Going Pro

They Wanted To Go Pro In Sports, But Weren’t Athletes. What To Do? Georgia Southern Had The Answer.

Michael Schetzel

It all started from scratch ­— just the way Michael Schetzel (’94) likes to do things.

Schetzel got an internship with the Savannah Olympic Committee during the final semester of his master’s program in sport management. This led to a temporary position with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. The Committee tasked him with organizing the ticketing for sailing events in Savannah for the ’96 Olympics and if he could, figure out a way to make it a spectator sport, creating the first Olympic spectator sailing program in history. Quite the responsibility for an intern. Schetzel’s plan was so successful, the Committee hired him to run the ’96 Olympic sailing spectator program.

That was the beginning of a 25-plus year career in sports that has included the ’96 Olympics, Madison Square Garden, a World Series ring and a Major League Soccer cup.

How Did He Get There?

In Schetzel’s junior year as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, he switched gears from political science and started looking into sport management graduate schools.

“I decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer, which was my original goal,” said Schetzel. “I decided I really wanted to work in sports and I wanted to know how to go about doing that. I’m not an athlete. I never coached. Played a little bit of lacrosse, but that was it.”

Schetzel found there were only a handful of schools that offered a master’s program in the business side of sport management. Georgia Southern was one of them, so he enrolled.

Fast Forward to the Major Leagues

Schetzel’s success with the Olympics led to a job with Madison Square Garden’s non-major league sports division which ultimately led to the director of sales for the Boston Red Sox –– his dream job. But soon after their World series win, Schetzel obliged his family by moving out west. Besides, he was itching to try something new or build something from scratch again.

Schetzel became involved with the National Hot Rod Association in Los Angeles, arena football, minor league hockey and Major League Soccer (MLS) –– managing ticket operations for Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. While there, the team won a MLS cup, Schetzel’s second championship team.

Schetzel got the itch again to start things from scratch, so he helped the WNBA Dallas Wings get going. Then an opportunity arose to be VP of sales for the fledgling –– soon to become MLS soccer team in Nashville.

He helped the Nashville Soccer Club reach the MLS level. But as usual, after Nashville achieved MLS status, Schetzel wanted a new challenge, and that opened in December of 2019. When the vice president of marketing for Nashville Soccer Club became president of FC Tulsa, he enticed Schetzel to come over with him as chief business officer.

“We’ve come here to try to revitalize soccer in Tulsa,” said Schetzel. “We’re looking to really make this one of the premier teams in the league.”

Schetzel firmly believes credit for his many successes in sports goes to Georgia Southern, and tries to give back whenever he can. He frequently speaks about the department’s successes to future students, and now as a member of the new Georgia Southern Sport Management advisory board, Schetzel will be giving more time to his alma mater.

Loyal to Georgia Southern

And of course he couldn’t leave Nashville without planting the Georgia Southern flag firmly in the ground. During his stint there, he found another Georgia Southern sport marketing graduate, CJ Berthelson, and was in a position to hire him.

“I hired CJ to come work for Nashville Soccer Club, ” said Schetzel. “I liked the fact that I had an opportunity to hire a fellow Georgia Southern Eagle, and CJ’s great.”

CJ Gets an Opportunity

CJ Berthelson

Like many kids growing up, CJ Berthelson (‘15) was wild about sports. He played every sport he could, watched every game on TV and dreamed about going pro in some sport. But by the time he was a freshman in high school, Berthelson realized he was not an athlete. Being such a huge sports fan, Berthelson was in a quandary as to what career path he could take to stay involved in sports.

“One day late in my junior year, I was driving home from school and I heard an ad on the radio for the Georgia Southern Sport Management Program,” said Berhelsen. “And it was something that I had never even heard of, never even considered. And as soon as I heard that, I was like, well, I guess I just
picked my major.”

Berthelson stayed busy at Georgia Southern. He worked for Athletics in the game operations department while a student, and his required internship senior year was with Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I was able to get my first full time job at Atlanta Motor Speedway,” said Berthelson. “And while that job ended up not being for me, it was very much my first step towards my career in sports. I have Georgia Southern to thank for that.”

The Part of Sports You Don’t See

Following Atlanta Motor Speedway, Berthelson was able to get his first ticket operations job, and has been involved with ticketing ever since.

“I just love it,” said Berthelson. “There are some positions on a sports staff where you may never actually meet fans or people in other departments. But I’m able to work with all departments. And all fans that come to the game, If they want to get in, they have to have a ticket.”

Thanks to Schetzel, Berthelson has been working with the Nashville Soccer Club since its early days building a fanbase. Now as a major league team, he has seen the franchise come full circle with their first MLS game.

“To see 60,000 people come in the door and to watch kickoff was amazing,” said Berthelson. That was definitely the highlight of my career so far and something that I’ll cherish forever.”

Two men who weren’t athletes wanted to work in sports, and succeeded. They graduated from the Georgia Southern Sport Management Program 21 years apart, but True Blue spirit brought them together and keeps the Eagle Nation’s traditions alive. — Liz Walker