It’s just a typical day at the office when Walter Mannino ’09 arranges a special high-five, a coveted autograph, or a prime spot on the warm-up bench.

But to the clients he represents as an account experience specialist with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, it’s a memory they’ll never forget.

Mannino manages a portfolio of more than 300 business/premium and individual ticket accounts. On LinkedIn, he describes his job as “maximizing the season ticket-holder experience.” That means thinking up new and creative events like the “high-five kids,” which gets younger fans out on the court to greet the players.

“We want to ensure they have a great experience, give them the ‘wow’ moments,” he said. “We ensure they are getting great memories so that when they grow up, they bring their kids.

“I try to make sure my accounts take a memory from each game. During yesterday’s game, we got to bring in some kids for the bench warmer program. They got to sit on the bench and watch the players warm up right on the court. To see the excitement the kids get when they get that close to the players was great. We want them to feel like they got an amazing experience.

“Saint Mary’s helped me in that respect. You have that personalized experience at Saint Mary’s. I want to pass that along and show people as many personalized experiences as I can.”

Mannino admits, like most college students, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study when he first came to Saint Mary’s, but looking back, majoring in sports management was a slam-dunk.

“I realized that I’ve been a sports fan my whole life. I love athletics,” he said. “The sports management program was fairly new at SMU, and I wanted to know about the business side of sports. I knew there were a lot of opportunities in that field.”

Mannino transferred to Saint Mary’s after two years of college. He played tennis while continuing his studies and got to know the Business Department faculty.

“Students should talk with a lot of professors,” Mannino advises, “They have a lot of connections and know a lot about the business world and sports world. Really try to learn more. Once you get out of college, it opens your eyes as to how important the connections you’ve made are.”

Following graduation, Mannino interned at Saddlebrook Resorts in Tampa, Fla., again mixing his two passions: sports management and playing tennis. There he was able to work with professional athletes like Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard.

Continuing to play tennis, he moved to Charlotte, N.C., and Richmond, Va., where he worked at country clubs, again putting his sports management experience to good use by serving as the director of tennis.

But Mannino heard the call of the NBA. “I wanted to be more on the business side of sports, and I had a big passion for the NBA and basketball and sports in general. It’s a very competitive field, so I decided to get a master’s degree in sports leadership at Duquesne University.

“And I looked for a good opportunity to get my foot in the door with professional sports teams. I applied all around the country,” he said.

His big break came with the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock in 2012. “I was one of the people who was chosen to start their inside sales program,” he said. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I took the position, and got promoted after four months to an account executive, also on the sales side.”

His work didn’t go unnoticed. He was quickly recruited to move to Austin to work with the Texas Stars and for his current position with the Phoenix Suns this past June.

“I made some good connections and was contacted by the vice president of sales at the Suns,” he said. “He saw I had done well in Texas and Tulsa and really wanted someone committed to the industry.”

Mannino said he enjoys the fact that every day his job is a little different, and he recommends students interested in the field be able to communicate effectively. Being well spoken, he said, will help them stand out in a highly competitive field.

“(Students) have to get involved and find people in the industry and really talk to them, do internships, network, ask questions,” he said. “I think it’s a great career; there are so many things you can learn. You can really do some great things in this industry.

“I’m creating memories for fans; this is something that they’ll be able to remember for the rest of their lives. You don’t really realize how much of an impact that you can have on people’s lives. I’m glad I chose to major in sports management at Saint Mary’s, and I love that I graduated from there.”

This article, written by Deb Nahrgang, was previously published in the Spring 2014 Saint Mary’s Magazine.

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