Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Caroline Fitzgerald, class of 2012, is the CEO and founder of Goals, the first sports marketing and sponsorship agency that is fully dedicated to women's sports. Caroline joins Following the Gong to discuss her story and inspire both entrepreneurs and interest in women's sports. She leveraged the opportunities of the Honors College to combine majors that fit her interests, earning a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from the Smeal College of Business, and a Bachelor of Arts in Women and Gender Studies with Honors from the College of the Liberal Arts. After participating in Club Basketball and serving on the THON executive committee as the 2011 Merch Director, Caroline walked us through her career from retail to nonprofits to ultimately turning her side hustle into her own business. Caroline's full bio and a detailed list of topics we cover are available in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's get into our conversation with Caroline, following the gong.
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Joining us from Pittsburgh is our first sibling of a previous guest, Caroline Fitzgerald. Now, as we usually do here on Following the Gong, I wanna start at the very beginning and tell us about how you originally came to Penn State.
Caroline Fitzgerald 00:02:04
Yes, Sean. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. It's such a pleasure to be here. How did I end up at Penn State? I mean, to give you the short version, I have a lot of siblings you just mentioned. One of them, two of my older sisters were at Penn State at the time, Jocelyn and Erin. And I'm the kind of person that likes to do what my big sisters do. Um, and just being around them, I got exposed to the college, got to see Dance Marathon, got to go to a couple football games, and I just really appreciated all of the opportunities that I saw at Penn State affording my siblings and I wanted something similar for myself. So that's a, a long story short, but I am grateful that I had two big sisters that kind of paved the way for me to end up, uh, at Penn State.
Excellent. I love the family element of your story and just I think that speaks to the connection here at Penn State. I think that's really special. I do want us to take a step back though, just so that this helps frame the rest of our conversation, given the theme of sports that's going to evolve throughout the time that we have here together. Could you share what activities you were involved with in your youth before coming to Penn State?
Absolutely, yes. Sports, as you alluded to, has always really been a really big part of my life. So it's a huge part of our family’s culture and identity. So I'm one of eight kids, so I feel like a way to keep eight kids entertained is to kind of send them outside and have them play sports. So we did a lot of that growing up. The first sport that I played was baseball, and I did so on an all-boys baseball team. So when it came time to sign, um, my brother Tanner and I also a Penn Stater, up, uh, for our first little league experience, there wasn't an all-girls baseball team, so my parents just went ahead and signed me up for the same team. So Tanner and I showed up and played on the Reds. So that experience was really ko- that was a big deal for me.
I feel like it informed really the rest of my life being in that space that was occupied by boys. I was the only girl. I even was the recipient of some taunting and some teasing because of my gender and boys saying that they were gonna beat us because I was a girl and all that good stuff. So that really lit a fire in me that I think informed a lot, a lot of my life, <laugh>, um, to this day. So played baseball, played basketball. There's always been a lot of girl power in my house, if you will. So I've always really identified as a feminist as soon as I understood what that word was. So, yeah, I, for me, I think sport playing, coaching, just being around it, spectating it, has just really been at the core of who I am as a person.
I would n not be surprised by that. Uh, we've referenced your sister Jocelyn, who was an early guest on the show, helped me pilot it, uh, in the early days, and she's an OB-GYN, so not surprising. Now I have to ask, you talked about your experience there in baseball. Did that influence your choice of major that you went into? How did you go about picking those?
Yeah, I wouldn't say the baseball specifically. So basketball ended up being my main sport of choice growing up. I am, I'm not very tall though, so <laugh>, you know, I, it came down when I was selecting, uh, my college. I had the choice to go somewhere and play division three basketball or come to Penn State and play D1 Varsity Club Basketball. And I really liked that option because I would be able to be at Penn State and do all the amazing things that happen in State College and still be able to play basketball. So when it came to picking my major, you know, I've always had this kind of idea in the back of my head of working in sport, doing something at the intersection of feminism and business and sports. And I, I, the dream job, I guess for me is always been to be the head of the women's department at Nike. And so you know, that was like pie in the sky. I'm like, okay, what, what do you do if you wanna be a woman working in sports? Go be the head of the women's department at Nike. So when it came to picking a major, I selected, I first got accepted into the Smeal College of Business, um, was very interested in marketing. I really was interested in the way that brands market to women. Jocelyn, my older sister, was a double major in biology and women's studies, and I was really interested in what she was learning. We would talk all the time about her classes and I thought, you know what, I'm really interested in women and gender studies as well, and I would like to double major and really take a feminist approach to my marketing business education. So those were the two majors. I thought, ‘Hey, I'm gonna, I'm gonna try these two and maybe these will get me a little bit closer on that path, that big goal of being the head of the women's department at Nike.’ And, uh, my career has certainly taken a bit of a different turn, but that's ultimately how I landed on those majors.
Well, it's no surprise that you then ended up in the Honors College because our students are incredible at pairing together unique combinations of majors that you at face value, if you're stereotyping things you might not lump together as things, you know, like you said, your sister did bio and women's studies, you did marketing and women's studies and really having a different perspective there with those combinations. Now you probably can guess where this is going, but I would love if you could talk about how you found inspiration to join the College and maybe walk us through as a more recent alumna, what was that process like, if there's any prospective students who could take something from that?
Yeah, so for me, I didn't even apply to Schreyer and the Honors College until I was a student at Penn State. So I applied after, I believe it was after my sophomore year to get in, um, as a junior. And the reason I was really interested in joining is because I wanted to do something official to blend my majors. So until that point, my marketing major kind of lived in a silo. My women and gender studies major kind of lived in a silo, and I knew I wanted to do something that really combined those two and something I could dig into. So the thesis was a great opportunity. I don't know if that's very common for people to, uh, want to join Schreyer in the Honors College so they can write a thesis. Um, but that was me. I really wanted to do something to formalize those two academic areas that I was digging into. So, um, I also saw the great experience that my sister Jocelyn was having in, in Schreyer. So I didn't know if I would be accepted, but I thought, you know what? I have this idea, I figured I might as well apply and see what happens. And I got in and I then got really activated and energized around the idea of what, okay, I'm in now, what is the thing that I can study? What can I do research on to blend these two majors that I'm working in?
