Not everyone can say they’ve contributed to the success of a World Series Championship team — but Ben Christian ’07 can. As senior manager of partnership marketing for the Kansas City Royals, Christian traded the traditional 9-to-5 grind for something a little more exotic. “When I get to walk into work each day, I don’t feel like I’m walking into an office,” he says. That’s because instead of a skyscraper or nondescript office unit, his office is Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, affectionately known as “The K.”
After graduating from Central, Christian started his sports marketing career as marketing assistant for the San Diego Chargers before being promoted to coordinator of marketing partnerships in 2009. But when the Royals came calling, Christian and his wife, Laura Nanninga Christian ’07, jumped on the opportunity to return to the Midwest and take on a new challenge.
“The Royals were rebuilding their entire organization from the baseball side as well as the business side, so the timing was right in 2010,” he says. In his current position, Christian helps corporate partners utilize the Royals’ visibility and community ties to grow their business or help them in some way. “The objectives of each partnership are so different,” he says. “You could have Budweiser, whose objectives are really geared toward a beer-drinking segment, and then you could have a bank, who is just trying to generate more credit card users.” Other partners may have a recruitment or community relations goal.
Such client diversity means that Christian’s days can all look very different. His team leverages the Royals’ 81 home games to help their corporate partners gain visibility and meet their individual goals. But non-game days can be just as busy.
“We also take partners to various events, even spring training and road games — really, wherever makes sense from both a Royals and a corporate partner perspective.”
In many ways, Christian’s job is the same, working for a professional baseball franchise as well as a pro football team. Companies use both types of teams to gain visibility, attract new customers and develop a deeper connection with their current customers. However, baseball’s rules and calendar are very different from those of football. “In football, you have eight games across the course of a season, where in baseball you have 81 games based at home,” Christian says. “This gives us a lot more flexibility in terms of time and space for a client to really own a particular game or part of a season.”
Christian says the NFL’s rules also presented more of a challenge when it came to marketing. “In the NFL, you can’t have advertising signage on the field level, where you can really sell it in baseball. From a business standpoint, there are a lot of advantages in baseball in terms of how you can demonstrate return on investment and value in your business partnerships.”
Christian says working with Central’s longtime communications and sports information director Larry Happel ’81 gave him practical experience and a solid foundation to walk into an NFL franchise right out of college. He worked with Happel for three semesters, performing daily office work for sports information. “Having the ability to help manage information and think about how Central presents itself as an athletic department and overall organization was really valuable,” Christian says.
“There’s got to be a corresponding value to what you do. if you can solve problems, you can make yourself valuable.”
Christian’s advice to students interested in sports marketing is to “be available and be hungry.” He says businesses really need problem-solvers who can recognize problems, work hard to find solutions and consistently keep up motivation and tempo. “I think the days are long gone of just knowing someone, and that someone gives you a job,” Christian says. “There’s got to be a corresponding value to what you do. If you can solve problems, you can make yourself valuable.”
Being part of the organization that won a World Series championship has been quite a ride for Christian. He remembers the 2014 season feeling very different from that of 2015. “In 2014, we would win a game or a series early in the playoffs and feel elated about moving on. In 2015, it was more of a focused type of attitude.” After losing in game seven of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants in 2014, the Royals knew what they wanted in 2015 — not just to make it to the World Series again, but to win. “Every win in 2015 was something we’d already done before, until we got back to the World Series,” Christian says.
Christian describes the 2015 season as an exhausting journey back. “Winning the American League twice was kind of a validation for the team and the organization,” he says. “Getting back to the World Series was the hardest part, and so from that point on it was just letting it ride and knowing that whatever happened, we’d at least climbed the mountain again.”
The Royals’ win was even sweeter for Christian because they come from a smaller, Midwestern market. “I’ve always kind of had a soft spot for the smaller teams in baseball,” he says, “and the challenges they face to win.” Christian finds his greatest job satisfaction in knowing that every move he makes and everything his department does contributes to the team “hanging in there and staying competitive with the New York, Chicago and L.A. franchises. Knowing our contributions make an impact — and that as an organization, we can win without unlimited resources — that’s probably the most rewarding.”
Christian isn’t planning on leaving the small, Midwestern franchise any time soon. Both from Iowa, he and his wife enjoy bringing up their two-year-old daughter in nearby Kansas City. They even turned down an opportunity in 2014 to move to New York and work for the Mets. “I think we’re very happy where we’re at,” says Christian. “You know, five or 10 years down the road, I think there will be new challenges and opportunities to pursue, but the business changes so much right now that you can experience a lot of growth without necessarily having to move or be promoted.”
It may be fate — the first major league game Christian ever attended as a boy was in Kansas City, between the Royals and the Texas Rangers. Truth be told, Christian says his first love is probably football—he was an offensive lineman at Central before an injury ended his career. “But I hardly even watch football anymore,” he says. A World Series championship will do that to you.