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Atlanta Falcons' chief marketing officer shares his "road less traveled" to senior executive

Jim Smith took the stage realizing he was in a potentially hostile environment. After all, this was Philadelphia, and the subject was football.

"I'm the enemy - I realize that - on Sunday," he told the crowd. "But today, I'm not."

That's how Smith, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Atlanta Falcons, opened his visit to Temple University's School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) on Oct. 26. His Executive in Residence presentation fell just two days before the Falcons dismantled the hometown Eagles, 30-17, to remain the NFL's only unbeaten team at 7-0.

But Smith wasn't just in town to cultivate business relationships during the battle of the birds. He also shared lessons from his 25-year career in sport management to more than 100 STHM students, faculty and staff. John Adams, vice president and chief operating officer of the Philadelphia Soul, moderated the discussion.

A Connecticut native, Smith grew up wanting to run the New York Yankees. He started his sport management career in minor-league baseball as assistant general manager for the Visalia Oaks in California, where he endured 12-hour days for 12-day homestands, with no days off. "This is the industry I want to get into?" Smith recalled asking himself. "Yes, this is it."

In emphasizing the importance of a strong work ethic and the drive to make a difference in any job, Smith said his work philosophy is to learn from everything and to meaningfully contribute.

Smith has also worked as the Coliseum director at Sam Houston State University and directed live-event marketing for the World Wrestling Federation. From there, he became associate athletic director for marketing and communications at The Ohio State University, where he earned his master's in sport management. Smith then shifted to Major League Soccer, joining the Columbus Crew as general manager and winning 2001 MLS Executive of the Year.

With the Falcons, Smith not only oversees marketing, he also is the team's chief ticket sales and service officer. While he stressed the importance of having a broad skill set, Smith said the fastest way to the NFL is being a good salesperson. He also told students that technology, particularly social media, is the "biggest factor changing the consumer experience" and is an important way for the Falcons to engage with younger fans.

Under Smith's leadership, the Falcons launched the award-winning Rise Up marketing campaign, which includes a TV spot narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson and featuring Georgia notables such as former President Jimmy Carter and boxer Evander Holyfield. The campaign also includes a community initiative promoting volunteerism.

Andrew Lovell, STHM's associate director of industry relations, thanked Smith for career lessons with a "focus and passion that bursts off the stage." But Smith redirected praise.

"You're in a very unique situation to have this opportunity," he said. "Not because I'm here, but because this program's in place... At the end you can come up and thank me, but you really need to thank the people who run this program."

- Brandon Lausch