Everyone goes to Safeco Field for different reasons. Some like to study swing paths and pitcher mechanics; others prefer to see how many beers they can drink before the eighth-inning cutoff. For both committed super fans and casual social participators, though, the stadium’s corporate sponsorships typically don’t occupy too much mental space. Maybe you use branded advertisements as a landmark: “Meet me at the Din Tai Fung,” or “Our seats are right above the Boeing sign in right field.”
For Ingrid Russell-Narcisse, not only does she go to Safeco Field for work purposes, she also devotes more time and thought to Safeco’s corporate sponsorships than perhaps anyone on the planet. As the Mariners’ Sr. Director of Corporate Business and Sales, Russell-Narcisse says her main job is to generate revenue for the club, whether that’s through a partnership with Microsoft or the local mom and pop bakery. As she explained, Russell-Narcisse aims to connect with each company she works with and understand how the Mariners can help them, rather than vice versa.
“We’ll talk about what they’re doing from a brand perspective, community relations perspective, sometimes you may have a PR challenge that needs to be addressed,” Russell-Narcisse said. “We do a needs assessment for those companies and present ideas that might address those needs, using the Mariners. It’s about partnership development, and forging partnerships that are going to benefit that particular partner.”
While she says the primary objective of her work is often to find common ground with clients, Russell-Narcisse admits that inviting prospective partners to the corner of Edgar & Dave provides a massive advantage.
“Most of the people I talk to come here, because this is a baseball cathedral,” Russell-Narcisse said. “There’s nothing like bringing a marketing director into this building and showing them the possibilities, whether that’s a sign on the outfield wall, or walking the concourse and seeing some customer engagement opportunities like the AM/PM store or golf simulator.”
As many can attest to, Russell-Narcisse’s path to a career in sports was neither linear or immediate. After graduating from UW, she took a job in retail at Toys-R-Us. From there she moved to the Puget Sound Business Journal, a job that she credits as a turning point in shaping her sales abilities. Still, she yearned for a career in sports.
Russell-Narcisse is a former basketball player at the University of Washington, where Husky coach Chris Gobrecht not only schooled her in pick-and-roll defense and rebounding techniques, but also in the importance of networking. When Russell-Narcisse was wearing the purple and gold, Gobrecht’s husband was working in the Mariners’ marketing department. Russell-Narcisse’s persistence and passion for a career in sports led to the life she leads today. As she told it, “I kept in touch with him and bugged him. Eventually, he brought me on to the sales department. He might have hired me to keep me from calling him anymore.”
Those incessant phone calls led to Russell-Narcisse’s first job with the M’s. She sold season tickets for the Kingdome-dwelling Mariners until the labor strike of 1994 brought the season, and the beginning of her career, to an abrupt halt. Fearing that she’d have to pivot to another line of work, Russell-Narcisse and baseball fans everywhere were saved when Major League Baseball resumed its schedule.
“When they resolved the strike I was brought back in a different capacity, in the corporate sponsorship department where I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing since 1995,” Russell-Narcisse divulged. “I sell advertising and go out to talk to companies about brand awareness, and I do a lot of their brand awareness campaigns through the Mariners.”
She sees her job as a series of opportunities, or steps toward bigger and better things. Throughout our conversation, Russell-Narcisse thanked the people who helped her succeed and mentioned her desire to do the same for others. When asked what the most rewarding part of her job is, Russell-Narcisse launched into a thoughtful answer about the impact she’s capable of having as a senior member of the organization.
“I’m so invested in my clients’ business and their goals, that I think the most rewarding part is when they reach their objectives. When I help them do whatever it is they were trying to do, or help them look really good to their constituents and stakeholders, that’s the most rewarding part for me,” Russell-Narcisse shared. “The other part would be speaking to young people who want to do what I do and mentoring them. When I can talk to somebody and encourage them and help them get in here, that’s the other rewarding thing. Just paying it forward. Someone did that for me, and I love it when I can do it for somebody else.”
Despite professional sports’ reputation as a boys’ club, Russell-Narcisse says she hasn’t faced many of the challenges that women in the industry often do. She expressed immense gratitude toward Joe Chard, the team’s Vice President of Corporate Sponsorship and Community Relations.
“As a woman here I’ve been very fortunate,” Russell-Narcisse said. “I’ve heard from a variety of women about the challenges they face in their jobs, and I just don’t have a lot of [similar] stories. I’ve been very fortunate to work with Joe Chard, who I have to imagine has the most diverse department in this company. He’s surrounded by women and people of color. I’ve been in that kind of environment where diversity is part of who we are. It’s embraced, it’s empowering.”
Russell-Narcisse is certainly aware of the issues that can permeate throughout professional sports, and issues of representation for women and minorities.
“It’s a little different [here] than what I hear from other organizations. Both of Joe’s department heads are women, and it’s something like four out of seven people of color. You just don’t see that in the workplace. I know throughout baseball there aren’t that many women in corporate sponsorships. That’s changing. There’s more and more all the time. But there’s nothing I can think of in terms of challenges because I’m a woman.”
Our conversation ended with Russell-Narcisse offering valuable advice for women hoping to forge a career with the Mariners, Seahawks, Storm, or any team that strikes their fancy. The most prominent themes of our conversation involved helping others, believing in oneself, and having the confidence to pursue the life you deserve.
“Reach out to any women at any team at any level and strike up a conversation. Ask for an informational interview and start building a relationship. When we’re hiring, some of the people who give themselves the best chances are the ones who have developed a relationship with someone in here,” Russell-Narcisse revealed. “Nobody wants to pick up the phone or send that email. Get over that fear; stretch and grow yourself. You should so something that scares you a little bit every day if you can. That’s where your growth is going to come from.”