During the Spring 2023 Semester, students in the Department of Sport Management’s SPM 324 Sport Sponsorship and Promotion class partnered with New York Yankees player Oswaldo Cabrera to help build his brand and create his marketing deck.
The class culminated with a trip in June to New York City, where seven students met with Cabrera to share their final projects.
“We had the opportunity to share our decks and our thought process and explain the importance of Oswaldo working to grow his brand as he continues to grow as a player,” says sport management major Tracey Edson ’24. “The word that comes to mind to describe this experience is ‘grateful.’ Projects like this are what separate the Syracuse Sport Management Department from other sport management programs.”
The connection with Cabrera started with conversations between Assistant Teaching Professor Dave Meluni, who teaches the Sport Sponsorship and Promotion class, and Sport Management Advisory Council president Brandon Steiner ’81, a sports marketing expert. Steiner was impressed by Meluni’s groundbreaking work with his Name, Image, and Likeness class, and Steiner wanted to explore sports marketing opportunities for students.
Steiner, the founder of the Steiner Agency, Athlete Direct, and CollectibleXchange, has a long-running relationship with the Yankees from his days as founder of Steiner Sports, a sports memorabilia business. Steiner thought the 24-year-old, bilingual Cabrera had a lot of marketing potential, and Cabrera’s agent told Steiner he could use marketing help because his expertise was in contracts, not marketing.
Meanwhile, as part of the class, Meluni assigned a “sports money endorsement” project where the students would analyze former athletes and determine their current marketing potential.
“For example, Muhammed Ali, what would he be worth today?” Meluni says. “Then we thought it would be fantastic to take this project and use it for an existing athlete. When the opportunity with Brandon and Oswaldo came up, we gave the students the option of using legacy athletes or Oswaldo, and more than 20 chose Oswaldo.”
The students met Cabrera via Zoom during the Yankees’ spring training camp in February to give them “an idea of what he’s about off the field,” Meluni says. They then used the sales prospecting software Sponsor United to research brands that would best fit Cabrera’s lifestyle. Throughout the semester, students also researched social media trends of athletes that compared to Cabrera and began building his social media strategy.
In addition, Steiner visited campus in April to talk with the students and guide them as they finished their marketing decks.
“Each of the conversations (with Cabrera and Steiner) helped us put our sponsorship decks together,” Edson says. “We worked for weeks building the presentations with information regarding Oswaldo, his background, social media and engagement rates, athletes that are comparable to him based on where he is at in his career, and five potential brands that could be beneficial for him to partner with. With each brand we developed a rationale behind it and suggestions for activations he could pursue.”
For her project, Edson teamed with Samantha Messina ‘23, a public relations major in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “Working with Samantha was beneficial for both of us because we each brought different learned experiences that helped us in creating a project that was eye-catching for both Oswaldo and Mr. Steiner,” Edson says.
The final projects were shared with Steiner, and the top students were selected and awarded a trip to Yankee Stadium to watch a game and meet Cabrera. The students were Edson, Messina, Dylan Canell, Elizabeth Ellis, Alison Gilmore, Kate Lawton, and Cecelia “CJ” Westwater.
Unfortunately, the Yankees’ game against the Chicago White Sox that night was postponed due to the hazardous air quality conditions created by the Canadian wildfires. Still, the students met with Cabrera and Steiner for more than an hour at a hotel in New Rochelle where the students were spending the night.
Based on their research, the students shared with Cabrera the types of companies in New York City and his native country, Venezuela, that are spending money on marketing products that align with Cabrera’s interests. They also discussed social media, and the students suggested he talk more about his family on Instagram.
The next day, Cabrera posted a photo of him and his brother, Leobaldo, who’s also a professional baseball player. That post received nearly 21,000 likes and a 14 percent engagement rate, which Meluni says “is staggering.”
“He had already taken what the students presented to heart,” Meluni says.
Meluni says the foundation of his teaching philosophy is experiential learning, and he has been talking to Steiner about partnering with another professional athlete for the class this fall. Marketing agents working with athletes on their brands is a growing field, and Meluni says these partnerships with athletes will enable students to walk into a job interview and show agency-level work.
In the case of Cabrera, an engaged alum in Steiner and a forward-thinking professor in Meluni found an opportunity for students to build a portfolio that included the type of athlete who would be an ideal client for a marketing agency.
“I am truly appreciative of the tireless work and support that the Sport Management Department and alumni around the world show to current students,” Edson says. “Moments like this with Oswaldo would not be possible without them. Thank you to all the faculty and staff in the SPM department and to the many alumni who take the time to help students develop professionally and personally.”