In today’s episode, Mike speaks with Amanda Windsor-White, president of Rugby ATL, who is currently transitioning after the club was sold.
Amanda shares lessons from leading a sports startup, handling confidential information, and supporting her team during change. She offers advice for taking career risks, getting unstuck, and charting new directions.
Amanda Windsor-White’s Bio
Amanda Windsor-White is the president of business operations for Rugby ATL in Major League Rugby. She has over 15 years of experience in sports, entertainment, agencies, and brands.
Prior to Rugby ATL, Amanda worked at Endeavor (formerly IMG) leading partnerships across sports, fashion, and entertainment. She also spent several years at The Coca-Cola Company managing NASCAR marketing.
She is recognized for excellence in sports business and takes a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves approach to leadership. Amanda holds a degree in Sports Management from Ohio University.
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
- How Amanda led Rugby ATL through confidential sale talks and transition
- Tips for taking smart career risks and getting unstuck
- Why passion plus risk can lead to growth opportunities
- How Amanda supported her team members during Rugby ATL’s sale
- The importance of authentic relationships in sports business
- Lessons from leading a professional sports startup
Links & Resources Mentioned:
Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to Get Unstuck and On Target, I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders. Whether we're working with supervisors to improve their people skills, or it's me coaching a CEO one on one, getting leaders and companies unstuck is at the heart of everything that we do. And that's exactly what this podcast is all about.
Each week, we invite incredible guests who share their hard won experiences of getting themselves or others unstuck back on target and moving forward. And I hope it gets you unstuck and on target as well. Joining me is Amanda Windsor-White. Amanda is currently the president of business operations for Rugby ATL.
However, several weeks ago, Rugby ATL and Major League Rugby announced that the sale of the club that will result in relocating that club to Los Angeles. And here is Amanda, who has been involved with knowing this is going to happen. And I've invited Amanda to join us today because we've never done this before.
We are talking to someone who kind of is potentially. And maybe actually in transition, and I just appreciate Amanda's willingness to come and to share a little bit about her experience. Welcome, Amanda. Thanks for the invitation. Amanda, I shared with you that I've never done this before, and I very much appreciate you willing to just kind of share a little bit about your experience.
And if I had to put a label on this, I kind of want to. ultimately get to what's next. But as a starting point, you are currently in a role that I don't know a lot about. Rugby is something that I'm learning about. I have a son who played club rugby in college, but what I know about is so, so limited. Um, what brought you into one sports management to begin with?
Amanda Windsor-White: I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and Cleveland is a very strong, um, sports town, and so I grew up going to Browns games and now Guardians games, and when I got to Ohio University, um, I went in undecided as far as what my major would be when I learned that they had a really great team. Well known, well regarded sports management program.
I thought this is a great way to marry, um, something I'm really passionate about with my professional journey. So I made it in sports management and it went from there.
Mike O'Neill: You know, sports just as a, as a industry seems to have exploded in so many different ways. Um, we're talking about rugby ATL. For those who don't know, ATL stands for Atlanta.
Um, this club has been in Atlanta for about four years. Is that right? That's correct. How long have you been with the organization?
Amanda Windsor-White: Uh, going on two years. So I started with the team in, uh, January 2022 after, um, the current owner acquired the team.
Mike O'Neill: So the current owner acquired the company. The team brought you in.
Your role is primarily business operations.
Amanda Windsor-White: That's correct. Everything that happens off of the pitch, I oversee. So that's HR, finance, operations, sales, marketing, um, you name it. I do not have a rugby background and prior to this I was working at the Coca Cola company on motorsports. Before that, I didn't have any motor sports experience.
So really, um, Jack of all trades with agency brand and now team experience. But, um, we have a very, very talented coaching staff that, um, of course takes care of everything related to what happens on the pitch with the players. So, um, it was. A good opportunity to exercise, um, different muscles coming into this particular role, but not necessarily having to be very well versed on the ins and outs of rugby.
Mike O'Neill: You know, you shared that you manage everything that's not on the pitch, but you began listing just some of those aspects. I mean, we have to be mindful. It's a business. And as a business, you have responsibility for all aspects of that business. When people are talking to you and they say, you know, I don't know a lot about professional sports.
