Behind the Cheers (Series)

Mar 19, 2023 – We are covering several Deltasigs' career successes and the diverse roles they play in connecting athletes to fans!

Since the days of the ancient Greek Olympics and Roman gladiators, people have been innately drawn to sports. We stand at rapt attention as we admire physical feats of speed, strength or endurance. The Super Bowl is annually the most-watched program on American TV, and it’s been reported that as many as five billion of the world’s eight billion inhabitants tuned in to watch last year’s World Cup. Yep, we love athletes.

However, in today’s highly competitive, hyperconnected world, legions of support are required to train and support sportspersons. Whether it entails poring over analytics that help players enhance their performance, cultivating sponsorships that provide financial support to collegiate athletic departments, or managing the digital assets that support disseminating sports-related content, numerous roles must be filled to support the business of sports. 

Here’s a look at one of several Deltasigs to helps connect fans to our favorite sports.

Mark Walpole, Ohio (left in photo)
General Manager for Learfield at Purdue Sports Properties

Mark earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degree from Ohio University. After graduating in 1992, he took a job on the marketing team with the Indianapolis Indians, a AAA minor-league team that was then affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds. While in school, he interned with the Atlanta Braves and learned the many moving parts involved with marketing a pro-baseball team. Working with a minor league entity, however, requires a willingness to be versatile and try new things.

While he was in school, Mark dreamed of becoming the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball. In 1998, he moved up to the big leagues and took a position with the Cincinnati Reds. However, once he was exposed to the grind that working for an MLB team entails, Mark decided to reboot his career and decided to shift to college athletics.

He noticed one key philosophical difference between pro and collegiate sports: “In the pros, people tend to cheer for the name on the back of the jersey. It’s more focused on the individual. At the college level, fans love the name on the front of the jersey – the school. I love professional sports, but the passion that college fans have for their school is compelling.”

Mark returned to Indianapolis and took a job on the marketing team for Butler University. In this role, Mark became familiar with the types of local and regional businesses that support a college athletics program. In 2002, Mark went to work for Learfield Sports by taking a position with Indiana University Sports Properties, which required catering to a mix of local, regional and national businesses and organizations. He discovered that marketing a major college team requires a unique perspective.

“In college-athletics marketing, you have to think of yourself as both an employee of the CEO of your company, and the athletic director whose teams you represent,” he said. “You’re invested in both of their successes, and you want to be proactive and responsive to ideas that will grow the brand.”

Mark’s next step was joining the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. These were the Colts’ glory days, with Payton Manning, Marvin Harrison and countless other superstars who led the team to consistent playoff appearances, two Super Bowl appearances and one championship.

“In addition to having a lot of on-field success, the Colts were a pleasure to work with,” Mark said. “It was an exciting time and an exciting team.”

After the eight-year stint with the Colts, he moved to south Florida and took a marketing role with the Miami Dolphins. For a Midwesterner, it was a fish-out-of-water moment.

“It’s beautiful down there, but I could tell right away that I didn’t fit in,” Mark said.

He reached out to Learfield and landed a position with Wolfpack Sports Properties at North Carolina State. This brought him headfirst into the intensity of Tobacco Row rivalries, with North Carolina State, North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest all in close proximity and competing to win fans and leverage sponsorships.

Finally, Mark’s career took him full-circle and he returned to the Hoosier State and remains with Learfield at Purdue Sports Properties. His staff includes four full-time employees. When he entered the sports marketing business, radio and TV were the extent of media outlets. Now, a school’s brand must remain vital online and in social media, and there’s a greater emphasis on leveraging sponsors within the stadium as the competition for a bigger share of the revenue pie becomes increasingly fierce.

“There’s no offseason. We have to find ways to engage with fans 365 days a year,” Mark said. “It’s as true off the field as on that you’re only as good as your team.”

He credits Delta Sigma Pi with helping him understand the meaning of teamwork and the value of embracing brotherhood. He noted the lessons he learned about the importance of balancing listening to and respecting those in leadership role while demonstrating the ability to make contributions.



Check back for more spotlights in this series!

  • Deltasig Spotlight