ASU business students travel to Paris Summer Olympics


Olympic rings with a coastal city lit at night in the background.

Photo courtesy Pexels

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Twelve W. P. Carey students have the unique opportunity to learn about global branding and sports marketing at the Paris Olympic Games this summer. 

Led by Associate Teaching Professor of marketing Daniel McIntosh and Clinical Associate Professor of marketing Christopher Lee, the group will be in Paris for the entire three-week event, interning for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and attending an executive leadership speaker series featuring Olympic partners and sponsors. Students will also attend three Olympic events — the women's soccer final, beach volleyball and rugby — and learn about the history of the French nation through cultural site visits.

McIntosh and Lee began planning a student trip abroad five years ago after traveling to Sichuan University through an Arizona State University partnership.

Maroon and gold medals

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"It was such a transformational experience that we wanted to provide something similar to students," McIntosh said. The Olympics was a natural next step, since both Lee and McIntosh teach in the sports marketing business program. 

The duo initially planned to take a student group to the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, but they canceled the trip when the organizers postponed the Games due to the pandemic. To prepare for this year's Games, McIntosh and Lee have been working with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the ASU Global Education Office and Olympic partners for months to coordinate travel and lodging, prepare students for the experience and coordinate the executive leadership speaker series. 

The series, which will take place on-site during the Games, will teach students about creating marketing plans for international brands and explore how to apply traditional business marketing topics to global events. The speaker lineup includes leadership from Olympic sponsors like Visa, Samsung, AirBnB, Coca-Cola, Deloitte and Toyota. It will cover the organizations' marketing goals, target audience and how their Olympic campaigns align with broader business goals. 

"We'll speak with an executive in the morning, and students will see their efforts on the ground that afternoon. It's a hands-on experience and an example of how sponsorship, marketing and business practices work," Lee said.

McIntosh and Lee credit Scot Smythe, faculty associate of marketing, with helping them navigate their partnership with the Team USA House — the USA team's hospitality hub — to secure internships for all 12 students. As part of their duties, students might escort VIP guests around the venue, help coordinate venue activities, communicate messaging and ensure brand standards are met across the Team USA House. 

"We want students to take away an appreciation for sport and its ability to connect people across the globe," Lee said. "It's a neat opportunity to experience how sports motivate and inspire people while simultaneously learning about the business side of the event." 

Each student attending the Games brings a love of sports and a connection to athletics to the experience. As a former U.S. national team rhythmic gymnast, online sports business student Bella Ivanova is familiar with large-scale sporting events from the athlete's perspective and has competed at the world championship, several world cups and various other national and international competitions. Ivanova is excited to support athletes from behind the scenes at the Olympics and says students will attend the sporting events to cheer on the athletes and observe how event processes — from concessions to security — are handled inside the venues.

"We'll be looking at it as a consumer — is it being run well?" Ivanova said. "It will be a well-rounded experience that shows us a little bit of everything." 

Lifelong athlete and sports business student Paige Nielsen recently completed an internship with the U.S. Department of State and plans to pursue sports law after graduation. When she isn't studying for the LSAT, Nielsen prepares for the trip by researching the organizations participating in the executive speaker series and learning French. 

"These experiences put what we've learned into practice on a global scale," Nielsen said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I could only dream of as a sports business major." 

Former student-athlete and dual sports business and marketing major Avery Wright has loved sports since childhood. A Tillman Scholar, Wright is passionate about sports research, public policy and women's sports advocacy. Her essay about the importance of investing in women's sports came in second place in the inaugural Inclusive Excellence essay competition.

"No other industry brings communities together like sports," she said. "It has the power to change the world."  

Wright has always dreamed of attending the Olympics, but upon discovering the trip would cost each participant up to $15,000, she wanted to make the journey more accessible for her peers and worked with McIntosh and Lee to spearhead several fundraisers, including a golf event that raised $6,000 for the group. Wright also leveraged the program's sports business network and wrote letters to notable alums about the group's fundraising efforts. 

"How can we make this trip a reality and support the kids attending as much as possible? That's been my focus," Wright said.

In addition to Lee, McIntosh, Ivanova, Nielsen and Wright, students Abby Auerr, Andrew Vinci, Cadie Christensen, Kaitlyn Skamas, Kaylee Courtney, Kyra Mickey, Lauren Towne, Luke Pileggi and Sydney Kim will be attending the Games. 

Marron and gold graphic of the Eiffel Tower with the text "France 2024."

The group has met several times to discuss expectations, safety and travel arrangements in preparation for the trip. McIntosh and Lee are also working with the students to create a media plan to document their Olympic experiences, from planning a group photo "shot list" to keeping personal journals to a potential social media takeover.

"Let's say we want to record media for the 2028 Olympic Games. What marketing pieces do we want? Do we want videos? How can we build a messaging strategy to showcase what we're doing in Paris?" McIntosh said. 

The group has also partnered with the W. P. Carey Marketing and Communications Department to develop a custom ASU pin (seen at right) to exchange with other Olympic attendees. The tradition dates back to the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, and each student will have around 30 pins to trade with other Olympic-goers. 

"It's an undercurrent of the Games from the fan experience that adds an interactive and fun element," Lee said.

McIntosh wants to ensure that the itinerary supports student learning outcomes and prepares them to be successful sports business professionals. 

"We want to tie this experience back to the students' educational journey," he said. "Our goal is for them to enter the workforce in alignment with W. P. Carey's mission while thinking about problems and solutions with a global mindset."

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