I don't really know what goes on behind the scenes. What probably is the thing that surprises people most about what goes on, not on the pitch? Well,
Amanda Windsor-White: you know, professional sports is a pretty wide range of, there's a wide range of. Uh, teams and functionalities, I would say, um, rugby ATL and Major League Rugby teams are still very small.
So you can kind of consider it a sports startup, certainly nowhere near the scale of the Atlanta Falcons or the Jets or, um, the Anaheim Angels. So, Um, we have a much smaller team. Budgets, of course, are much smaller, but, um, I'd say that functionality wise, um, you're still having to market a product, sell that product, execute, um, partnerships, right, from a sales perspective, and, um, What else?
Operationally, you still have to think about the fan experience from the time that they either log on to your website and purchase a ticket, all the way to them driving into the facility, parking, what do they see and feel and hear when they sit down in their seat during the game. Um, and then how is their experiences?
They're leaving. These are sort of things that we have to think through every step of the way. And, you know, for a small team like rugby, TL and other major league rugby teams, the experience is quite a bit different than what you'd experience going to an NFL game. It's just a lot smaller. Um, but there's benefits to that.
It's a lower price point. It's more family friendly in that aspect. Um, I don't know. It still has that sort of startup small feel where chances are you're going to know the people around you versus, um, you know, 70, 000 people that are flowing into Mercedes Benz stadium for a Falcon game.
Mike O'Neill: I would say I enjoy a major league baseball game, but given a choice, I think I prefer a minor league game for the reasons you just mentioned.
When you go there, it has more of a family. But when I go to a baseball game, I kind of know what to expect. I understand the game. I understand the rules for rugby. I'm going to make the assumption is that your potential customer who buys a ticket, might this be the first rugby match that they've ever attended?
And by the way, is that the right term? Rugby match?
Amanda Windsor-White: Yes. Yeah, it's correct. Um, Listen, there's 13 teams in Major League Rugby, and some of those are in very sort of either well established rugby markets, or there's a large expat population in those areas. So teams in Seattle, San Diego, Utah, and then the Northeast do extremely well because there's people from other areas of the world that are there that in their countries, the game already has an incredible following.
Um, especially in the Northeast, a lot of those sort of Ivy League schools have rugby already because of course rugby originated in Europe. So those are mature markets now in a city like Atlanta, right? Where we're in football country, whether it's college football or pro people here in this region are just absolutely football crazy.
And, um, when they come to rugby, First of all, like for any marketers that are watching, you know that it's not just like, oh, you hear about it once and you buy a ticket and go, you have to introduce the new product. Um, Remind them and remind them and remind them describe the value proposition. So, um, for us, yes, it was bringing in the rugby community and getting more kids playing the game to actually grow the game.
But then this season was the first year that the team was actually marketed outside the rugby community. So we very intentionally targeted the general population of Atlanta. Um, and energy trying to introduce them to their pro rugby team. And so the pitch was here that you don't have to know the game.
You don't have to know the rules that will come. Just come give it a try. Um, we'll happily provide complimentary tickets so you can bring your family and just take it in. Um, it's a ton of fun, but again, don't have to know the rules to enjoy your experience because, you know, you'll, you'll learn those eventually.
Mike O'Neill: You know, what caught my attention and what intrigued me about you as a possible podcast guest is you had somewhat of a unique perspective. You knew before most of what was going to happen because you were involved with preparing. The club for this. And for those who are listening and or watching sometimes when you're in key leadership roles, you have knowledge that you just simply can not share, but you had knowledge that was going to impact not only yourself, but the entire organization.
And you, I think, if I understand correctly, you were very much involved with all the things that go along with preparing. And looking for potential suitors, uh, and the like, um, the lead time on something like that you've knew in advance, what, maybe a year before this. Yeah.
Amanda Windsor-White: At least a year. I mean, we attempted to sell the team a year ago and then ran out of time before essentially have to pivot and then prepare for the upcoming season.
So, um, Yeah, I was heavily involved with building the investment memo, working with the investment bank. It was based in London, um, courting potential investors, hosting them at games or at our headquarters, um, essentially selling them on a vision here because of course you had the financial performance over the last four years and what that trajectory would look like if you continue to invest in the team from a marketing perspective, from an infrastructure standpoint, Um, and where we think the team could go and how long we think it would take to get there.
So to your point, um, I've certainly known for at least a year, if not more, maybe a year and a half that this team would have new ownership, but I would not have predicted that, um, we were not successful in finding an investor that wanted to keep the team in Atlanta. I see.
Yes. Um, like I was saying before, it's a small but very passionate rugby fan base here in this area, LA has a much larger rugby population. Um, so it was going to take a little longer to, um, you know, get enough fans into the pipeline to sustain the team from a long term perspective.
Mike O'Neill: I asked this question in large part because I know that our listeners are leaders. And when you're in a leadership role, sometimes you have knowledge about things are going to happen, but you can't necessarily share that. Sometimes that knowledge is significant. In this case, you had significant knowledge.
Do you have any guidance for those who are in leadership roles who have to basically shoulder that knowledge for some time? Anything do you find that has worked for you to be able to navigate that?
Amanda Windsor-White: Yeah, I would say be as transparent as you possibly can as early as you can. Um, My our leadership team, of course, knew that the team was for sale.
Um, certainly because I needed input from them throughout the process. But, you know, there were more junior people, maybe our players. It didn't know how things were progressing or. Um, only so much we could share when we could share it, but again, it was giving as much information as we possibly could so that they could properly prepare themselves, um, mentally, or just simply thinking about where their path is going to take them.
So when we did break the news about the team being sold and, um, relocating, it was August 1st of this year. Um, the the league board had just voted, and we told our players and our staff essentially that day of the change, and that's significantly earlier than we would have liked to express the news, but we also knew that news like that does travel very quickly, and we it was important to us.
They would hear it from leadership straight from us as soon as we possibly could. So we made the decision to tell them right away. And unfortunately, Uh, You can't always have it both ways of being quick with information and having all the information. So, uh, we made the decision to tell people right away without having all the details fake.
Um, important pieces, things like where would the team be playing in LA? How much time do we still have together with this part of this transition? Those are things that we continue to work towards. But, um, yeah, we, we chose to tell people, uh, as much as we could,
Mike O'Neill: as soon as we knew.
Amanda, it was a few weeks ago.
We connected on LinkedIn and what really kind of caught my attention is a post that you made and let me read it. Um, and that is, I'm reading it out of context. You were announcing in a LinkedIn post, but then you went on to write. You might be wondering what's next. While we support the upcoming transition, I have a group of extremely talented staff who need new opportunities across operations, marketing, partnership management events.
And social media, please dm me if you have openings as I would be happy to make introductions that caught my attention is because here you are immediately thrust into. I need to take care of the best of my ability the team if you would not necessarily the team on the. Pitch, but my team and you therefore just right out to said, I want to help you find homes.
Um, so you are immediately thrust in helping others before you probably have had a chance to even think about your own well being.
Amanda Windsor-White: Yeah, exactly. And that that is still a priority. Um, you know, it takes a long time for us.
Um, So even after, you know, a year or so, we found the right people to put them in the right role so that they could be successful. And they're also just great humans. So I care a lot about them. Um, so I still am very focused on helping them find roles and. Um, if there's anyone watching that isn't sports and entertainment of any kind, um, do have more junior roles open on your team.
I would love to hear from you. Um. Because, you know, it's important, um, that we support the more junior members of our organizations and help them just like we've been supported, um, during transitions of our own.
Mike O'Neill: You, therefore, have kind of been on the front lines of kind of how this unfolds. I think you've shared there's a little bit of a curveball in that, though you knew there was going to be a change in ownership, you weren't aware that that would result in relocating the team outright.
You have chosen to marry some passions, you mentioned your passion for sports, your, your. Abilities from a managerial standpoint, you marry those from an operational standpoint, but you have backgrounds in pretty diverse areas from motor sports to rugby. Any other sports that we haven't talked about that you have involvement with?
