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Internships help Riley get started in sport industry

Sports were an integral part of Makayla Riley’s life growing up in Landover, Md. Her father coached the youth football and basketball teams, and for her part, Riley participated in gymnastics and dance growing up. She also was the team manager for both the football and boy’s lacrosse teams.

It was primarily through the success of West Virginia University’s football and basketball teams that she became aware of the school she would eventually attend.

Her passion for sports and her willingness to pursue internships while studying sport management at WVU has helped her get her foot in the door with the Washington Commanders.

While she had always been involved in sports and loved being around them, it was her high school English teacher who helped her find a way to see a possible career in sports.

“Ever since I was in kindergarten, I was telling people I wanted to be a lawyer,” she says. “During my freshman year in high school, my English teacher asked me what kind of lawyer I wanted to be. He noticed I was wearing a Carolina Panthers hat, and he asked me if I liked sports. I told him I loved sports and grew up with them. He said I should think about becoming a sports agent. So, I went and looked up degrees that could lead to being an agent and saw sport management listed.”

It didn’t take much for Riley to make the connection with the program she wanted and the school she’d seen be so successful on some of the biggest athletic stages.

“When I saw that West Virginia offered sport management, I knew it was my chance," she says.

Riley's willingness to take on internships and seek out opportunities helped her gain practical experience and insights into the different aspects of sports. She worked with the Mountaineer Athletic Club for premium seating and the athletics marketing team while at WVU. She also worked with Elite Tournaments, which operates lacrosse and soccer tournaments across the country, as a site coordinator and field marshal. Those experiences allowed her to get a much more up-close look at what went into putting on athletic events.

"It gave me more of an insight into the different aspects of sports,” she says of her experiences. “Growing up, you go to games, and you see them on TV, and that’s it. Now that I’ve seen the background and had a little bit of a hand in it, I see what people actually do to make the games happen. I see how teams and games are marketed and branded to get fans to come to their game."

In addition to the actual work, Riley has also reaped the benefits of being able to find and pursue potential opportunities. That tenacity helped her find a spot with the Washington Commanders.  

"I really wanted to find a position with the Carolina Panthers, so I searched jobs and internships in the NFL,” she says. “I saw that the Washington Commanders were hiring for a position in guest services, and since they are just up the street from my house, I applied. I got a job with them and have been working with the team since November.

“Even if the job doesn’t seem fun or exciting, try for it anyway,” she advises. “Students should try to get their foot in the door because you might meet somebody who can help you find something you do like and are interested in and further your career."

While her ultimate dream of becoming an agent and starting her own company is still alive, she plans to take small steps along the way to help her learn more about the sport industry. Being within walking distance of the Commanders’ headquarters from her home in Landover, she intends to take classes online to allow her to continue to work and graduate in December. She’ll then take some time away from school before applying to law school.

Breaking into the business world of sports can be difficult, but Makayla Riley is proof of what can happen when students seize one (or a few) of the opportunities that present themselves.   

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