Mike Scharfenberg ’20 says his professors taught him to focus on the small details, in his coursework and in his quest for an internship and a career in the field, and the lesson has paid immediate dividends.
April 17, 2020
When Mike Scharfenberg ’20 was seeking an internship with the New York Yankees, competing with close to 3,000 people for the position, he thought about what his sport management professors told him about being resourceful and finding a way to stand out.
Paying attention to even the smallest details and making personal connections, they told him, make a difference in the field of sport management, particularly in the quest to attain an internship or a job.
In a final round of interviews with the Yankees, Scharfenberg heard everyone describing themselves as hard workers. He didn’t go that route.
“I like to say that I make an impact, that I want to leave a legacy wherever I’ve been, and I try to make it known that I was there,” he says.
He landed the internship, “a dream” for a lifelong athlete, sports fan – and Yankee fan. He spent last summer working in ticket sales for one of the premiere sports franchises in the world, making 120 cold calls a day, creating personal connections with potential customers because, he says, “I’m not selling a ticket. I’m selling an experience.”
When he needed a quick break from the calls, he’d walk out of his office, take two turns, and stare out into the expanse of the empty stadium.
He loved it.
Now, Scharfenberg has realized a new dream: last month he was hired as an inside sales representative by the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals, a position he selected from six job offers he had received. He plans to move to D.C. shortly after he graduates, and he’ll begin his position in June.
‘You’ve got to get the juices flowing’
Scharfenberg says the lessons he learned at the University helped him get to the Big Leagues. “Through the various courses I took, I developed outstanding time management, verbal and non-verbal communication and problem-solving skills,” he says.
His sport management professors urged him to be creative, whether tackling an assignment or a major project. They’d give him ideas but, he says, they let him figure out how best to get there. That pushed him to strategize as he began his job search last fall.
He knew he wanted to work in Major League Baseball, so he searched for and found the names of the sales managers at teams across the league. He messaged them on LinkedIn, letting them know he was a college senior, that he had interned with the Yankees, and that he was the project manager in sales for GamePlanU, a startup founded by another of his mentors, Rob Thompson ’90, director of development for the University of New Haven.
Scharfenberg asked each sales manager if they would “hop on a quick call” with him so he could learn more about their sales department.
Almost every one of them said yes.
“Nobody else was doing that,” he says. The messages led to phone conversations, interviews with MLB teams, and, later, multiple job offers.
His interview with the Nationals lasted seven hours, including three hours of cold calling sales leads so the leadership team and sales manager could hear how he and all the others interviewing communicated. On the calls he told the prospective clients, “It’s my first week here. I’d love to hear your experience from this World Series run. As a Connecticut guy, I didn’t really get to feel that. Tell me how it felt.”
He could feel the connections he was making. “You’ve got to get the juices flowing and get people to relive their memories,” he explains.
‘The University of New Haven was everything I could have hoped for – and more’
Scharfenberg says the circuitous journey he took to get to this point makes the outcome that much sweeter.
He grew up in Newtown, Conn., a two-sport athlete in baseball and basketball, and decided to pursue a degree in physical education at Central Connecticut State University. Three years in, he realized teaching was not what he wanted to do. He left school and took a job selling memberships at Club 24 Concept Gyms, and he knew in the first five minutes that sales was his calling.
His investigation into degree programs in sport management programs ultimately led him to the University of New Haven, and he was quickly sold on its stellar reputation and how it would enable him to study the business side of sports.
“The University of New Haven was everything I could have hoped for – and more,” he says. He loved the department’s emphasis on experience-based learning. He went after every opportunity, and his professors noticed his drive right away.
“Mike has been focused on his future from the first day I met him,” says Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D., associate professor of sport management. “He understood the importance of hard work and recognized the relationships between what we as faculty do in class and how it would help him build a successful career. He took every assignment as an opportunity to build himself and prepare for the industry.”
She says Scharfenberg made “an incredible impression within the Yankee organization. His supervisor said Mike performed beyond their expectation and made the job look easy, while also lifting up his fellow sales associates and supporting the group for the collective goal.
“He relentlessly works, builds skills, and establishes relationships,” Dr. Mumcu continues. “I admire his passion and work ethic. It is no surprise to see him landing a job with 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals.”
‘I’m ready to get going’
In her classes, Kimberly Mahoney, Ph.D., CVP, associate professor of sport management, urges her students to be proactive and to take ownership of their education and career, and she says that’s exactly what Scharfenberg did.
“Michael is eager to learn, and his work ethic is second to none, but he is particularly adept at networking and creating opportunities,” Dr. Mahoney says. “We helped to provide the foundation through his education, but he took charge, developed the skills, and made it happen.
“He developed transferrable sales skills through his work with Club 24 Concept Gyms, which opened the door for his sales internship with the New York Yankees, and his work interning with the Hartford Yard Goats,” she continues. “Then, his proactive networking and engagement created meaningful connections throughout the industry, which directly resulted in numerous interviews and job opportunities.”
"Sports are about hope, it gives people a common reason to unite and come together." Mike Scharfenberg '20
Scharfenberg says he chose the Nationals from among his numerous job offers because he was “blown away by the leadership team.” He knew he’d learn from them and have opportunity for career growth. He is already shaping a five and a 10-year plan. Though he’s still a Yankees fan, he loved the Nationals’ scrappiness and the fight they showed throughout their championship run.
While the world has changed significantly in the short time since he accepted the job – with the coronavirus pandemic and with the baseball season on hold – Scharfenberg says he is confident that when sports do return, he will be able to remind his prospective clients about all that sports – and baseball – gives them and their clients.
“Sports are about hope,” he says. “It gives people a common reason to unite and come together.”
He is looking forward to getting to work. “I’m excited for the opportunity to continue my growth as a young professional by learning from some of the top sales executives in the sport industry,” he says. “I can’t wait for that first moment, walking into the stadium and saying ‘this is the start of it.’ I’m ready to get going.”