Amanda Windsor-White: Yeah, during my 7 years at IMG and Endeavor. Um, I worked on pretty much everything in their global portfolio I touch. So it might have been fashion, culinary, college sports, tennis, golf, bull riding, UFC. I worked in programs across all of those and some of which involved talent, athletes, writers, musicians.
Um, some of them are, are properties that the agency either owned or had rights to. So, um, I've worked on a multitude of sports entertainment properties over the course of my
Mike O'Neill: career. I know that a number of universities have sports management programs. Um, and, uh, you probably have advised those programs.
You probably have benefited by folks coming out of, uh, those programs. For those who are considering going into sports management, things do you try to get across to them that it's vitally important if they really want to be happy doing sports management?
Amanda Windsor-White: Yeah, I think there's a couple of key things. So, um, universities continue to add sports management to their curriculum, um, as major options.
But, you know, generally speaking, there aren't that many more jobs in sports. So it is notoriously difficult to get in because there is such a demand for those roles. So not only is there high demand Um, compensation isn't very good for a long time, and you also work very, very long hours, sometimes very unusual hours, holidays, weekends, evenings.
So, you gotta be prepared for, um, it's a lot of work, and it's not sexy. I mean, it looks great on TV, when you're sitting in the seats, watching whatever your hockey team, it's great. But everything behind the scenes, um, is tailored to ensure that the fan experience is fantastic. So that means it's a lot of gritty work, um, manual labor hauling stuff around.
So, um, you know, it's a roll up your sleeves mentality. Doesn't really matter what level you are in sports. Like you still very much have to do that. I mean, I drove our equipment truck on multiple occasions last year. 2022. So, um, I would say that that's something to keep in mind, but it's a very relationship centric industry as well.
So as you go, you kind of collect people and your network and, um, it's really important. To maintain those in a really authentic way.
Mike O'Neill: I know you've been recognized by your peers, um, for excellence in sports as you kind of reflect on what might be next. That's kind of how I, I kind of named what this episode might be.
And that's, you know, what's next. What are the things that kind of cross in your mind if you don't mind sharing as to what might be next? But both in terms of your tailing out your current responsibilities and what might look. Look like ahead for you? Mm-hmm. .
Amanda Windsor-White: Well, I've had great opportunities. To work at, um, some, at least these countries and probably globally agencies and a brand that, um, are really desirable and really add a lot to my, not just skillset, but just my character as a whole.
So, um, I worked at agencies, including Octagon, IMG and Endeavor, and I spent two and a half years working at the Coca Cola company. Um, and I decided to challenge myself and taking on this role, essentially the sports startup rugby TL. Um, to work for someone that I respected immensely that I had worked for the Coca Cola company before.
Um, and I also was very intrigued by the chance to build something for the city that I love. I've called Atlanta home for about 18 years. So I have a unique blend of sports, um, entertainment experience across brand. Agency and now team. So I think that my natural next step will be working at a larger team, you know, an NBA team would be ideal working in a.
Leadership role overseeing business operations or c o o type role was gonna be the best fit for my skillset and really where I'd like to go. Um, there's also some interesting opportunities in nonprofit space such as, um, the U SS T A or the Boston Marathon. Big events like that that happen, um, you know, depending on what the entity is, multiple times a year, just once.
We also are looking for international opportunities, so if there was ever a chance to go work for a soccer team in Europe, Um, that would be extremely desirable.
Mike O'Neill: You describe things that it sounds like it's all potentially exciting, but you made a conscious decision to be part of a startup startups are different than just about anything else.
Would you share in terms of a startup? I know you joined the team once it was going, but it was still kind of ramping up. On, on that, um, work startup. Is it that much different than any other type of organizational startup or are there a lot of similar challenges?
Amanda Windsor-White: Well, to be honest, I haven't worked at another startup, so I don't know firsthand, but just like any other business, there's a P and L and I oversaw that and, um, it was going to be a little while it was going to be multiple years until.
