The Best Network in Sports
Written by Michael Orrange / Art by Graciela Demerath
University of Michigan students quickly learn that they are connected to a global Wolverine community boasting over 600,000 living alumni, and students have relied on these networks for invaluable support both during and after their time at U-M. At the School of Kinesiology’s Sport Management Program, a group of alumni fully embrace that Michigan spirit and have turned their passion for U-M into support for students.
When Matt Kauffman (AB ’90) was a student at the University of Michigan studying marketing and advertising, he admitted he had no knowledge of the sports marketing industry. In fact, Matt wouldn’t discover the field until years after his time at Michigan, but that late start would not hold him back from a successful career. He would go on to play key roles in the industry, developing partnerships at General Motors, Visa, and Intel. Now, as the Vice President of Consulting for The Montag Group—a full-service sports marketing agency—and co-chair of the School of Kinesiology’s Sport Management Advisory Board (SMAB), Matt works with companies to achieve their marketing goals through sport partnerships and helps U-M students launch careers in the world of sports.
The SMAB is a collection of dedicated alumni and other industry leaders who have set out to provide the Sport Management Program with a rewarding mentorship experience for students and partnership for faculty. As co-chair, Matt helps provide industry expertise to faculty as they create curriculum in addition to connecting students to meaningful opportunities.
Matt proudly professes the mantra of the SMAB, “Michigan is the best network in sports.” Drawing on their shared knowledge and connections across the industry, the board has made an ongoing commitment to create and connect students to a pool of internships, with the goal of providing internship access to every student in the program.
Beyond the mentorship and knowledge the SMAB provides, the board decided that they could take their support even further by creating a scholarship for students in the Sport Management Program. Each year, the SMAB scholarship provides financial assistance to two students to help fund their U-M education. Matt says that speaking with scholarship recipients at SMAB meetings has been a highlight of his time on the board, and reminds him of why he and his wife, Christy, gave to help make the scholarship a reality.
“It’s very gratifying for all of us on the board when we get to hear stories, meet students, and realize that without this scholarship, many of them wouldn’t have had this opportunity. You realize that you can really impact someone’s life,” Matt said.
Christian “Teddy” Bolin (AB ʼ20) will tell you without that support he may not have made it to campus. A Michigan fan since day one, he beams while reminiscing about childhood football Saturdays decked out in his U-M Starter jacket.
But as the clock was winding down on Teddy’s senior year of high school, he found himself at a crossroads. U-M had always been his goal, but Teddy was unsure of how he could make it work financially. Soon, news that he received the Sport Management Advisory Board Scholarship landed in his inbox.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Michigan, but I didn’t truly consider it to be possible until I got the scholarship. Getting the scholarship was an awesome experience,” Teddy said.
In those first few months as a Kinesiology student, Teddy remembers being blown away by the attention and insight he received from members of the SMAB. Beyond financial support, Teddy said board members gave him an understanding of the mentality it takes to be successful in the sports industry. Through connections within the program, he eventually found a job as a student manager for the Michigan football team and, after graduating, has worked his way up to become a coaching intern.
“I didn’t anticipate getting into coaching,” Teddy said. “I thought I wanted to be an agent, a front office executive, or even in marketing. But with this scholarship, I was able to make it to Michigan and find my path as a manager.”
Teddy has high hopes for a career in coaching, but for now, he’s just happy to be serving the team he’s always rooted for and to have had the chance to work during a season like no other.
Brendan Sanders (AB ʼ20), also a recipient of the SMAB scholarship, still remembers the surprise he felt when he first heard the news. He said he’s been grateful to have the support, but what he appreciates most about the board is the unique level of attention given to each student.
“They are there for you in any way that you can possibly imagine, and then some,” Brendan said. “They not only support your education, but they also help you navigate a successful path toward your career. They helped me find some of my best internships, and I still keep in contact with them to this day.”
Over three summers, Brendan worked for the Detroit Tigers’ and Red Wings’ charitable foundations before working at the league level with the NFL. He said these experiences, coupled with the support he received, have had a huge impact on his career ambitions.
Now, he’s looking to continue working at the intersection of sports and philanthropy, helping teams support their surrounding communities. Inspired by the board’s support, Brendan hopes to one day start his own scholarship, paying forward that gift to the next generation of students trying to break into the industry.
As the School of Kinesiology ushers in its next chapter, including making a home in its brand new building, the Sport Management Advisory Board remains dedicated to finding new ways to support students, faculty, and the administration. The SMAB scholarship will always be at the heart of its legacy, forever ensuring that U-M remains the best network in sports.