So what was your thesis topic then? And talk us through that process. Obviously, I think you had a really good perspective as the opportunity that it is and not a burden, but walk us through that.
Yeah, so it had a lot of different ideas and I worked with a faculty both in the Smeal College of Business and in the Women's Studies Department at the time to come up with this idea. Ultimately, um, I worked with faculty in the women's studies department to, to narrow in on it, and I decided to do it on the marketing and advertising of the breast cancer movement. And I did it through the lens of a content analysis. And I we're recording this podcast in October, and this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. So this might be something everybody can open their eyes to. But I was really interested in the concept of pink washing and the way that everything around breast cancer awareness is marketed, and particularly how it's marketed to women and about women and how women are portrayed in these advertisements. So, you know, I dug into that and I did for content analysis. I looked at hundreds and hundreds of ads and articles and creative imagery of how brands show up when they're talking about breast cancer. And ultimately did that through a feminist lens to understand, you know, the impact on women and how brands were talking to and portraying women.
Was there anything surprising or anything, maybe to jump ahead a little bit for a moment, was there anything that you learned that you're applying in your career?
Yeah, you know, one thing that was surprising that I learned was, I think sometimes the intentionality, uh, in what brands were aiming to do, which was create awareness raise funds for breast cancer awareness. They were doing it in a way that wasn't always the most overall positive for women. And I'll give you an example. In a lot of cases, the advertisements were about women's body parts and not necessarily the women themselves. So you hear phrases and taglines like ‘Save the Tatas’ and a lot of things that are focused on helping save women's anatomy. In this case, of course, with breast cancer and not focused on there's this deadly disease living within women, we need to save these women. They are people, they're human beings. So there was a lot of objectifying, I would say, of women within this. So that was surprising to me. And, you know, or how I apply that to my career now, I think it's just really taking a woman's lived experience into account when you're speaking to them, you know, speaking to them as human beings. And you know, when we are right now, I, I work in women's professional sports, which I know we're gonna get into, but when we're marketing and advertising women's sports, it's yes, incredible athletic accomplishments, but it's also about the women behind these accomplishments, um, and what they do and how amazing they are as people. So I think, yeah, taking the entire woman's lived experience into consideration when creating marketing campaigns and advertising.
Excellent. And I hope that you listening do the same for other folks that you run across in different identities no matter what your career is. And speaking of that full lived experience, Caroline, when you shared what you were involved with on the questionnaire that I shared with you, it was a very long paragraph of all the things that you were involved with here on campus from Lion Ambassadors and THON and different things. So can you talk about how you found those passions outside of the classroom and balanced that with taking on the additional demands of joining the College as a third-year student?
Yeah, absolutely. I was really busy student at Penn State and the, again, the reason I wanted to go to Penn State is because there was a lot of opportunity for me to get busy and to get involved with a lot of different things. So I played, um, women's college basketball; was an RA in Residence Life. I was a Lion Ambassador, uh, helping introduce new students to Penn State's campus-campus and interact with alumni. I was involved with the Penn State Dance Marathon. I was a director of the merchandise committee my junior year, uh, was involved with the women and gender studies, the Women's Studies Honor Society through Tri-Ota. Just did a lot of different things. And again, that was what I loved so much about Penn State. And you know, as far as balancing all those things and making it all happen, those are the things that really gave me energy. Those where are the places where I found my friends and found the people that had similar interests. And, you know, that was just for me, that was my college experience bopping around from basketball practice to THON meeting to a Lion Ambassador tour. I just really enjoyed that. And you know, for me, I feel like it kind of gave me a taste of what life after college would be like, balancing a lot of different things. And, um, I think in that regard, Penn State really prepared me for the quote, real world.
Were there any strategies or tools that you used to try and keep track and balance all those? Because that's, that's a lot for anybody.
Absolutely. I was an early adopter, and I think I credit this to THON cause we were, um, big users of the Google Suite and it's something, it's a tool that I use with me to in my career to this day as we really used every tool possible within the Google Suite to stay organized. And, you know, and it made the learning curve a lot less for me when I got jobs later in life that used the Google Suite for the same thing. So I really learned how to use those basic tech tools through Google pretty early on to stay organized.
And there's two particular experiences I want to ask a little bit more about for different reasons. So first let's talk THON Merch. What was that experience like leading that committee? Obviously that's a huge part of raising the awareness and the, the brand portfolio for THON. Tell us what it was like, what you did, what your legacy was leading the, I think is, are you all the light pink? Is that the, is that the committee color?
Correct, yes. You know, I think, yes, Merchandise, I've always been, I mean, you heard me say wanted to be the head of the women's department at Nike. I really think that merchandise is an incredible tool, an incredible marketing tool to help spread awareness, um, about whatever the thing is you're trying to promote. And for THON, Merchandise is really special because it's a way that committees and groups and organizations show up and, uh, show their colors as part of their group. We mentioned Merchandise is light pink, we're really proud of that. All of the different organizations that fundraise have their own colors that they show up, um, to the BJC during THON weekend and wear. So, you know, I think it's this really important tool and when looking at the bigger picture of THON, it was an opportunity to not only contribute to the bottom line and help sell more merchandise and bring more money into the fight against pediatric cancer, but it was also a great opportunity to, for people, to buy merchandise and then go out as walking billboards for the cause. So I really, really enjoyed that. Uh, you know, my legacy, it depends who you ask <laugh>. Um, I would say a lot of people out there, I think they're still selling one of the color ways that I brought in from THON to this yellow one way over ordered it, it was like one of my biggest failures as a professional ever was I just did a really bad order of these yellow long sleeved shirts. So I, again, I'm pretty sure people on the Merchandise committee to this day will be like, oh my goodness, she's responsible for that yellow shirt. Um, so that was a lesson learned. But what I really tried to do was expand our product offering, help with our systems to streamline them a little bit. And the best part about THON was just getting to work with all the amazing people and being part of something so much bigger than your individual self. So, um, I just look back on that time really, really fondly.
Excellent. And now there's obviously the THON store in the HUB. I think that was a little bit after our time, but definitely a great build out from the work that you did. Now I also wanted to ask about varsity Club Basketball that you were playing. So I've had some football players on this podcast before who played D1 for the Nittany Lions, and that's an entirely different experience, but I don't think I've had anybody on here who's played club level sports. Can you talk about what the difference is there and how that impacted your student experience?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a really special offering that Penn State and other Division one athletic schools, many of them have across the country. So I, I mentioned this earlier, but for me I was probably good enough to play Division III or Division II basketball, uh, at a much smaller school than Penn State. So I liked the option at Penn State of playing Club Basketball because it is about the equivalent, I would say, of D II or D III. There's a lot of players like me or really strong players, but just, you know, quite frankly didn't have the chops to play D I. So I, I thought it was a really great option. Cause again, it offered a lot of balance. So Club Basketball, we practiced, I wanna say it was three times per week plus of course getting together outside of the gym to go work out and go to the weight room and all that. And then how it worked is we would travel to other Division I athletic schools like Johns Hopkins and Villanova and go play in tournaments or games on the weekends. So as, um, a varsity member, the travel member of the team, I would travel and play in all these tournaments and we would compete for championships like the Division I Club Basketball Championships, which are, which are at Maryland every year. So it was a really, really competitive and really great experience. We play against UNC and Duke and it was such a nice way to continue playing sport but not have it be totally consuming every single day [or] the core focus of my college experience.
Awesome. I learned a lot there. I hope you listening did too. Maybe you have some friends or if you're a prospective Scholar who's looking into that, I was curious on who you actually played, because obviously at the Big 10 level, big rivalries with Ohio State and Michigan and Maryland, but wasn't sure here if, you know, you were playing Pitt and Bucknell schools like that.
Yeah, all of those. It, it kind of depends on the tournament schedule for the year and the circuit and who puts the tournaments together. You know, I never got to play Pitt while I was at Penn State. That would've been very fun for me as someone who's from Pittsburgh. But my other sister Mara, who also went to Penn State and played Club Basketball, was the president of Women's Club Basketball for many years. They got to play Pitt. So it's evolving all the time. I'm sure it's evolved so much since I was a student over a decade ago. But, um, yeah, it's, it's very high caliber, highly competitive, uh, a lot of fun, great way to continue playing sports after high school.
And now if you're listening, you're like, Sean, can we ever get to what Caroline is doing now in life? And okay. I, I hear you. And we're gonna do that now. So Caroline, can you talk us through, after you had this amazing experience here at University Park, your job search: when did you start, how did you start and find the right fit for your first job? Not your dream job, but job one coming out of undergrad, and what advice do you have for Scholars who are in that position now or are soon going to be in that position?
Yeah, you know, I had a pretty easy time finding my first internship, which led to my first job. And that's because I leaned into the resources and the opportunities that the Smeal College of Business offered. So Smeal has a ton of partnerships with companies that they bring in. They do onsite campus interviews. They allow you to meet with industry professionals at a bunch of different companies. I think that's one of the greatest benefits of going to Penn State, is the ability to connect with companies to ultimately get a job when you come out. Um, and so I did that. I, I used all of those resources. For Smeal, I never traveled off campus for interviews. And so one of the partnerships that the College of Business had at the time was with Kohl's department stores. And Kohl's was offering onsite interviews. You could just sign up and have an interview for an internship. And I signed up and I attended that interview, <laugh> and I talked to them about my major, any, all the things you talk about in an interview. And then progressed to a second round and ultimately was offered an internship with Kohl's in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my home city, to work as a store management intern. I took that internship and did a good job at it, worked really hard. And then at the end of the internship, I was offered a full-time position. So I had a full-time offer from Kohl's before I even entered into my senior year at Penn State. And again, never had to leave campus to interview. So if I had to give advice to anybody, I would say lean into all of those opportunities that Penn State has. That's a huge, huge benefit that comes with attending a university like Penn State.
So tell us about those first couple of roles that you had with Kohl's once you moved from internship to full-time.
Yes. So I was a store management intern, like I said, and then I ended up graduating to their manager and training program as my first part of my first job with them, which was just like, it sounds a manager in training to become a store manager. So after I graduated from the m i t program, as they call it, I became a store manager at a store in a suburb of Pittsburgh. I did that for a few years. I, I enjoyed it. It helped me really learn a lot about the business, but ultimately, kind of coming back to my, my academic interests of marketing and women and gender studies, I knew I wanted to be working in marketing. So I had the opportunity then to be promoted at, at Kohl's, um, and move from Pittsburgh to their headquarters in Wisconsin in Menominee Falls, Wisconsin, which is right outside of Milwaukee.
Caroline 00:22:17 And I took a job with them as, as sales promotion marketing coordinator, which essentially was building the marketing campaigns for any big sales event that went across the whole company. So Black Friday, back to school shopping the week before Christmas, any big sales event, my team was building the nationwide campaigns that everybody saw. So that's where I really learned to be a practical marketer. Really, really enjoyed that. Got to put my marketing education from Penn State to the test. And then I've mentioned this a couple times, but being from Pittsburgh, I really missed my big family, missed Pittsburgh, so I left Kohl's. It was a really sad weepy day when I left Kohl's, a company that's been so good to me, um, over the start of my career. But I moved home to work for the HE History Center, which is a Smithsonian affiliated museum in Pittsburgh.
