A group photo with everyone smiling at the camera.
WNBA and MLB participants in Fanatics’ Athlete Immersion Program: AJ Lewis, Walker Buehler, Rebekah Gardner, Isabelle Harrison, Essence Carson, Mark Melancon, Mike Rucker, Zach Weiss, Diamond DeShields, and Marie Ferdinand-Harris (back left to front right).
Photo courtesy of Fanatics

USC Annenberg and Marshall partner with Fanatics for unique program for WNBA and MLB athletes

USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and Marshall School of Business joined the global digital sports platform Fanatics to create a one-week innovative career transition program for WNBA and MLB athletes. Combining the global business expertise of Fanatics with USC’s academic strength and deep connections to the sports industry, the collaboration aimed to accelerate athletes’ transition into business careers through a customized educational experience. 

Serving as an academic hub for the global sports industry, USC Annenberg and USC Marshall immersed participants in a specialized curriculum to gain a comprehensive understanding of business fundamentals, brand strategy, sales and marketing, and storytelling. Fanatics offered athletes exposure to the entirety of its wide-ranging portfolio, including access to top executives in these various divisions.

By blending the academic excellence of USC’s faculty and real-world application in Fanatics’ offices, athletes develop both theoretical and practical experience in the sports business. The program plans to build a diverse talent pipeline for positions at Fanatics and leadership roles across the sports ecosystem.

“Whether it’s fan engagement,  opportunities offered by the expansion of streaming platforms, or the influx of capital investments, we’re watching in real time as the sports industry explodes with opportunity,” USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay said. “We are proud to support Fanatics’ Athlete Immersion Program with a curriculum that equips athletes with a comprehensive understanding of the sector and propels their professional growth.”

A teacher presenting slides in front of a classroom.
Monica Koyama, co-director of USC Annenberg's Communication Management program, leads a session focusing on brand communication and media.

USC Annenberg’s communication and public relations faculty members introduced participants to media and brand communications, preparing them to tell brand stories — both the personal and the corporate — through creative multimedia content across diverse digital media platforms.

Providing a foundation in business and marketing fundamentals, USC Marshall’s faculty engaged the cohort around best leadership practices, as well as strategies to build, manage, and maintain high-performing, diverse teams.

“Sports are at the center of so much in our world, from boardrooms to playing fields,” USC Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett said. “And with this exciting new partnership, Fanatics and USC are creating pathways for professional athletes to transition successfully to their post-playing careers.”

Throughout the week, 11 MLB and WNBA athletes gained firsthand insights into areas such as merchandising, collectibles, and the “live” experience through conversations with Fanatics leaders, including Michael Rubin, CEO; Orlando Ashford, Chief People Officer; Mike Mahan, Fanatics Collectibles CEO; Nick Bell, Fanatics Live CEO; and Eli Kumekpor, Mitchell & Ness CEO.

“Fanatics’ business is built on our relationships with athletes. We’re proud to be able to support athletes at every stage of their career and help as they transition beyond the field or court,” Ashford said. “On behalf of the company, I’d like to give a big thank you to USC for lending their classrooms and expertise to make this program a success and provide incredible value to our WNBA and MLB participants.”

In an interview with PEOPLE, Dallas Wings player Diamond DeShields emphasized that value.

“Honestly, I loved everything about [the program],” she said. “Every day was just full of so much I was excited to learn. We got to learn so many things about the different businesses within Fanatics, Fanatics Collectibles, Fanatics Lives, everything that they had going on.”