What’s an MBA Consulting Project Like?

How we teamed up with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings on international expansion

Sacramento Kings Mascot Slamson visits MBA students at Gallagher Hall
On a special visit to the Graduate School of Management’s Gallagher Hall, the Sacramento Kings Mascot Slamson joins a five-player team line up with Full-Time MBA students (left to right) Dillon Hill, Shaun Shah, Jongchan Jeong and Lanre Akinfemiwa. The students collaborated on a quarter-long consulting project to develop strategies for the Kings to expand into international markets. (Not pictured: MBA student Evan Tattersall)

(Note: The MBA Integrated Management Project is a core course in our IMPACT curriculum. Students team up on real-world projects proposed by companies and organizations. Clients, such as the Sacramento Kings, are not obligated to move forward with the students’ recommendations.)

With international expansion a lucrative frontier for fan growth and revenue for NBA teams, the Sacramento Kings' partnership with my UC Davis MBA student team for a winning strategy was nothing short of a slam dunk.

For our MBA Integrated Management Projects (IMP) core course consulting project, my five-student group took on an exhilarating challenge for one of the leading NBA professional basketball teams and top U.S. sports franchises. Our goal: Create a go-to-market strategy that analyzes audience, revenue potential and investment for the Sacramento Kings to expand into international markets.

This project asked our team to analyze the pros and cons of working with potential Kings sponsors on international engagement platforms.  This 10-week engagement was far more than an academic pursuit; it was a deep dive into the intersection of international business strategy and the competitive world of professional sports.

UC Davis Players: Team Dynamics and Strategy

Our team’s diverse talents and perspectives was pivotal to our project's success. Team Lead Dillon Hill brought extensive knowledge and experience in digital marketing and project management.

Shaun Shah and Jongchan Jeong provided invaluable insights with their financial acumen and data analytics prowess. UC Davis Aggies football star Evan Tattersall contributed his hands-on perspective and interest in professional sports, complemented by his technical skills.

Rounding out our team, I contributed my operational perspective and communication skills. We owe much of our structured approach to our advisor, Chris Ziemba, a managing director at Big 4 firm EY, who has over 19 years of combined industry and consulting experience, specializing in corporate, commercial and small- and medium-enterprise banking.

Light The Beam, shown in front of Golden 1 Center after Sacramento Kings win
View of the Sacramento Kings hometown Golden 1 Center from K Street with the powerful purple light laser lit up from the roof of the arena to signify a win. Kings fans will shout "Light the Beam" as the Kings are winning the game.

Our Game Plan

Our initial meetings established our team's rules of engagement. We decided on meeting frequencies, deadlines, and divided our approach into phases, drawing upon frameworks from our Marketing Strategies course.

The process began with customer research, moved to market and substitute research, then to competitive analysis, and culminated in formulating the go-to-market strategy. Each of our team members chose questions based on their strengths or existing knowledge, with Dillon balancing the remaining tasks.

During a routine check-in with our advisor in our sixth week, we faced a pivotal moment. According to Lecturer Ziemba, our approach, while thorough, was lacking structure and not translating into clear recommendations for our clients. There are a lot of statistics, but nothing that tells the reader the “so what.”

With just four weeks to the presentation and research in hand, we pivoted to focus on articulating specific actions to recommend to the Kings. The pivot was necessary to transform the extensive data and statistics into clear, structured recommendations that directly addressed the client's needs. In essence we were out of the scope that the client wanted, and our advisor steered us back on the right path. 

Our mantra became "Flipping the Legacy"—a concept centered around igniting excitement by positioning the Kings for growth in international markets.

Our collaborative spirit was instrumental to the project’s success. From the outset, we established a team dynamic that fostered honest and challenging conversations. This openness allowed us to navigate through the project's complexities and adapt when necessary.

Our final presentation to Kings marketing executives felt like a triumph. Presenting our findings and recommendations to the Sacramento Kings represented the culmination of 10 weeks of work on the project and was a testament to our teamwork, adaptability and innovative thinking.

Sacramento Kings inside Golden 1 Center - Feel the Roar on monitors
With a flood of purple lights and fireworks, the Sacramento Kings' fan favorite “Feel the Roar” campaign celebrating the team’s appearance in the NBA Playoffs last year electrified Golden 1 Center, their state-of-the-art downtown arena. (Photo courtesy Sacramento Kings Media Database)

During the hour-long presentation, which included a Q&A session, we had the opportunity to deliver our findings to Vice President of Marketing Ryan Spillers and other members of the Sacramento Kings' marketing department.

Our presentation was not just about sharing data and insights; it was about showcasing a well-thought-out roadmap for the Sacramento Kings.

The feedback from our clients was encouraging. They appreciated the depth and creativity of our work, highlighting our unorthodox yet practical recommendations.

Particularly well-received was our categorization of these recommendations in terms of timelines and feasibility. This structured approach provided them with a clear and actionable starting point for their journey into the international market.

Reflecting on this journey, I am reminded that thinking big and embracing out-of-the-box ideas requires courage but can lead to truly unique and impactful outcomes.

As I look back, this unique experience honed my skills in marketing, organizational behavior and strategy, and also reinforced the value of diverse perspectives and collaborative problem-solving in achieving groundbreaking results.

If you are planning your MBA journey, consulting projects offer a real-world testing ground for both academic theories and applied strategy to develop actionable solutions for companies. You push the boundaries and foster a mindset geared towards innovation and impact for the client.