Caroline 00:23:10 And I became the director of public programs there, which was a little bit different, very different than what I had been doing at Kohl's, but of course got to apply a lot of the things that I learned and the things that I was doing. But I was creating events and campaigns to draw new and primarily younger audiences into the history center. We launched things like 21 plus nights at the museum, things like that to try to bring, at the time it was, we needed to bring more millennials into the museum. So worked on that and then found myself.
Sean 00:23:42 Is that, is that the, not to cut you off, but is, is that the one where they give you the little pickle pins?
Caroline 00:23:47 Correct. That's it, yes. The Hines yes, has all the, the big Heinz ketchup bottle and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. It's such an amazing place, learn so much there. Absolutely loved it.
Sean 00:23:58 If you're a scholar from the proverbial, either actually from Philly or the outside of Philly, as we all like to say, including myself, highly recommend if you ever find yourself in the other side of the state to check out that history center. It's, it's pretty cool to learn about the other part of the state that you may not be as familiar with when you're growing up with the Liberty Bell in your backyard.
Caroline 00:24:17 100%. Yeah. There's such rich history that you can learn about, about all of Western Pennsylvania. It's, it's a really remarkable, remarkable place. So yeah, love that. It was such a fun job. It was so fun to work there. Like what's not to like about coming into pickle pins every single day, except I was feeling that urge to get back into sports. You know, I, I feel like I had, I felt like I veered off from my original goal a little bit. So then I took a job. So I've had a windy career path. I'm almost to the end of it, but, um, I took a job working for the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, um, after I had kinda worked in a volunteer capacity with the race for a couple years and there was a job opening to do sponsorship sales for them. And I almost honestly didn't take the job at first.
Caroline 00:25:03 Cause I didn't, I had never done sponsorship sales. I didn't see myself as a salesperson. I wasn't, you know, on a golf course, shaking hands, wearing suits making deal. I just did I, that I had this perception of what a salesperson was, and I didn't see myself in that role. And luckily I had incredible mentors and people that would then become my boss that just explained to me that sponsorships are just marketing plans for brands that want to get involved with your team or event or whatever that thing is you're selling. So I took the position, loved it, ended up climbing the ladder there to become the senior vice president of partnerships. And, um, that's where I really got my, my sports sponsorship sales experience, which led me to ultimately starting my own business, which is what I do now. It's called Goal Sports. And I work on behalf of professional women's sports teams to help them sell sponsorships so they can get more revenue to do what they do in their respective sports. So that's a, a long story, long about my winding career journey, but it's been quite a path and I think every single one of those experiences has led me to this moment where I've been able to start my own business in a space that I've always kind of had my eye on since I was a little kid. And it, it feels really good to be at this point in my journey.
Sean 00:26:17 Excellent. And I wanna take some steps back and, and dig a little deeper now that we know how you got from Penn State to where you are today. Can you talk about, first going back to Kohl's for a second, you worked in the, in the actual retail setting in a store, and then you go to corporate headquarters. What is the difference like between those two settings? For, for working in, in retail,
Caroline 00:26:37 Very different settings. So the retail boots on the ground setting is really fast paced, dealing directly with customers every single day, working, managing a lot of different types of tasks. So you can go from one moment of being the front of house manager that's speaking to customers, dealing with compliments and concerns and talking to employees, to putting merchandise out on the floor, to digging into sales spreadsheets. It's a bunch of very different tasks that you're managing all the time. Uh, the marketing office is a lot more streamlined tasks. You know, you're putting a marketing plan together, you're having a meeting about the marketing plan, you're working with the graphics team to create the marketing plan. It's all like more of a all of kind of a linear workflow. Um, so those things are very different. I ultimately think that it made me a better marketer at the corporate office because I had had that practical experience in the store. I fully understood what the customer was thinking, doing, be how they were behaving. I understood how the challenges the employees face and what things worked well within the store. And there weren't a lot of people, quite frankly, that worked in the corporate office that had had practical in-store experience. So I felt like I was able in some ways to help bridge that gap between creating campaigns that would work and apply really well for customers and staff that were at the store
Sean 00:28:03 Level. Awesome. I think there's definitely something to be said for that level of authenticity and, and actual experience you can bring to a role like that. I find that I'm constantly leaning on my experience as a scholar working with our scholar alumni, so definitely would echo you there, Caroline. Now you talked about your, you shifted from this corporate retail environment to working in a museum. So obviously you said they were very different, but can you talk a little bit more about what those differences were and how you, how you personally adapted to that difference over time?
Caroline 00:28:33 Yeah, so yeah, very different just because of the very different industries. Also different because Kohl's is a major for-profit corporation. The Hines History Center was a not-for-profit museum. So different funding streams, different uh, stakeholders involved with seeing the success of the business. So, you know, for me, I think the biggest thing as far as marketing and events go, there's kind of a core, there are core strategies that can roll out across any single industry. Finding out what your customer, who your customer is, how they behave, what they want, and then creating products, services, marketing campaigns to meet their needs to help you reach your business objectives. So, you know, as far as what we are doing, the Xs and Os and not that different, definitely we're selling different things though instead of selling jeans and tops and, you know, small appliances, we're encouraging people to come see our exhibits, we're encouraging them to come and learn and, um, share in these different, you know, experiences within the museum. So I think the biggest shift for me was getting to know our customers and how different the, the customer base was for consumer products and goods and people that were interested in coming to a history museum to, to explore and learn.
