The University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management caught up with sport and entertainment management master’s program alumnus Kauri Black to hear his career insights and updates. Black graduated with his MSEM degree in 2015 and is now senior director for broadcasting and digital programming for the American Athletic Conference.
Please share a summary of your career path.
I graduated from the University of South Carolina in the summer of 2015 with a Master of Sport and Entertainment Management, and I accepted a two-year fellowship with the American Athletic Conference.
During my time as an administrative fellow with the American Athletic Conference, I worked closely with the championship and sport administration staff and assisted other departments in various capacities. I was promoted to assistant director of broadcast scheduling in June of 2017. In 2020 I was elevated to director of broadcast scheduling.
I was promoted to my current position of senior director for broadcasting and digital programming in December of 2021. I am involved in all aspects of the conference’s television and multimedia operations including coordination of schedules, analysis of ratings data, and serving as a liaison with The American's member institutions.
Before coming to The American, I served as a graduate assistant at the Dodie Anderson Enrichment Center at the University of South Carolina. Prior to coming to South Carolina, I earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Northeastern University and a master’s degree in mathematics and science education from the University of Tulsa.
What do you like most about your career?
What I enjoy most about my current role are the partnerships we have developed with our TV network partners, officiating coordinators, member institutions, third party vendors and colleagues at other conferences. At this level, it takes a ton of communication and teamwork to maximize efficiency.
Additionally, I enjoy being part of the football and basketball scheduling groups. There are many layers to creating a conference schedule, such as developing a matrix (home/away opponents), balancing the requests from the TV network partners, schools, facilities, etc. scrutinizing schedule drafts against our established parameters, historical notes, requests, etc.
Is there a particular person who has been influential in your career?
Many people have been instrumental in my overall growth, especially my boss, Tom Odjakjian. Tom took a chance on me early on when I was extremely raw, and I am forever grateful. Tom taught me everything I know within the TV realm, bridging the gap and expediting the learning curve. I’ve joked to others that I’m still working on another degree within the Tom Odjakjian School of Broadcasting & Programming.
Another person that has been highly influential in my career, especially over the past year, is Brian Thornton, current commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). During Brian’s short stint at The American, we worked closely together on the basketball scheduling front during the pandemic. Brian allowed me to work and learn from someone who resembled me, and more importantly, someone I could easily relate to. I think that was pivotal for me, especially during that stretch.
How did your experience at the University of South Carolina impact your career?
The curriculum was challenging, but the insight and experiences the professors provided are what ultimately set the M.S.E.M. program apart from others. In many ways, they provided maps to navigate the many roadblocks that lie ahead on our respective journeys. Additionally, I created lifelong friendships with a few of my classmates. Matt Woodman is probably my closest friend; we still communicate regularly. We frequently bounce ideas off each other and try to meet up in person every year or so. It’s great to have a friend that you can truly trust and help influence your decision making!
What is one of the best experiences from your career journey so far?
My favorite experience was the 2020 launch of The American on ESPN+. Like most of the world, there was so much uncertainty due to the pandemic at that time, but despite all the roadblocks, our membership was able to not just meet, but exceed our contractual obligations. It was great knowing all the years of hard work spearheaded by my boss Tom Odjakjian and the ESPN digital production/programming teams came to light. With ESPN+ subscriptions to 21.3 million, up 76% from last year as of this February's Disney reporting, it’s been great to have a strong presence on ESPN+. Our school productions are produced at a high level because of our contractual standards relative to camera complements and graphics package. As a result, sports that may not traditionally get the linear exposure as football and men’s basketball have now benefited from our robust digital presence. Lastly, it’s great seeing the investments our schools have made in their productions over the past year, which allowed ESPN personnel to utilize campus control rooms to produce college basketball games on ESPNU.
Was there a particular class or topic at South Carolina that is instrumental in your job today?
I really enjoyed being in Frank Roach’s class – Frank challenged me to think differently and nudged me to peel back the layers to uncover a deeper meaning, which catered to my contrarian spirit. Similarly, my sport management class with Todd Koesters was highly instructive as I embarked on my journey. Professor Koesters provided real-life examples that were foundational for me in the early stages of my career and still prove true today.
What advice would you give to a student considering a career in sport management?
The advice I would give students is – never take shortcuts ever and ALWAYS bet on yourself! And, as the late great Steve Jobs once said, “The journey is the reward.” Embrace your journey, and more importantly, never forget it!