This past week I had the unique opportunity to interview Ashley Yencho. Prior to working behind the scenes at collegiate sporting events, she was a college athlete herself. She was a four-year letter winner in basketball at American University. Ashley is currently the Director of Athletics Marketing at Stony Brook University and has had past game day and marketing experience with Arizona State, Bradley University, and The University of Buffalo.
In my interview with Ashley, we talked about her love of team sports, her role at Stony Brook University, the challenges and benefits of the job, and her future career aspirations.
Were you always interested in sports or was it something that you gravitated towards as time went on?
Yea, I mean sports is definitely something that has been a part of my life for a very long time. You know, since I was able to pick up a ball and run with it at the same time.
I grew up playing pretty much every sport possible and I honestly just love the teamwork aspect, I’ve never played an individual sport, I’ve always played a team sport where I’m surrounded by people that have the same interests and want to accomplish the same things.
Was there someone in particular that got you into sports, or was it something that happened naturally?
I think it was something that happened naturally, neither of my parents pushed sports. My sister is a dancer and a cheerleader so no one else in my immediate family was into sports. My cousins played sports, but I think I just picked it up and fell in love with it on my own.
What made you want to work in sports for your career?
Honestly, after I graduated from college I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I had an inkling that I wanted to work in sports but I didn’t have any idea how the industry worked in general.
I ended up falling into a full year administrated internship position at Buffalo and that position was only offered to young females which I thought was really cool. It was just a nice opportunity for a young female to get used to the working world and figure out which direction she wants to go in.
So, that was helpful for me because I got to sit in on some senior executive meetings which was a great introduction for me. I took the minutes for those meetings, so I had all of the senior administrators sitting around the table and I took the minutes for what they talked about and obviously, there is confidential information in those meetings. So, it was really good practice for me to start hearing those types of things and how decisions are made and how to be professional about it.
And then from there, I fell into the marketing side of it, it was just one of the branches of opportunities I had there and found out I was very interested in the game day entertainment aspect.
Can you take me through a normal day in the life of a Director of Athletics Marketing?
No day is the same, but pretty much every day what we are trying to do is make sure that everything we post on social media, every ad that I post on Facebook and our other avenues, every video we create encompasses three things: generating revenue, helping with recruiting, and also enhancing our brand. Those are the three pillars that we make sure we cover every day with everything that we’re doing.
On a typical day, I will check my emails, make my to-do list for the day, see what carried over from the day before, and then we’ll have meetings with our communications staff, our ticketing staff, then I will meet with my two graduate assistants pretty much every day. We don’t have a specific meeting time but that is because we pretty freely discuss what we need to. Some days consist of going out and filming some stuff, today our crew is out filming some stuff with men’s lacrosse, and tomorrow evening we are filming with our women’s lacrosse players.
Each day could be a majority of things, tonight, as a part of a bigger initiative myself some of our women’s basketball players, and other administrators are heading to an event for A World of Pink, which is our really big partner for Breast Cancer Awareness games for women’s hoops. So, they come help out at our games and create some buzz.
The woman who owns the company (Christine Guarino) purchased the pink jersey’s the players have worn the past two years and she actually bought them pink shoes this year and she actually made a donation to our football program. She’s just really involved so the way we give back to her is we attend some of her events, we have our student-athletes come out to represent, so it is really a nice partnership we created.
Is there one thing that you are most proud of to this point in your career?
I would say there is a lot of things but I will relate it back to that relationship with A World of Pink. You know, having worked in this field for almost 8 years, everyone has those charitable events that they try to tie into those games. I’ve never had the opportunity to create one that means something to someone. Everywhere I’ve been we host pink games, so you usually host one for women’s basketball, but I’ve never had a coaching staff or someone on the administrative staff that is into the whole breast cancer awareness functions and raising awareness and all that.
One thing that I was able to start here is just that I was able to inspire, I think, our women’s basketball team, our coaching staff and some of our administrators to really hop on board with Christine Guarino and A World of Pink.
It was honestly a dumb luck relationship. I ran into her the first year we hosted the pink game, I worked really heavily with our University medical folks and they introduced me to her and said that I might want to chat with her (Christine Guarino) she has a pink organization, and I know her son plays football, so maybe talk to her. From there on I just took it and ran with it.
The past three years we’ve hosted our Breast Cancer Survivor brunch where we invite survivors and they come for free and then their families can pay 10 dollars and they come to the brunch, which is pregame and we do a pregame ceremony and the brunch for them. Then during the game, we intertwine that throughout the game. It has been our highest profiting game the last three years and it has been awesome. The women’s basketball team has taken a hold of that relationship and I think it has inspired a lot of people.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is being able to fill the stands for our student-athletes because a lot of times, unlike our women’s lacrosse team which is doing really well right now, there are a lot of ups and downs in a season. It’s hard for student-athletes to stay positive when they’re not winning and not getting a lot of attention, but if you can pack a game for them, and they run out of a stadium for the first time it’s just like: “oh my gosh there are so many people here, this is awesome.” It just emits the kind of energy and pride that can kind of fluctuate throughout the season. So it is awesome to be able to do that, I mean hopefully more than once a year, but as much as possible.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of your job?
I think the hardest part is just the time. If you want to do things well you have to be present at a lot of events, so yea that’s just the hardest thing. Just this past weekend we had women’s lacrosse of Friday, men’s lacrosse on Saturday, and women’s lacrosse on Sunday and then we get right back into the work week. Sometimes the weekend can be long, but definitely worth it. It’s not really a challenge but sometimes it gets difficult.
What is your dream job and why?
I would say right now my dream job would be a Senior Woman Administrator, which is typically related to a S.W.A. So basically, I would love to have a combination of a S.W.A and a student sport administrator kind of role.
That role is acting as the behind the scenes person making sure all the teams are running smoothly, are on budget, they have all of the tools necessary to succeed, they are traveling, making sure we are scheduling the best possible opponents at the best possible times, and making sure all Title IX issues are resolved and making sure everything runs smoothly.
Do you have any advice for those trying to get into the business of sports?
I would say the most important thing to do, is once you make a connection, keep that connection. People don’t like making connections and then not communicating for awhile and then that person ends up asking “hey can you be a reference for me” or ” hey can you do this for me”. It just helps if you keep up those relationships and show that you are going to be involved and you are not just going to call someone later for a reference.
So it’s really just the little things, keeping them in touch, and just every once in a while reaching out and saying “Hey, I’m just seeing how you’re doing” because this industry is just very small. If you stay in it you’ll notice that. So, let’s say you are applying for a job once you graduate, I would tell you to stay in touch with me because the chances are where you apply, I might not know someone, but I might know someone that does know someone that works there. That’s just how small of an industry it is.
It is a small industry and a great industry, just make sure you don’t burn any bridges and be the best professional that you can.
That was the end of my interview with Ashley and the biggest takeaway I had from talking with her was how passionate she is at what she does. Just from the sound of her voice, I could hear the enthusiasm she has about her job and everything she does.
She has already accomplished some great things in her short time in collegiate athletics, but if that interview was any indicator of her future success there will be a lot more happening in her career, sooner rather than later.