Sean 00:29:50 And for the marketing students here, I'm gonna ask a really, really nitty gritty question here, but I imagine there was probably some differences in terms of how you approached the old adage of it's cheaper to keep a consumer than to acquire a new one, but you're probably going to Kohl's more often than you are to a museum. So how did you factor that framework into, into your work there?
Caroline 00:30:10 Yeah, that's something I still think about a lot to this day with my approach with sponsorship sales. It's a lot more cost efficient to keep a customer than to bring on some new business. But you know, one of the things that I was tasked with at the history center was trying to get one more visit per year out of our visitors. So what is an event that we can create that's gonna cause somebody to come twice to the history center that that year we get a lot of visitors that come that one time they wanna see that new exhibit that we pop up, come for the Christmas display, whatever, whatever that thing is, they're coming to see, what is something that we can do to make them drive one more visit. And if we can drive one more visit out of our giant loyal base of members and um, our audience, that's a huge deal for us. So, you know, that's something I thought a lot about is, yeah, what is the thing that's gonna make someone get in their car and come back to visit this history museum when they were here maybe a coup couple months ago.
Sean 00:31:07 Now I wanna talk about trying to your most recent and current roles and ask if there's scholars who are looking at roles, whether they are paid or perhaps volunteer with some of the organizations they may be involved with. Like Dawn that involves soliciting sponsorships from corporate entities, maybe some mid-level donors from foundations. What advice do you have for students to be successful in that kind of activity? Really
Caroline 00:31:31 Good question. You know, you're involved with, you want to do a good job, even if it's something that maybe you're not getting paid what you think you should be paid or it's not something that you see aligns directly with your big goal or your dream job, everywhere you go, you're leaving an impression and you're meeting somebody that you're probably gonna encounter again, <laugh>, at some point in your career, all you really have to, your name is how work you do, how hard you work and how what you were like to work with. So I would just encourage you, whatever that experience is, whether it's a volunteer or a dream high paid position, just do your absolute best and you know, just remember that people are gonna, people will remember how hard you work and what you did and your attitude while you did it.
Sean 00:32:19 Very, very true. Now let's get to your current role. And you kind of talked a little bit about this, but I wanna dive in deeper. Where did the inspiration to start working on this, and then what, I guess how did you actually decide to, you know, quit your nice title, nice pay presumably day job and take a full leap of faith into this new venture?
Caroline 00:32:37 Yes, it was, it was kinda a long time coming in a lot of ways. Again, always thought I wanted to do something at the intersection of feminism and sports and business. So in 2020 when the global pandemic hit and we were really at the height of it and, and working from home, I had the privilege and the, the ability to work from home for the Dicks Sporting Goods, Pittsburgh Marathon. Wow. We were all in lockdown. You know, I think I like a lot of people took a moment to just reflect and think, you know, if we ever get out of this pandemic, what do I wanna be doing <laugh> when I come out of this, what is, what is my greater purpose in life? So I was doing a lot of big thinking like that. What, what are the things that I wanna do moving forward?
Caroline 00:33:24 And you know, another thing that was going on at the time is you talked about how in college I was running around doing a lot of different things for a bunch of different activities. It's kinda how my professional life was, was as well sitting on boards and coaching basketball and working a full-time job running around doing a lot of things. So this is the first time and probably my whole life, but or not my whole life, but we'll say before Penn State, that I really was kind of stuck at home <laugh> and had to think about like, how am I gonna spend my time now that I have all this time on my hands? So one thing I started doing is I started watching women's sports and I was able to do that because for the first time in history, really you could watch the whole W N B A season through a streaming platform.
Caroline 00:34:07 So it was a 2020 W N B A season. And I started watching it and was absolutely blown away by what the players in the W N B A were doing. First and foremost, they were playing incredible basketball. I was blown away by their talent and what they were doing, especially in the face of a global pandemic. They were in a bubble in Bradenton, Florida trying to exist and play basketball in the face of this really scary pandemic. So that was happening. Number two, a lot of these women have children, they had their children with them in the bubble. So I can't even imagine I was having a hard enough time at home with my cat at the time, you know, trying to make sense of this world and stay safe during this pandemic. And they were playing basketball with their children, with them in the bubble.
Caroline 00:34:50 I was just so inspired. And then third, and I would say most importantly, the women of the W N B A dedicated the entire season to fight for racial and social justice. So they dedicated it to the Black Lives Matter movement and they had what I would argue is maybe the most politically charged sports season, maybe in the history of sport. They, what they did that season impact us senatorial election. Like they were just absolutely incredible in what they were doing. Uh, again, in the face of all of these obstacles. So I'm just so blown away by these women as athletes and individuals. And I was also noticing at the same time that as they're having this really politically active season, they're having record breaking viewerships sponsorship sales, merchandise sales. So these athletes leaning into their identity and who they are as inherent activists existing in, in sport was good for business.
Caroline 00:35:48 So I became really curious about this. I, you know, something that I always was a Penn State, you know, I feel like I'm a lifelong scholar and I love to learn. So I really wanted to learn more about this. So I'm going for a lot of walks at the time and runs and listening to podcasts. And I really wanted to listen to a podcast about this topic of, about the business side of women's sports and the intersection of female athlete activism and sports business. And I couldn't find one so busy Caroline kind of clicked into gear and I was like, you know what? I'm gonna start a podcast, so I'm gonna start talking about these and having these conversations. So starting a podcast called The Business Case for Women's Sports kind of became my, my covid hobby, if you will. Some people made banana bread and sourdough starters.