The team was profitable. So, um, yeah, I would say that it's just like any other small business, but our product is the game that we play on a pitch. So, um, yeah, I would say, I assume it would be just the same having the same challenges, right? I mean, that the way that you monetize our product is people buying tickets, people, um, companies, transitioning Investing in sponsorships and fans buying merchandise.
I mean, those are the three major ways that our team was making money and with a lot of other major sports teams, media rights are how they really bring in the big bucks. And, um, you know, Major League Rugby is working on broadcast rights. We didn't have any locally, so that would have been, um, an expedited way to ramp up financials.
But those are the three ways that we made money and. Um, we just needed a little bit more time to build that pipeline, but just ran out of runway.
Mike O'Neill: You mentioned about building the brand of You know, Rugby ATL. Let's talk about Amanda Windsor White, the brand, your own personal brand, the fact that you have had a continuation of some startup, um, experience.
How do you believe this has best prepared you for whatever?
Amanda Windsor-White: Well, I would say that, um, I enjoyed the comfort of working for a larger organization like Endeavor and Coke, where they're very well funded. Of course, Coke being a publicly held company and Endeavor now also publicly traded, but at the time, um, they still have private equity. Um, So those are, I had very healthy budgets to invest when I was working at Coca Cola.
Um, I managed NASCAR for the, for the company, and that meant that there were, um, sponsorships with drivers, race teams, racetracks, um, the league, and those were all investments that the company had made that I oversaw the strategy and execution for. So. That was great. Um, just had building those relationships, um, rolling out strategic programs and driving brand love for Coke, but it's drastically different when you're now in charge of bringing in revenue.
Um, that isn't just night, like sprinkles on top of the frosting on top of the cake. I mean, that money coming in matters. Um, so I think that, um, it just was, it felt that. It felt very real when, um, you know exactly what's coming in, what's going out, and the people that rely on the organization for their livelihoods, it's a great responsibility.
Mike O'Neill: I mean, you clearly, you have total P& L responsibility, and that's a different animal, uh, you look around, and these people... Answer to you and they have families and you seem to have shouldered that responsibility extremely well and you're going about trying to take care of them and the organization, uh, in a very conscientious way, as you know, there's only one question that you can anticipate from me.
Nothing that we've discussed has been pre planned. But can you reflect on a time where either you Or a client or even an organization that you were a part of got stuck. And when it got stuck, what did it take for that to get unstuck?
Amanda Windsor-White: Well, two things come to mind. I can say that, um, a malt beverage brand, a very large one that is us space, um, was kind of stuck with.
They're wholesalers underperforming, um, as far as like their annual goals went, and they wanted to create a program that they had an interest in creating a program that would, um, excite them and drive revenue and product sales, and they were already a client of IMG at the time. And so. Um, their account team came to us, my team and said, listen, this brand is looking for something to really excite wholesalers into selling more malt beverage or beer.
Um, can you help us? And I said, well, I think. You know, when you're talking about wholesalers, what would get them excited when they've already done things like going to the Major League Baseball All Star Game, and they've been to the Super Bowl, and they've been, you know, to the Atlantis and the Bahamas.
Um, so we thought, you know. What is something that money can't buy? Like really unique experiences that we can, um, weave together inside the agency and offer to this beer company, essentially in turn, create an incentive program to drive more volume. So we did exactly that. We built 33 unique experiences that their wholesalers chose from, and this is everything from.
Um, and these were weekend experiences for up to six people, and it was multiple days of activity that was built around one sort of marquee thing. So, for example, um, New Year's Eve in Las Vegas, like, that's a blast, right? So, let's build it around a big UFC fight. Um, Ronda Rousey, she was coming back for her first fight back and we had great seats for that.
And then, um, we took them to a celebrity chef restaurant that was represented by the agency along with Ronda Rousey, who was also represented by the agency, um, celebrity chef restaurant. And then, uh, another client was Calvin Harris. And so we did like New Year's Eve at, um, a nightclub in Las Vegas. And we packaged that all together.
