Adonis “Sporty” Jeralds is a professor in Sport and Entertainment Management at the University of South Carolina. He also works within the Community Relations department with the Charlotte Hornets. I had the opportunity to interview Sporty Jeralds. Sporty is a funny, authentic, passionate, and caring instructor who brings a wealth of knowledge from his experience working at the Charlotte Coliseum between the 1988 expansion Hornets and the 2010 Bobcats (now Hornets again as of 2014). In this interview, Sporty’s love of teaching and working in sport is clear. He also shares inspiring advice and suggestions to people that are uplifting. This was a very special interview for me as I was able to put myself into the incredible work Sporty Jeralds does in the classroom and in the industry with the Hornets. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did when talking to him.
Tell us about your role current role as a professor at the University of South Carolina and Charlotte Hornets.
I teach in sport and entertainment management department at the university. We have about 1400 majors and 600 minors so we are a big department. Fortunately for our department, we have quite a few instructors like myself who have been practitioners in the field. So we can bring real-world experience that we have had into the classroom. My courses all revolve around what you call venue management. I was the manager of the Charlotte Coliseum for about 15 years.
I teach one big class with 250 students and two smaller classes with about 20 students. So I still live in Charlotte.
I also continue to work with the Charlotte Hornets, which I see you got my name from Gabby who works there. I coordinate a program called community tickets. This program is where I give tickets to underprivileged kids, schools, underserved neighbourhoods. Since the season starts soon, I’ve been back in Charlotte in the office on Thursday and Friday.
How important do you think it is for sports teams to be involved and give back to their community?
I think we do a good job. There is definitely a win-win for our team. We found over the years when I was managing the Charlotte Coliseum that we have a lot of people, several hundred to maybe several thousand, who came to every game.
Basketball was new to the city and we had sell-outs for about eight straight years I think 365 straight sell outs of Hornets games. I mean 42 games a year for several years in a row and those people always showed up. We found now that people don’t have that ability anymore because peoples lives are much more crowded and very few people can attend every single game like they could in the old days and there are to nights when the building isn’t going to be totally full and those are the times when I can maybe give some tickets to school kids or boys and girls club. Something like that.
Which otherwise those kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend professional basketball games and seeing all the things we take for granted and all the little things such as even seeing an escalator in an arena/stadium. For kids that have never sen that that’s a big deal. So a lot of times we’re growing fans and kinda create that energy and enthusiasm with kids and they come to the games and hopefully, they become lifelong Hornets game and we get the benefit of having them in the building and the building looks more full.
Maybe they’ll buy some peanuts and popcorn and we make a little money off of concessions. So, it’s a win-win. But we don’t do it for the publicity. We never make a big deal out of it. It’s not about getting in the news it’s just us wanting to connect with the community and help the people and give them a chance to enjoy games they were not otherwise able to do so.
Do you mind talking about your experience being the manager of the Charlotte Coliseum and how it was for you and what difficulties you faced and how you were able to master that task?
We have to go back a little bit to understand my story. I went to college in Greensboro, North Carolina. I was a point guard in basketball there. I majored in Criminal justice and everyone in my program after graduation went on the be police officers. But it just wasn’t for me. I decided that I since I was in criminal justice I should something to be on the higher levels. so I thought if I go to grad school I could be the director of probation and parole. So I took a master’s in public administration for two years.
The second-year was an internship but it was for nine months. So the first year on the campus I need some work in the county manager’s office and I didn’t really enjoy it. I then fell back on my love for sport and decide to go to school for sports management.
I deferred the second year of the masters of public administration and went straight into the sport management program. At that time, sport management has a program was still in the early stages. The program there focused on three streams to go in; High school/college sports, professional sports, and venue management.
Even though my experience at the country manager’s office wasn’t great, I still wanted to be in the public sector and work in public service and I saw that most venues in sport are publicly owned and operated. After that program, I went to Hampton Virginia to get an internship at the Hampton Virginia Coliseum.
I fell in love with the business there and I found my place in what I wanted to do. Also at that time, the assistant director was leaving. After my internship, I went to the big boss Mr. Grenwel and “Is there any way I can stay here?” He then created a position for me called the assistant to the director, a little play on words there. He left the assistant director position open so because the city wouldn’t let me be the assistant director because of my lack of experience so he kept that position open for two years until I was promoted to the assistant director position. He was a great mentor to me.