Caroline 00:36:31 And I decided I was gonna start a podcast. So I had this idea to start the podcast and then the marketer in me, it's like, Caroline, you cannot just start a pod who's gonna listen to your podcast? You have no audience for this. Maybe your sisters and your mother might listen, but you know who's gonna listen. So I started some social media channels to build an audience, start connecting with women's sports fans and industry professionals. So then when the time came to launch the podcast, a few people might listen to it. So yeah, started this podcast called The Business Case for Women's Sports, as I said, and invited leaders from the women's sports industry on to talk about what was going on in the industry, different case studies they had that worked in women's sports to drive business. And ultimately trying to create this compilation of episodes that if somebody came across it and listened to it, they would think, my goodness, it's really good business to invest in women's sports.
Caroline 00:37:20 If I'm a brand or a network or an individual, I should be getting involved with these in this space because yes, it's good for business and women athletes are amazing and why wouldn't we invest in them? So I did this for about a year, um, as I'm working full-time and my job with Ameri, which I loved, it was an incredible job, worked for an incredible team and you know, it just kind of clicked for me that maybe I could take my professional skillsets, my academic background, my personal passions, and bring it all together and start a business that would help bring more money into women's sports. It's a thing I was talking about on the podcast all the time. It's really the key that I think to creating an equitable sports world. There's a ton of disparities that exist in professional sports. Women's sports get 4% of media coverage and 1% of sponsorship dollars.
Caroline 00:38:07 So that means 99% of sponsorship dollars in sports goes to men's sports. So it occurred to me as I'm having these conversations that I could do something and let me try my company goals is definitely a not for or, um, I'm sorry, a for-profit company very intentionally because I really believe that women athletes and women's sports industry professionals should be making good livings like men in sports do. But it's very purpose driven. It is trying to bring more brand partnerships into women's sports so that women's sports can have more resources to do the amazing things that they do every single day. So that's the, that's the long story of goals, but that's how I came to sit in this, this chair today.
Sean 00:38:50 So what lessons have you learned so far that could be helpful for students who maybe want to, maybe not necessarily a sports marketing agency, but have some other kind of passion project that they want to turn into a startup?
Caroline 00:39:01 Yeah, for me it was a great way to start small. I would not have ever, ever in a million years just quit my job and said, okay, I'm gonna start goals now. I worked at it very hard. My day job with the marathon was my nine to five goals was my five to nine <laugh>. As I like to say, I worked really hard in my off hours in my spare time to build the podcast, to build the marketing channels. You know, it was my side hustle first in a really big way so I could prove that there was a demand there, there was a need there, there was something that I could do that could help, um, and actually would benefit people before I went all in. So for me that that worked really well. I was able to test it and try it out and really learn the market and learn the landscape before I decided to go all in on it. So that, that would be my advice is try it small <laugh>, try something small first and see how that go before you go all in. At least that's, that's what has worked for
Sean 00:39:58 Me. That is really good advice. Now, you've talked a lot about professional sports, but obviously I sit here recording this in my office at University Park and I'd be curious, do you think you'll venture into any name, image and lightness deals for collegiate athletes? Sean,
Caroline 00:40:13 That's a really good question. It's something I think about a lot and I get asked a lot. You know, for me right now, I don't think that is something that I'm gonna do because I think it's really important that college athletes see the pathway to professional sports and that opportunities for women athletes to monetize their sporting career don't just die off in college. I think it's really important that we build that infrastructure at the professional level for them to graduate from school and then go play in the W B A or the N W S L and make a living wage when they do that. So we're really focused on that professional infrastructure. It's such an exciting space. N i l especially for women athletes is a game changer, no doubt about it. For the first time in history we're we're seeing women athletes being able to monetize their sporting careers at the height of their media coverage and popularity. Um, so it's huge. It's, it's, it's really impacting the sports pay gap in a really big way. And I think we need to just keep that going. So again, it doesn't just end with college. So it's interesting, we're definitely keeping an eye on it as it's all part of the women's sports ecosystem, but really passionate about building that professional sport infrastructure.
Sean 00:41:27 That's a really interesting answer, Caroline. I think it really hits at kind of the idea of how can you serve a niche audience, audience really well? And if you're focused on professional athletes, you know, maybe you don't want to dilute your limited resources and attention to an entirely different audience that has different needs. So I think that's a really interesting answer. So thank you.
Caroline 00:41:43 Absolutely. Yeah, I, we'd rather just really help the one thing, um, in a big way than try to spread our efforts than like you said.
Sean 00:41:50 And speaking of that, where do you think or where do you hope you'll be in say, 10 years with this venture?
Caroline 00:41:56 I don't know, <laugh>, I dunno, I can't ask that question a lot. I have no idea. Sean. You know, one thing that I really hope that stat, 1% of sports sponsorship dollars goes to women's sports in 10 years from now, that number better be closer to 50. I'd like it to be all the way to 50, but if we are still sitting at 1% in 10 years, I will be very discouraged. I don't think we will be, we're seeing great momentum across the women's sports industry. But, you know, ideally goals is doing work that is contributing to that number being a lot greater than 1%. And that's all I can say because I don't know, I, this is part of my training at Penn State is I learned in marketing you need to listen to the customer and then create product that fits the market and the customer need. So goals could change a lot as the women's sports industry needs something else, the whole business could change to meet that customer and that, that industry needs. So, uh, I think we're gonna continue, of course to be in the women's sports space, but that certainly could evolve a lot, uh, over the next decade.
Sean 00:42:57 I think that's a great answer of being adaptable to the needs, but having a vision of where you're, you're aiming for at that, that 50% equity split. Now I have two questions before we go to our reflection questions that I asked everybody. And the first is because you live in Pittsburgh and there's a pretty good film scene, you had a pretty unique opportunity recently to grace the silver screen and that really ties back to our opening of this episode. Can you talk about that experience?
