Building a football career means training and dedication, whether your job is on the field or off.
Mike O’Keefe, 1998 alumnus, knows about hard work from decades as part of the Los Angeles Rams organization. He has earned two Super Bowl rings and played a key role in the team’s transition from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 2016.
RISING FROM TICKET SALES TO BECOME A VICE PRESIDENT
O’Keefe began working in the Rams ticket sales office after graduation. He thought it would be a temporary gig while he was looking for a job. “The opportunity to work for a professional sports team? I jumped at it,” he said. “I knew it could result in a little bit of a setback in my job search, but I was willing to take that risk for the reward of having that experience.” Now almost 25 years later, he knows that risk was worth taking.
He’s climbed the organization’s rungs to become the vice president of partnership development. He’s responsible for building a team of corporate sponsors and community connections to enhance the game day experience. “I lead a team that is focused on finding companies that can partner with the Rams. That may be putting together promotional platforms, or building brand campaigns that attach them to our activities throughout the season.
We’re developing relationships and creating sustainable marketing partnerships with brands and companies that we can grow and evolve with over time.”
HIS FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB: COMMUNITY IMPACT
The team’s profile can bring greater awareness to all sorts of global and community issues. “It’s awesome to see the impact an NFL team can have on a city and a community off the field,” he said. “Maybe it’s building a playground for an underserved school, or having our players deliver an inspiring message to a group of at-risk youth.” It could also be working in conjunction with a team sponsor to award scholarships to students from lower-resourced communities who are the first in their families to go to college.
“That’s by far the most powerful aspect of what I do, and it’s what I really love,” he said.
O’Keefe also pours his expertise and energy into the newest sales associates at the Rams. “I love developing people, identifying their skill sets and helping them realize their potential within our organization. There’s nothing more fulfilling to me than to see a young person get promoted and having the opportunity to witness that growth.”
SKILLS HE LEARNED AT MSU PROPEL HIS CAREER TODAY
Growing up in St. Louis, O’Keefe held many part-time jobs. He developed a strong work ethic that he attributes to his parents, Mike and Susan. The beauty of the Ozarks and an engaging campus tour led him to enroll at Missouri State. He didn’t know where his path would lead, but he never imagined a career in sports. After advice from his academic advisor, O’Keefe earned an organizational communication degree with a minor in marketing.
“From the first time I met Mike in class, he struck me as someone who was going to operate a bit outside the norm,” said Dr. Linda Pettijohn, former marketing professor. “Mike was highly goal-oriented and willing to work to achieve his goals. He was always personable and able to accept risk and challenges.”
O’Keefe still relies daily on skills he refined in his sales and public speaking courses. Dr. Charles Pettijohn’s personal selling course stands out, O’Keefe said. In that class, students would simulate intense, high-stakes sales situations, presenting products and attempting to convince a classmate, or the instructor, to purchase. To earn money, O’Keefe employed those techniques at a part-time job at MCI, Inc., a telecommunications company.
“My job was to get customers to switch their long-distance phone plans,” he said, laughing, knowing that current students may not know what “long-distance phone plans” are.
The job gave him real-world sales experience, learning to tackle customer hesitations and calm their qualms — ultimately converting a no to a yes.
BUILDING A FAMILY WITH A FELLOW BEAR
More importantly, the job introduced O’Keefe to his wife, Jennifer (Hall) O’Keefe. She is also a 1998 alumna, and a former Sugar Bear. “We met wearing telemarketing headsets.” Now, they have three daughters: Alexis, 15, Ava, 13, and Annabel, 11. In addition to academics, they are involved in extracurriculars, like dance and sports.
“I want to encourage them to take risks and follow their dreams,” he said.
RELATIONSHIP, SALES SKILLS HELPED THE MOVE TO L.A.
O’Keefe took a risk of his own when he moved to California with the Rams team in 2016. “The Rams played in L.A. for 49 years prior to moving to St Louis,” he said. “There
was a rich history and tradition already in place.” There’s no playbook for how to move a whole team cross-country, he said, but having a built-in fan base eased some of the expected fumbles.
It also opened many doors, which O’Keefe was grateful for as a Midwestern transplant. “While it was initially intimidating moving to this huge city and not knowing anybody, I learned that it’s not really all that different,” he said. “It’s the exact same good business principles, just implemented on a much larger scale.”
It’s also provided him with perspective. “No matter how much the business of sports marketing continues to evolve, there’s so much that will remain true universally. A great sales process and the fundamentals of relationship building will always be key ingredients to achieving success.”