And that was one of the 33 unique experiences that we sold this beer company. And when you talk about getting unstuck, um, over the course of four months, they had the sales incentive window. Um, they saw incredible volume increase from the prior year. And then for another four months after that, we activated all these experiences that we sold.
Um, So the following year, they decided to do something very similar, but, you know, got to keep sales folks incentivized and excited. And that was one thing that we were able to do, um, to help them get unstuck. That's a good example. Yeah. It was, it was great. It was a great experience. And, um, you know, personally.
It can be hard if you're, if you're sitting at home and you're thinking about, um, you're working on a job search and it can feel like you're really stuck. And that was me. And back in 2022, I'm sure, um, some of your listeners were in that same place after the pandemic, maybe lost their jobs. I was impacted by Coca Cola and the global restructure that they did two years ago.
And, um, it can be really challenging just going through all the interview processes. And, um, as far as getting unstuck in that sort of way, um, just simply putting yourself out there and doing something you wouldn't normally do, whether that's networking, because you're an introvert, um, get an executive coach, somebody that can be in sort of unbiased, um, founding board that can also help look at all your resume and all your external facing materials, um, So that's, that's certainly another process that I'm about to embark on.
And, um, certainly know that there are several ways to break up that monotony, but getting outside of your comfort zone is certainly one way to do that.
Mike O'Neill: It sounds to me though, the decision you made to do what you did. Was taking you out of your comfort zone to begin with, um, you're charting a new course for yourself.
You're building the brand, the awareness and everything that kind of goes along with that. You gave 2 really excellent examples, both professionally and personally. It was the possibility that 1 who knows that their jobs coming to an end that can feel overwhelming. Some people will. Uh, that is what gets them stuck, knowing that that is coming, and I really appreciate your one willingness to be as open as you have been with me and with our listeners.
Um, I hope that this has been a value to you. Sometimes just. Airing things out. Um, but you clearly very articulate. You, um, have appeared to have shoulder this process very, very well. And we're recording this late September. This probably won't go live until December. But what I would anticipate, you know, you'll be in the throes of what's next for Amanda personally.
Um, and the fact that you're willing to just share your own journey. With us, I'm very appreciative of that because that shows a vulnerability. That's unusual. And I'm, I'm thankful that you're willing to do that. I appreciate the platform, you know, Amanda, we've covered a lot, a number of things. And there may have been some questions.
You said, I wish Mike had asked me about, but as you reflect on what do you want the takeaways to be? Please.
Amanda Windsor-White: That's a great question. And I don't, um,
I don't know that anything really, what does come to mind is that, um, if you're someone that is open to the idea of taking a risk, if there's something you've been wanting to do, it's kind of been in the back of your mind, it's in your heart a little bit, um, chase it, feel it out, see what would it take to accomplish it, um, So you can take a little bit of a leap of faith.
I would have never expected to end up in rugby. Um, I followed someone that I highly respected. I took a risk. Um, it took a few risks while I was in the role. Some, most of which paid off. Um, I don't regret it for a second. And there were some very, very challenging times. Um, but I'm really happy that I took the risk and hopefully, um, you know, your, your audience can do the same or whatever that means to them.
Mike O'Neill: Amanda, this was a conversation that I was looking forward to, not because it was pre planned. It was because someone like you, very capable, was willing to kind of share their story. There's a little question in my mind. What's next for you? I'm very much looking forward to learning what's next. I think you have a lot.
To offer in a wide variety of ways. And I just appreciate your willingness to share a little bit about your journey and hopes that it will help those who are watching or listening. Thank you. Thank you very much. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today for even more insights about getting unstuck and moving your business forward.
I invite you to subscribe to the bottom line newsletter by going to bench-builders. com. You know, I have found that the clients that we work with, they usually had one of two problems. Either they were frustrated because they were losing the employees they wanted to keep. Or their leaders found themselves stuck in the weeds of the day to day and failing to execute on their long term strategy.
So if you're listening in high turnover, poor execution, if it's slowing your growth, let's talk. Head over to bench-builders.com to schedule a call. So I want to thank you for joining us. And I hope you have picked up on some quick wins from Amanda. They'll help you get unstuck and on target.