Andrew Karson graduated from Michigan in 2004 with a degree in Sport Management. He began his career as an ad sales assistant at Discovery Communications before earning his Masters in Sport Business form New York University.
Andrew joined Madison Square Garden as Client Services Coordinator in 2007 and has since then been promoted to Manager of Strategic Partnerships, Director of Partnership Strategy and his current vice president role.
MSBC: Will you give an overview of your background and Michigan career?
Karson: I was a Michigan undergrad, started in 2000 and graduated in 2004. I was in [Kinesiology] as a Sport Management major. The program was probably a little different than what it is for you guys now. While I was in school, I interned with the hockey team at Yost Arena and I also interned for the Mets the summer going into my senior year. Then I graduated in 2004 and I ended up working in the entertainment industry for two years at Discovery Channel. Then I decided I wanted to get back in sports, ended up going to grad school at NYU for Sports Business and then shortly thereafter got a job at MSG and I’ve actually been here now for about six and a half years.
MSBC: What are some of your past and current responsibilities at MSG?
Karson: I’ve actually had five total jobs at all different levels here. I started as an intern while I was in grad school and then I was Coordinator, Manager, Director and now Vice President. I’ve been in some realm of sponsorship throughout, but the department has evolved a good deal over time. Most currently, I work in our Marketing Partnerships group on the account management side. Now I’m a vice president and I have a team of three people working for me. We manage several of our marketing partnerships here at the Garden across everything we own — the teams (Knicks, Rangers and Liberty), our entertainment venues and assets like Radio City Music Hall, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Beacon Theater, Chicago Theater & the L.A. Forum (which we just purchased) and then across our media properties like MSG Network and all of our websites, etc. My team’s primary focus is our Marquee Partnership with JPMorgan Chase.
MSBC: What are the primary differences between sports and entertainment partnerships?
Karson: It’s very unique and I think one of the things I love about MSG is that working on the accounts I manage, I get to have a taste of all of it. Looking at the different partnerships, like using Chase as an example, on the sports side they’re the Presenting Partner of the Kicks and the Rangers. It’s probably similar to what a lot of teams do, but it’s just a larger scale potentially because of the fact that we’re in New York and we’re just integrated really deeply there. That’s seasonal and it’s more easily defined around the team’s seasons, when we should be activating and when things need to launch. Then on the entertainment side, we own a property called the Radio City Christmas Spectacular that is fairly similar to the teams where it’s seasonal, more clearly defined and typically we’re doing activations and then trying to improve, grow and expand it the following year. Then on the other side of the entertainment business — our bookings business — it’s vastly different. There it’s mostly about concerts and family shows. We’re booking events across several venues that we own and there it’s a case-by-case basis. If we’re going to work with a promoter of a family show or an artist around the concert, everything is going to be completely from scratch based on the relationship we have and what our client is looking to do with them. It’s a very different business. Even working at the same company, the types of things that I’m working on the sports side versus the entertainment side are often vastly different. It requires us to help educate our clients around the fact that their integration with MSG around the teams versus their integration on our concert side will likely be dramatically different.
MSBC: What role are you playing in the Transformation project?
Karson: I’m working extensively on that right now, so this summer has been unique for me because typically we’re our quietest over the summer. My department overarches the entire company, but for the most part we work most heavily on sports, so the teams are quietest over the summer. But this summer has been unique because my partners are very heavily integrated into the third stage of the transformation here. For Chase we are working on two major new assets — Chase Square, which is the new entry way to the Garden and a lot of the stuff going on there and then the Chase Bridges, which will be suspended over the interior bowl on either end. It will be a very unique viewing experience unlike anything you probably have anywhere else in the country or maybe the world, and there will actually be several rows of seats on the bridges. I’ve been working pretty extensively with Chase to figure out what that all means and it’s a unique challenge, knowing that we can’t necessarily get in the building during the construction and have the clear visuals of what that’s all going to look like.
MSBC: What are the most important assets to MSG?
Karson: Well, I think what differentiates us is the fact that we operate across the three worlds. We’re a sports company. We’re an entertainment company and we’re a media company. The ability to connect the dots between the three is where I think we can really bring value to our marketing partners. I also think we’re unique because we’re not just a regional company. Although we’re definitely strongest in New York, we have the ability to bring our sponsors out to Chicago at the Chicago Theater, to L.A. with the L.A. Forum. We have a relationship with Wang Theater in Boston. We go to theater markets with the Christmas Spectacular every year. We have more of a national reach than most local/regional arenas or teams do.
MSBC: What piece of advice would you offer students looking to break into the sport industry?
Karson: I would say just focus in on what you’re most passionate about. Initially, try to get your foot in the door. It’s an unbelievably difficult business to get into and you need to hustle and network and use any connection you can to get you somewhere where you can make a name for yourself or at least just get to know people. And then beyond that, I would say to take it all in. Even if your initial job is in sales or marketing or operations or whatever it may be, try to get a wider view of the business and meet people in your company that work in different areas. … What becomes important is that you find the right niche for you and what you’re most passionate about and try to make that into your area of expertise. Being able to differentiate yourself and your skill set(s) is a key to your success in this business.
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