When the Charlotte Coliseum was built, I was offered a job there as the assistant director and I’m from the state. I hated to leave Virginia and Mr.Greenwell but it was too good an opportunity to pass up on. I came in May of 1988 and I became a manager in 1990 of the Charlotte Coliseum until 2005. I learned from a co-worker named Otis in Virginia and he said to me when I told him I was nervous about going to this new huge arena “don’t worry when you get down there just add a couple of zero’s to everything”. It was funny but what he was saying was when you get there it’s bigger but the same things we taught you here.
I had a tremendous number of people that I worked with and I was the quarterback. I got a lot of credit, but the people around did a lot and they were the reason things went so well and they made me look really good. So I’m indebted to them and I care about them and I care about people and I’m an authentic person and I wanted to make sure to make staff was okay and their family was too.
If I had a staff member who had their daughter playing a volleyball game but we are busy all weekend. I would say to them they could go watch their daughter volleyball game because I know the next day they’ll work 16 hours. So I try to treat people like adults but understand there is a life outside of this. Things did go wrong, especially in a building that big. But we were fortunate with the great staff we had. We were also one of the few buildings that had men’s and women’s final four before they went to stadiums. We did the NBA All-Star game in 1991. We don’t call the good old days they were the great old days.
What was it like transitioning from working full time in the industry to becoming more of a full-time educator?
It’s been a labour of love for me because I had Mr.Greenwell who believed in me and saw something I didn’t. He groomed me and let me screw up a lot! And cleaned up a lot of my mistakes. But he believed in me. I made a commitment that when I was at a place where I could be someone who could mentor other people.
I was in tribute to people that helped me to get where I was. So when I got to the coliseum, I started up an internship program. In my mind, mentoring is teaching, teaching is coaching, coaching is mentoring and they’re all interconnected. I have enjoyed helping other people to get to where they want to be.
I’m fortunate I’ve had several people who started as an intern who has gone on to do amazing things and amazing people who have gone on to do great ventures. So, to me, it’s been a seamless transition. I get great pleasure in helping young people learn about the sport business. From my past point guard playing days, the point guard assists people and that’s what I like to do now. I only ever ask one thing of people, that they’ll help someone else. I just want them to remember that Sporty helped them out and they’ll help someone. I first started as a part-time instructor while working with Bobcats now Hornets.
I asked my students on the first day of class, “what do you want to be?”. One of the young ladies said, “I want to work at the Fox theatre”. I told her to see me after class and connected her to one of my former students who worked there and now she’s the marketing director at the Fox Theatre for the past 11 years.
This year, I met another young lady and got her connected through them. Now I have three generations of venue managers. I also always bring former students to campus and speak. My former student Katy is coming and after we are having ‘Kupcakes with Katy’ as a social gathering for female only and give my female students an opportunity to speak candidly about females in the industry and what strategies did she use, and how do you handle certain situations. I just like to help people out.
What is the most satisfying part of teaching future professionals?
A lot of freshmen want to be an agent, a general manager, athletic director and all the tv jobs. What’s satisfying for me is when someone take’s my class and sees that venue management has so many things constantly going on and makes everything work perfectly. Once that light bulb goes off and they think ‘Hey, this might be something I want to do’. It’s interesting and it’s in sport and entertainment.
I’m then able to connect them to people for them to get an internship. I just had a student who got a position in venue management in her home state of Colorado. She didn’t know that was an option until she got to our program. So teaching that next wave is great. I also thought, like to teach life lessons and prepare students for the next level. I’m a big proponent for being on time. If an assignment is due at 8:05 and you get there at 8:06 you’re late. I have to be a drill sergeant. Especially since I’m instructing one very big class. I’ll get students involved too and one of them will yell when it’s 8:06 so they know that I’m not being picky and I’m like that with everyone.
My point though is tickets don’t go on sale at 8:06, they go on at 10:00 on the dot.
Sport business is about being on time and respecting people’s time. In the real world, you have to be on time. I just want young people to know that there are people like myself who are from the baby boomer generation and you have to impress my generation and we look at punctuality and work ethic and the younger generation isn’t in roles of power yet and they know how you work but we don’t. It’s life lessons like that. I also start my class with good news so we are all happy and share anyone’s good news. If someone says ‘ I have a job interview next week’, I’ll say, “do you know the interviewer’s dog name?”
They’re confused but I tell them that the level of research you need to do and I want you to do because you may not have experience of your competitors but you can control your level of preparation.