Caroline 00:43:21 Yes, it was absolutely the coolest experience of my entire life. And I don't say that lightly. The iconic movie, A League of Their Own with Tom Hanks and Gina Davis. Um, that was about, um, women's professional baseball, um, the All-American Professional Girls Baseball League at, during World War ii there was a re a reboot being filmed in Pittsburgh produced by Amazon Prime to basically create a, a series based on the movie. Um, and it was filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So as they're filming in Pittsburgh, they put out a casting call for extras to come and join the, um, cast as members of the baseball teams. So they needed to field four baseball teams, the Racing bells, the Rockford Peaches, the Kenosha comments, and the South Bend Blue Sox. Um, so they put out this casting call for women who had baseball or softball experience to come and try out to be on the teams to be extras in the background during the gameplay in the series.
Caroline 00:44:21 And I went and tried out and I made the team. It was actually a very special moment, um, cause the tryouts were on the fields that I played baseball growing up. So it was like this, this whole kind of full circle moment. And I made a team and then ended up going to fill in for a couple different teams. So I made the silver screen as, as you said, and got to be part of the All-American Girls Baseball League through this series. So you can see me up at bat on the Racing Bells in episode three of the series, which is out now, episode four. You see me on the Kenosha comments with a different hairdo in the dugout. Um, but it was really, really a special experience and really cool. And I, I mean that was my dream growing up, um, <laugh> other than being the head of the women's sports department in Nike, but to be part of a women's professional sports league. And I got to, got to live out that dream in a really little way, uh, last summer.
Sean 00:45:14 Now did they go modern and send you an email notification or did they do what they did in episode one and in the movie where they tacked up notes on a bulletin board for you to find?
Caroline 00:45:24 Yes, that would've been something special. I did receive an email <laugh>, I remember getting that email that said, welcome to the Kenosha comments. And I absolutely screamed and immediately called all my sisters and told them <laugh>, it was, it was quite
Sean 00:45:39 A moment. Well, at least you were able to bring up maybe FaceTime and chat them all instead of having to use the rotary phone and put a couple dimes in like your character would have. Now, I guess a wrap up to our main discussion, because I don't work in marketing and I don't work in women's sports, is there anything I should have asked you on all of these topics that I just didn't know to ask you that could be helpful for our students listening? Sean,
Caroline 00:46:00 You did great. You know, one thing I'd share with all of our students is, you know, one thing I was really hard on myself for, for a long time or, or really this last year since I've become a women's sports fan, really in the last year or two, I, I wouldn't have said before this, of course I was a fan from a distance, but now I am like a regular watch women's sports all the time and I'm like, why didn't I do this before? Why didn't I watch women's sports? I'm part of the problem of like not watching women's sports, but it occurred to me that I wasn't watching women's sports because women's sports weren't accessible to watch. You can't just flip on the TV and watch women's sports. It's, they get 4% of media coverage. It's simply not available. So I think I just wanna share that if you're someone that's like, oh yeah, I'd be interested in women's sports, um, how come I haven't watched it?
Caroline 00:46:45 It's probably because it's not that easy to find. So I would encourage you, if it's something you're interested in, do the little bit of extra work to seek out where you can watch whatever sport you are interested in watching. If it's basketball, soccer, ultimate Frisbee, whatever that is, just do the little bit of extra research to figure out how you can watch your respective team or league or player that you're interested in. Um, cuz it's definitely worth it. And I just think it's, it's good for people to know they might be getting into a little bit of a scavenger hunt, but it's very worthwhile.
Sean 00:47:13 Well, I think just to help a little bit, I think generally the, and this is no way a sponsorship or promotion for any of these, just like was not for Amazon Prime with your TV appearance, but I believe you can typically find the W N B A on the s ESPN N B C group of networks. And I believe believe the N W S L is on Paramount Plus, which is a paid subscription app affiliated with cbs. So not an endorsement of those, but I believe that's helped you get your scavenger hunt as, as Caroline said, get started.
Caroline 00:47:39 Absolutely. You're spot on. So
Sean 00:47:41 We're gonna go to the last part here, Caroline. And first this is your chance to brag a little bit. What would you say is your biggest success to
Caroline 00:47:48 Date? I definitely would say the fact that goals is now over one year in business. There's this really scary statistic out there for startups that, I don't know the exact number, but it's something astronomically high, like 95% of startups fail in year one. And that has just been haunting me for the first year that I really wanted to make that year mark and be in business. So we are in business and we're doing well. We're actually thinking about bringing on another, um, full-time person in the next couple weeks. So, you know that I am just so proud of that and now extra proud to be able to create a job in women's sports. Working on this business is truly the honor of my life. I love it. It's just incredible.
Sean 00:48:30 On the flip side, perhaps, other than ordering far too many yellow shirts in the name of the Four Diamonds Fund, what would you say is your biggest transformational learning moment and what you took from it?
Caroline 00:48:41 <laugh>, that's really a big one. I think about that a
Sean 00:48:44 Lot. Or maybe you can explain more in detail, like what went wrong there and, and how you learned not to make the same mistake.
Caroline 00:48:50 No, we don't need to drum that up anymore. I already feel bad enough talking about it. Um, I'm trying to think. I, there's been so many, I, I don't know. I, I'm a person who's failed a lot, <laugh> in their life on different things. And I think it's because I've tried a lot of different things and I've, I've gone all in and tried to make things work. It, I don't know it, for me, I think a sign of growth has been not getting so bogged down by the failures. It's learning to fail fast and just jump back in and try something that's gonna be part of the solution, not part of the problem that you might have contributed to with the failure. So I don't know, that's not maybe the best direct answer to your question. There have been so many fail, I've just failed a lot and you know, but I think to my credit, and maybe this comes with maturity, every time I've failed, it's not like I've just kind of hit away and not taken responsibility for whatever it is. I've taken responsibility and I've tried to get right back to work to help with some sort of solution or some sort of progress forward.
