When most people think about sports, their first thought is typically the athletes. Athletes get the headlines and the enormous paydays and the trophies and the “I’m going to Disney World” moments on TV yet the industry of sports is far more expansive. A singular game includes hundreds of people who works in the arenas and stadiums—security, maintenance, retail, concessions, ticket booths, parking lots, announcers, ushers—as well as those from the TV and radio networks who are broadcasting the game. It also includes marketing agencies who handle everything from where a logo is placed on a headset to the signage outside the stadium for tailgating.
That’s where Cody Kuecker comes in. He works for a company that manages multimedia rights for brand sponsorships at college sporting events, specifically at Texas A&M University, his alma mater. For every sport on campus, from football to track and field, he and his team ensure the university’s brand partners are in the best position to succeed. He also happens to be my cousin and one of my favorite people.
When the pandemic struck, the first places in America that went dark were sporting arenas. The trickle down from that meant Cody was faced with something no one has been faced with in America before: a total disappearance of sporting events country-wide.
Ryan: Let’s start with your job, specifically it being at Texas A&M. Not only is it where you went to school but it’s been a part of your family since day one because it’s where your father went to school as well.
Cody: I don’t know if there are any words to adequately convey the blessing and opportunity this job has been. I never would’ve thought when I started working in sports that it would lead me back to A&M so when it did, it was hard not to see this as divine and God-given. To be able to do something unique at the place I love, where I went to school—I don’t take a day for granted.
Ryan: College sports came to a halt just as pro sports did. Where did that leave you?
Cody: It was right in the middle of baseball season when everything came grinding to a halt. There were a couple NBA games that got canceled and within 48 hours, the entire sports and entertainment industry shut down. We were met with nothing but uncertainty.
Overnight, our entire job became working with brand partners who had questions we didn’t have the answers to. It turned into crisis management in the span of a day. We ran every single model we could but there was no way to really plan for a return to sports. We are taking it week by week because that’s what we’ve learned to do in the past six months.
Ryan: Week by week, that pretty much sums up this year doesn’t it? Did that way of working in a world full of question marks spill into your life away from work?
Cody: It’s been hard to separate what’s happening at the job with what’s happening at home. I’ve been fortunate to be able to go into an office during this time but my wife has been working from home. Work becomes home, home becomes work, and the delineation has been tough to draw. It took the first month or so for us to find a rhythm. What does life look like when we’re the only people we see for extended periods of time?
Ryan: That’s real. It was as if the entire world had to pivot to a new rhythm. How did you find yours?
Cody: Three months in, which feels like a lifetime ago, we were supposed to be sipping rum on the beach in Mexico. We obviously couldn’t do that so instead, we drove twenty hours around the state of Texas. I’ve grown up in Texas but had never really seen anything in West Texas. To be able to experience that was really neat. We got some time away from work and from the monotony of being stuck at home, we did something we never would’ve done otherwise, and it was just the two of us in a car in the middle of nowhere for seven days. That revitalized us both and it was a refreshing change.
Ryan: Let’s talk about sports and the world we’ve been living in for the past seven months.
If you look at sports as a bubble, that bubble touches almost every single American life in some way, shape or form. Live sports are still the top-rated TV programs every single year but even if you don’t watch sports, you’re seeing it on social media or on the news or on websites.
Sports really marked the beginning of our pandemic response in this country. One NBA game said they weren’t playing, the next thing was the NBA shutting down the season, then the rest followed. Sports has such a meaningful stance in our society and has the power to affect change on multiple levels.
The four or five months where there were no sports, there was no distractions. For the first time in modern history, there were no NBA games to turn on, no baseball games two or three nights a week. People didn’t have those escapes. People who normally watch sports and turn their brains off about everything else had no choice but to pay attention to what was happening in our society.
Ryan: So let’s talk about that. Sports has a long history of being a platform for activism and today is no different. What’s been your take on how athletes have stood up?
Cody: From the professional sports side of things, I’ve been encouraged by their willingness to be a part of the change we’re seeing socially. Sports is a unifier. After 9/11, baseball was a unifier and watching the home opener of the Chiefs this year, I loved that both teams came together and locked arm-in-arm in the center of the field for a moment of silence. I was disheartened to hear the fans boo them despite the fact the teams were bringing unity to the table but I’ve been impressed by athletes in every sport taking public steps to use their platform for good at a time when we need to take a hard look at ourselves and at society.
At the collegiate level, I’ve seen and will continue to see good things from student athletes who are using their voices for change. Across the board, everyone is standing up in a unique way, saying this has to stop and that’s what it’s about. We are a unifier. That’s something I whole-heartedly believe.
Ryan: During this pandemic, what have you learned about yourself?
Cody: I don’t think I used this time wisely enough. When I got home from work, I was consumed with the negativity of that day. I was consuming as much of what was going on in society as I could because I wanted to learn as much as I could. But I think I learned I need to take a step back from the nonstop consumption of media. Not to turn a blind eye, I have to have a dedicated time for learning and educating myself, but I also need to feed myself, my wife, and my faith as well. That would be my biggest critique of myself during this time.
Ryan: So when this comes to an end, whenever that may be, what are you most excited to come back to?
Cody: There’s a moment when something awesome happens at a sporting event, when you’re high-fiving everyone next to you and 100,000 strangers are cheering because an athlete did something amazing on the field. That can’t be replaced by watching sports on TV or even having less fans or no fans at the games. Nothing will replicate that. I can’t wait for that again.
Outside of sports, I’m looking forward to being able to us being about to hug our friends. Physical touch is something we need and took for granted. Bring able to gather with friends and not feel weird about it is something I’m looking forward to whenever that does come.
Ryan: And the opposite question would be, what do you hope we leave behind us?
Cody: This is a different way to answer that question. You truly don’t understand what that person you work with on a daily basis is facing. We have to lean into empathy and compassion and show love because maybe they won’t get it anywhere else. We have to, collectively as a society, push into that. Push into choosing empathy rather than the alternative. The gap is widening between love and hate, there’s no middle ground, but we have to leave people with love and compassion and empathy because in the end, that’s what matters.