Even if you don’t get the job leave them with the impression that you were the most prepared. So when I get a letter at the end of a semester and they got job opportunities and they say it’s because I was prepared and I knew their dog’s name. That’s the best part because it shows me I’m getting through to these people. What would you say to a student or young professional who’s in a rough patch and are discouraged about their prospects in the industry? I would say is don’t chase the money. Find out what you’re truly passionate about. I use to say, when I was full time with venue management, ‘I would do this for free but my wife won’t let me’.
That’s why I’m thankful to still work for the Hornets because I can still go to games. When I was the manager of the Charlotte Coliseum, I’ve done a lot; the final four, ACC tournament for 12 years, All-Star Game, a visit from Mother Theresa. We’ve also had times when we had 600 people in a 24,000 person arena. You can put all the curtains up you want but people can tell it’s empty. But my point is, no matter what the event I get a certain charge in my body.
“That’s why I love the Hornets job. I get that feeling every once in a while and that’s where I found my passion and love. If you can find out what is really going to get you excited.”
That’s’ going to be a big plus. And wanting more money is on all levels. Professional athletes hold out for more money too. Unless you are at the top, you may never get paid what you think you’re worth. When we had a job application we got around 600. Out of those 600, there are probably a lot of qualified people. So there are a lot of people wanting the same job and you’ll never get paid what you think you’re worth when there is that type of competition out there.
“Never chase the money. Chase the passion. The money will come at some point. If you’re chasing your passion you’ll probably be pretty good at it and you’ll get recognized for it. But, it requires sacrifice.”
When your friends are going to Las Vegas and they get more money than you and you get paid less and work on the weekends because the rodeo is in town, you feel upset. But when the ACC tournament is in town and your buddies are saying how lucky you are and how much they dislike their job. You’re doing it because you love it.
Also, always think about being an entrepreneur. Because there aren’t enough jobs, but millions of opportunities. Utilize your skillset to create your own business. I was with my nephew watching the news and the meteorologist said it’s going to rain and there is a big race this weekend. I said to my nephew “how can we make money off of the race?” he looks confused and I said “ what do people need when it rains?” he said “umbrellas”. I then said, “let’s go buy 500 umbrellas and charge $5 when it’s overcast”. “
If starts to sprinkle, charge $10, when it starts pouring, let’s charge $20”. Just get them thinking of these little things and help people understand entrepreneurship.
Why would you say sport management is a better post-secondary path than another business path? I would say it’s more fun. I love to have fun. I sometimes start classes with funny videos and I have a dance at the end of each semester called “The Tooty Ta” by Dr.Jean.
I’ll have a question on the exam about the Tooty Ta [laughs].
I do the Tooty Ta at business public speaking events or corporate events too. If they don’t like it, I pack up my suitcase and head out because it ain’t going to be a good gig. At the Hornets, for my birthday, I had my young co-workers ring bells and proclaim “Sporty’s here, Sporty’s here!”. Just making people have some energy and fun because this is sports and entertainment. So if you approach it with the right mentality it’ll be fun. You are working in sports and entertainment. It’s great!
Do you have any quotes you live by that help you stay motivated?
I have so many! I have a book of quotes. There are sixty that I really enjoy. One is attention to detail. If someone spells my last name with a G instead of a J.
Sport Jeralds: Author of 4 Successful Books
1. The Champion In You, Let Your Light Shine
2. Follow The Bouncing Ball
3. From The Locker Room To The Classroom.
4. Public Assembly Venue Management: Sports, Entertainment, Meeting, And Convention Venues.
They aren’t getting the job because they’ll also have to build a stage to our guest’s requirements and if they don’t exactly build it, that’s bad. You have to pay attention to.
One from my book that I really love and has driven me throughout my life is
“Are you willing to do the things today, that others won’t do. So that you can have the things tomorrow that others won’t have.”
That can be volunteering, instead of hanging out with your buddies. Get that experience. Be forward-thinking about trying to find an internship at pro sports instead of waiting until the last minute and you’re stuck at your old school when you wanted pro sports. So always, ‘Are you willing to do the things today, that others won’t. So that you can have the things tomorrow that others won’t have’
My interview with Sporty Jeralds is full of tremendous insight. This insight is not limited to being about community relations for the Charlotte Hornets, which dates back to their first expansion. From sharing speaking icebreakers such as the Tooty Ta to top quotes to valuable lessons on establishing a career in sport, my interview with Sporty Jeralds was a blast. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d love to be in class regularly. I felt like talking to Sporty for an hour didn’t do any justice. I am so appreciative of the time he gave me and the incredible advice he provides to our audience. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Adonis “Sporty” Jeralds