Sean 00:49:49 I think that's a really good attitude to take no matter what the failure or mistake might be. And I'm sure you've also along the way, had, and you've had many successes, many, many failures as you said, and you've probably also had a lot of mentors along the way. So how do you approach mentorship as both a mentee, but also you're at a point now where you can be mentoring others who are looking to go into these trying to fields that you've worked in. How do you approach that and how do you suggest our students approach that?
Caroline 00:50:12 My goodness, I am so grateful for the mentors. I have had at every single stage of my career, starting with Kohl's, the most incredible mentors there to the History Center, to the Penn State Dance Marathon, Dick's Sporting Goods, Switzer, Switzer Marathon. You know, every place I've been, I feel like I have had incredible individuals championing me, interested in my personal and professional development. Like I, I am where I am today because I've had people that have, that have helped me <laugh>, that have talked to me, that have, uh, coached me along the way. So for me, it is kind of crazy now that I get emails from people to ask for mentorship or advice. And, you know, I am absolutely adamant about speaking, with, talking to anybody that seeks out my advice or mentorship. It is essential, especially for, I think, women working in industries where we're underrepresented traditionally, like sports, that we have these kind of mentor-mentee relationships. I think that's key is, I, I don't like this term, but it's like sending the elevator back down to help people come up. But it's, we have to do that. Um, we need to mentor and sponsor the next generation, especially women leaders in sports. So I just think it's absolutely essential. A rising tide lifts all boats. I have been afforded so many opportunities because of mentorship to me, and then I, I hope now to, to pay that forward in a big way in my career.
Sean 00:51:38 Speaking of all those folks, are there any professors or friends from your days on campus that you want to give a very quick shout out to? Yes.
Caroline 00:51:45 So many, I mean, all the folks at the Center for Women's Students, that's something I didn't mention earlier, but I had a, a part-time work study job in the Bki building. I, I actually don't even know the name of the center right now. I think it's, maybe, I don't even know the actual name of the center now. The time was the Center for Women's Students. Um, but I feel like I should get that right. <laugh>,
Sean 00:52:07 I think it might have, uh, been the, uh, ancestor to what is now, I believe it's probably the Penn State Gender Equity Center.
Caroline 00:52:14 What is it? The Penn State Gender Equity Center. So I would love to give a shout out to all the folks at the Penn State Gender Equity Center, which was the Center for Women's Students at the time when I was at Penn State. Peggy, Laura, Audra Hickson, Susan Delonte. They were huge mentors in such a big way when I was at Penn State. I would also describe them as my best friends while I was at Penn State, which they might hear this and be like, really, Caroline? You thought of us with that? But they're the people I saw every single day and helped me through so much. So really grateful for them and everything I learned. Those are, those are the ones I'd I'd really like to shout out.
Sean 00:52:48 Awesome. Is there a final piece of advice that you wanna leave for students that maybe just didn't come up organically in our conversation?
Caroline 00:52:54 Yes. I, I would just encourage students to work hard at whatever it is you're doing. I have found, for me, the harder that I work, the luckier I get, that's a quote you've probably heard before, but for me, it's very true. I just try to be consistent and show up goals as an example, there was no big aha moment where all of a sudden goals is in business now or we've made it, or whatever it is. It, we've just showed up every single day consistently and worked hard and it's led led to a lot of good. So that's my big advice is keep working hard. The harder you work, the luckier you get
Sean 00:53:32 Great advice. Now, you mentioned faults have emailed you, they've reached out to you for mentoring. If a student wants to connect with you, maybe even potentially talk about creating an unpaid internship to start off with, uh, maybe paid, given your, your emphasis on equity, but I'll leave you to that. But how can they connect with you if they want to keep this conversation going?
Caroline 00:53:49 100%. And yes, we very intentional goals that every position, everything we do is paid. I would love to connect with any student that's interested. My email address is caroline goals sports.com. If you look up goals, women's sports on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, you will find us. We are the first hit, if you will. So yeah, just reach out. We'd love to chat. We'd love to learn more about you. And we actually are gonna be posting for an internship position soon. So that will be posted across our websites and our platforms
Sean 00:54:21 Fan. Fantastic. And finally, as this tradition here on the show, and I hope you took a look at the menu. If you were a flavor of Bey creamery ice cream, which would you be? And most importantly, as a STAAR alumna, why would you be that flavor?
Caroline 00:54:35 Okay, so I'm gonna answer this question a little bit differently. I, I guess if I have to answer it directly, it's chocolate chip cookie dough. Cause that's a go-to. But when I went to the creamery as an undergrad, I totally skipped the ice cream counter and went to the cooler and got the hunks of cheese that they have there. Oh my goodness. You can go and get these little packets of like, ends of cheese for like 50 cents. And I used to absolutely love going into the creamery and getting the bits of cheese from the cooler. So that's my answer, Sean, I chocolate chip cookie dough if I have to pick an ice cream, but I prefer the hunks of sharp cheddar that are in the cooler.
Sean 00:55:13 Well, that is the most unique answer I've gotten yet. Uh, I was muted, but I was laughing out loud, literally. So thank you for that. Caroline, I might need to keep you on after we are done recording and you can give you some tips on actually recruiting the creamery to be a sponsor of this show. Cuz if we're gonna, if we're gonna start moving on from flavors to the other products and the coolers there that they sell, which they're, they have some great coffee products too. If you're, if you're a coffee person and you enjoy W P S U Coffee Break, underrated Coffee place on campus here at University Park, but I might need to pick your brain on some sponsorship <laugh> packet materials. So, uh, given, given your excellent line of work here, Caroline Fitzgerald, you're doing some great stuff in marketing and in sports, particularly for women's professional athletes. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing all of your great advice with our scholars today.
Thanks, Sean. It's a pleasure to talk to you.
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