Washington Nats Exec on ‘Creating Memories’ at the Home of the World Series Champs
By Jay Hodgkins
University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumnus Jake Burns (MBA ’07) always dreamed of working in professional sports. In fact, it’s why he chose to earn his MBA more than a decade ago, even though it took the longtime consultant years to finally make the jump across industries.
Thanks to a Darden connection, he landed with the Washington Nationals four years ago and rose in the ranks to become executive vice president of business operations — overseeing revenue, marketing, ticket sales and the game-day experience — just in time for the team’s historic season leading to its first World Series title in October 2019.
Burns shared his story in a profile on the Alumni Profile section of the Darden website, in which Burns described the hard work of delivering a highly engaging in-game entertainment experience for fans.
“A winning team is a more valuable team, a more sought-after team,” said the Darden School alumnus.
But attracting fans to the ballpark when the sports industry is being disrupted by technology is no easy feat. “The at-home viewing experience is becoming more attractive,” said Burns, citing big-screen TVs, cheaper beer and food. But he is adamant that the atmosphere, the crowd, the spectacle cannot be replicated at home.
Yet with the Nats playing 80-plus home games each season, fan fatigue is a real danger. Baseball games are also lengthy (around three hours, on average), and the sport competes with a myriad of other attractions in the vibrant D.C. entertainment scene.
To keep fans coming back for more, Burns puts on what he says “amounts to a party the size of Charlottesville” at each home game for some 40,000 fans. The stadium experience is becoming more interactive and engaging, enabled by technology. One example is a virtual reality game where fans try to hit home runs using a bat.
After Darden, Burns worked in consulting for more than a decade, but a connection with Darden alumna helped him make a long-sought switch into professional sports.
A recruiter headhunted him for a position with the Nats, running corporate partnerships under the guidance of Valerie Camillo (MBA ’00), the Darden alumna who then served as the club’s chief revenue and marketing officer and who has worked within the NBA, MLB and now the National Hockey League with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The connection helped him secure the Nats job, as Camillo understood how the Darden MBA prepares future leaders to take on executive roles.
“The case study method helped me be more willing to engage in conversation and share my opinion,” he said. “That’s incredibly important in this role, in which I have to collaborate across a number of different business lines and combine a bunch of perspectives to deliver a first-class entertainment experience.”
Camillo became his mentor. “She was phenomenal, not just in providing industry knowledge. She’s also extremely media savvy — everything we do is scrutinised by the media — and understands how it helps us accomplish business objectives, helping us promote the team, sell tickets.”
Read the full profile on Alumni Spotlight. Photo at top published under Creative Commons.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia