meeting goals now and in the future. In his keynote speech, 9 Principles That Will Allow You to Fulfill Your Dreams, Pat Williams, Orlando Magic senior vice president, said that “passion always wins out and carries the day. When you’re passionate about something, the whole world knows about it.”

Williams also emphasized the importance of developing leadership qualities, knowing the sports industry inside and out, daily reading, and public speaking. Following the keynote speech, students had the opportunity to meet with representatives from organizations at the internship fair such as the Normal CornBelters, Peoria Chiefs, Bloomington Flex, and Game Day USA.

View the entire roster of symposium speakers.

Steven Barcus can be reached at