Fun and games for sports specialist


life062308Everyone is acquainted with the adage, "Do what you love, and the money will follow." John Anthony, who with his wife, Katie, owns a $50 million agency devoted almost exclusively to sports-related travel, is living proof that one can combine love and money in the work world.

That wasn't always the case. In the 1980s, Anthony was a 20-something certified public accountant who "didn't enjoy going to work. I wanted to work in sports."

One day, after returning to his office in Fort Worth, Texas, from a Notre Dame football game, he sat at his desk ruminating on the situation.

His sister, Cynthia Anthony Stoutenburgh, was an independent contractor for a travel agency at the time. She had the clients and the experience, and Anthony had the yen to build a business with a sports niche, so they co-founded Dallas-based Anthony Travel in 1989. 

Anthony, a Notre Dame alumnus, said another alum who was his client recommended his agency to decision-makers at the university in South Bend.

From that came a contract to move the school's band to a bowl game. The agency saved Notre Dame $100,000, Anthony said, and the agency later won the bid for the university's entire travel account.

In that first decade, Anthony's sister left the business. He is now president and CEO and his wife is treasurer, and they work out of an office in South Bend.

The agency counts a total of 100 staff in 14 locations, most of them inside university athletic departments, from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Except for Notre Dame, all university business is with athletic departments only. The agency works with 19 departments year round. For these, Anthony said, "we move all teams and coaches for all games, for recruiting, and we take fans to major [football bowl games] and the [NCAA] Final Four in basketball."

The business mix is split evenly between university-related business and sporting events, for which the agency prepares packages directed to the event participants and to spectators. These events include those at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, youth soccer, Ironman competitions and the like.

Anthony Travel prepares a "preferred package" with the "best deals," Anthony said, and event sponsors may even require that people buy from the travel agency in order to get into the event.

He said this simplifies life for the sponsor that may want to ensure that participants or spectators buy certain things, such as event tickets, the pasta dinner the night before a marathon, theme park tickets or hotel rooms.

In return, he said, the arrangement sometimes generates revenue for event sponsors, or it saves them money, or "in many cases, it does both," Anthony said.

To sell product, he continued, the agency's packages are part of an official offering. Promotion is primarily electronic, and each event's host organization or sponsor sends out the emails and include information at their proprietary websites.

Four Anthony Travel staffers are devoted to communications and marketing, creating the messages for the emailed promotions and websites.

The agency's own site is a "very important tool for us," Anthony said. For example, he continued, someone wanting to attend the New York City Marathon might go to that event's website, but if the person wants to explore hotel options or even book, the click-through will take him to Anthony Travel, the event's official agency.

The biggest surprise, Anthony said, is "how enjoyable work can be." Besides creating a career around sports, he said he has found great people to work with inside and outside the agency.

Anthony isn't alone in combining sports and work; many staffers are former college-level athletes, or just nuts about sports.

Jackie Hass, director of soccer events, has pursued sports since age 4, she said. She has a master's degree in sports administration and worked at the Disney sports complex before applying at Anthony Travel.

It's "outstanding" to be able to attend many sports events for work, she said -- although her sport is softball, not soccer.

Jason Rice, director of endurance events, helps plan for events -- triathlons, marathons and others -- that he also enters.

He does site inspections then often returns for the events, where staff is available 24 hours a day, but the agency's down time is during the competitions themselves.

Rice competes in some of them, which "makes for a long weekend," he acknowledged.

Then there is Mike Pope, envied by colleagues, he said, because, as Anthony's account manager at the University of North Carolina, his alma mater, his office overlooks the football field in Kenan Stadium.

A lover of all college sports, Pope said the sports environment "rings true to my heart and spirit, [but] what we do here is still called work."

Perfect Itinerary
Game time in South Bend, Ind.

itin062308The following weekend itinerary was prepared in the South Bend, Ind., office of Anthony Travel, for the avid fan of Notre Dame football.

Day 1: Arrive on the University of Notre Dame campus at 3 p.m. and visit the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, followed by 5 p.m. check-in at the Ivy Court Inn and Suites, adjacent to campus. Have dinner at Maury's Pat's Colonial Pub (be sure to make reservations); follow with 9 p.m. drinks at the Linebacker Lounge.

Day 2: Begin the day with a visit to the College Football Hall of Fame at 9 a.m., followed at by the Friday Football Luncheon on campus at 11:30 a.m. After lunch, tour the campus. Be sure to visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Main Building (Golden Dome) and the Hesburgh Library, better known to sports fans as the building with the "Touchdown Jesus" mural on the side. In the late afternoon, at 4:15, watch the band "step off" from the steps of the Main Building; follow the marchers to the Joyce Center to gather for a pep rally. By 5:15, grab a good seat for the official Notre Dame rally, featuring the band, cheerleaders and the team. Have dinner at Rocco's and drinks at Corby's Irish Pub, which was featured in the movie "Rudy."

Day 3: Game day. Take a morning walk around campus and enjoy the sights and sounds of Notre Dame. Lunch on a bratwurst sandwich at the Knights of Columbus stand on campus. At 12:30 p.m., gather near the north end of the stadium and watch the team walk from Mass at the Basilica to the stadium. At 1:20 p.m., the band marches into the north end of the stadium playing the Notre Dame Victory March. Take your seat at 2 p.m. in time to watch the pregame pageantry and the 2:30 p.m. kickoff. Celebrate Mass on campus at 7 p.m.


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