Launching a New Partnership – Q&A with Calleagh Darby and Brad Sutton 

Last month, IMG Learfield and Southern Methodist University launched a new partnership on campus in Dallas, Texas. We sat down with our General Manager Calleagh Darby and SMU’s Senior Associate Athletic Director Brad Sutton to take us through the launch of the partnership and what’s ahead for the Mustangs in 2018.

IMGL: You started as a Sales Rep at the National Sales Center, what made you apply for the position?

Darby: When I was working at Southern Miss, prior to my time with IMG Learfield, I distinctly remember an Athletic Department meeting where the Athletic Director had Brendan Jones (General Manager at the time) and Chris Adams (Senior Account Executive at the time) come down in front of the entire department and be recognized for helping to sell out the USM vs. Mississippi State game that coming fall. I asked myself, “what do they do, and how can I be a part of making a difference like THAT!?”

Without having any sales experience, however, I knew I had to start somewhere, so I was nervous but excited to go for the Sales Rep position in Indianapolis at the NCAA Sales Center. In addition, I was drawn to the opportunity to work for two of the most prominent names in the sports industry – IMG and the NCAA.


IMGL: How do you think your time at Southern Miss has helped prepare you for your new role at SMU? Where do you think you have grown the most professionally? Personally?

Darby: At Southern Miss you had no choice but to hustle. You hustle or you get hustled, so I decided early that I was going to have to make a lot of calls and work on creating good relationships in order to be successful. Building strong personal and professional relationships, in combination with being a hustler has prepared me the most.

Professionally I’ve grown the most in figuring out my management and leadership style. I believe there are natural born leaders and there are people who lead by example. It’s taken me a lot of time and humbling moments to learn where I fit in between those two. I’ve ultimately learned that you have to be a good follower and leader without a title, before you can be a great leader.

I believe I’ve grown the most personally by developing the mindset of trusting and believing in the process, rather than being impatient and getting frustrated over the things I can’t control. Remembering to control the controllables is a hard thing for me to do, but it has allowed me to grow more and be a better leader and performer.


IMGL: What was it about the opportunity at SMU that made you want to take the position?

Darby: I was drawn to the fact that I would be helping launch and build a brand new partner for IMGL. I felt really strongly that I could help build the foundation and help create strong relationships right off the bat, and then continue to grow and nurture those relationships. Building a brand new staff from scratch and having a Data Analyst was also very exciting to me.

I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to work for at organization as reputable as SMU in an awesome city like Dallas for the same company I love working for. It was without a doubt the right opportunity at the right time for me personally and professionally. You can’t deny an opportunity that “feels right.”


IMGL: What are the biggest opportunities for you and your staff at SMU in 2018?

Darby: We have a great home schedule this year. We also have some great business intelligence projects in the works that will provide a huge opportunity for digital sales. In addition, the administration top to bottom here at SMU is fantastic. They are not only open to new ideas, but they encourage them, so we are absolutely capitalizing on that by working on new and innovative projects.


IMGL: In choosing to work with IMGL to work with in helping garner your efforts, what attracted you most to the organization, and how has your experience been so far?

Sutton: Having worked with Learfield on multimedia rights and licensing, we knew the level of expertise and the strategic approach IMGL would bring to campus would make for a successful partnership. It has been a smooth transition thus far.


IMGL: What are some of the biggest challenges you believe athletics departments and/or SMU are facing in generating ticket sales and fan engagement to support the AD’s mission?

Sutton: Generally, some key challenges facing our industry include 75-inch 4K HDTVs, 12-day TV picks that keep kickoff times in flux and competition for entertainment dollars. Our task is to connect with fans at every level, make them feel valued and make it easy, fun and affordable to attend a game.


IMGL: Another challenge for Athletic Departments has been evaluating the new tax laws and how it impacts ticket sales and annual donations in the short term and long term. What are some strategies you are looking at as a department to mitigate potential challenges?

Sutton:“Prediction,” goes an old Danish proverb, “is hazardous, especially about the future.”

In short, we don’t know yet. There are several interpretations within the industry on the new tax bill and we are all awaiting clarification from the IRS on a number of topics. It’s too early to craft long term strategies; however, we are working closely with our legal counsel to stay current as new information becomes available.


IMGL: What do you enjoy most about collegiate athletics, specifically the duties of your position? 

Sutton: The student-athletes. They are without question the best part of this job. We come to work every day with the hope that we can make a positive impact in their lives both now and in the future. Whether it’s as a PR rep or as a sport administrator, it’s the relationships that I’ve fostered that provide the greatest satisfaction to me.