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UNT aiming to increase student involvement in Cowboys’ partnership

UNT aiming to increase student involvement in Cowboys’ partnership

Courtesy UNT

UNT aiming to increase student involvement in Cowboys’ partnership
February 21
14:00 2018

When UNT announced it would be partnering with the Dallas Cowboys, students, faculty and alumni were excited about the possibility. Just the thought of “America’s Team” being associated with North Texas caused many to feel optimistic about the partnership.

Shortly after the deal came to fruition, UNT banners and advertisements started making their way to AT&T stadium and the Star in Frisco. This lucrative deal allows North Texas to call itself the “exclusive higher education partner of the Dallas Cowboys.” Although the goal of the partnership is to enhance the brand of the university, what sold president Neal Smatresk on this deal was the opportunity for students to benefit.

“[The Dallas Cowboys] have a huge presence, and I would argue perhaps more built-in views and customers for its products than virtually any other sports franchise, and from a marketing perspective, maybe more than all of the rest of the football programs put together,” Smatresk said in an interview with the Dallas Business Journal. “We think that it’ll be good for us. It’ll help attract students. It’ll serve our students in unique ways and it’ll give us a real national footprint and reputation.”

According to the contract agreement, each year the Cowboys will supply four event speakers to UNT events. Students are also given the opportunity to tour AT&T stadium and the Cowboys headquarters in Frisco for free if the students go with a UNT sponsor.

Most importantly, the contract requires the Cowboys to take four student interns from UNT during each year of the eight-year contract.

While different students groups have visited the Cowboys facility and guest speakers have come to the university, only one Mayborn School of Journalism student has been confirmed as interning with the Cowboys as a result of the deal, according to Mayborn School of Journalism Dean Dorothy Bland. The agreement was signed July 2016, and the university confirmed deal Aug. 9, 2016.  The contract explicitly states there will be four interns per contract year.

Both the parties agreed students will have the opportunity to intern within different departments of the organization, from broadcast to marketing to stadium operations. Although those were the designated focus areas, many students were not aware of the extent of the partnership outside of the promotions during the Cowboys games.  Bland believes she has a solution to the problem.

“I think communication is key,” Bland said. “I think it’s important that students know about the opportunities for starters. Students should apply for the opportunities but also keep in mind just because someone applies doesn’t mean that he or she gets the assignment or job.  It’s in our student’s best interest to continue to look for a multitude of opportunities.”

The Cowboys’ internship program is managed by the University Relations, Communications & Marketing department at UNT. Previously, students would receive a recommendation from a professor and go through a screening process, and then the URCM would reach out to the Cowboys. That process generally took a couple months before receiving confirmation.

On Jan. 24, The North Texas Daily reached out to University Relations and Planning Vice President Deborah Leliaert for an interview regarding the partnership. Two weeks later, she replied saying email is the most effective way to communicate with her. Leliaert was very instrumental in the relationship with the Cowboys and the development of the contract along with Smatresk.

On Wednesday, Leliaert replied on behalf of the URCM with answers to questions asked via email.

“Four students will experience internships with the Cowboys annually, in keeping with our partnership agreement,” Leliaert said. “The Cowboys organization doesn’t track, by university, the number of interns it employs at any given time.  However, I believe it’s fair to say that more than the required number of UNT interns are participating annually. Currently, three UNT students are participating in internships with the Cowboys, and the organization is accepting applications for more interns.”

The university has spent $1.5 million through the first two years of the agreement, and Smatresk has spoken numerous times about how students would reap the benefits of this partnership. Considering the deal was signed back in 2016, it took the university nearly two years to post an opportunity for students to apply.  Nearly 18 months after signing this deal, the university has still not released the names of those students who interned with the Cowboys.

“It was a bit of a challenge initially as the two organizations sought to balance the football season, when the Cowboys most need interns, and our academic semesters,” Leliaert said. “Also, UNT initially sought to obtain the best intern candidates by working through academic deans. We now have better alignment by semester and are making the internship opportunities more widely available and increasing the candidate pool by posting available positions on the UNT Career Center’s website, Eagle Careers.”

By Jan. 24, no internships were posted on the UNT’s Handshake page in connection to the Cowboys’ contract agreement. Seven days later, positions were added to the website. Finally, students were offered an opportunity to take advantage of the multi-million dollar contract.

The agreement provides promotional opportunities for UNT on the Cowboys radio network, television broadcasts and at football games. UNT is also featured on the Cowboys’ website, where the university are guaranteed to receive over 2 million impressions per year.

While the UNT brand is becoming more associated with the Cowboys, alumnus Alex Lilly looks back at his experience with the Cowboys as pure joy, despite not knowing how long he would be with them.

“I got different information regarding this internship,” Lilly said, “I was told it would last a year but apparently it was only supposed to last six months, yet I’m here one year later. It’s [been] extremely rewarding, I’ve followed the Cowboys my whole life, so that fact that I can come up here, and I’m paid to do it, is awesome.”

Professor John Nauright was excited about the possibility of the partnership. As a huge proponent of student involvement and maximizing university-based connections, he believes in the future, North Texas should look at ways to highlight the specific programs at the university through the Cowboys’ partnership.

“I think we did the right thing in the beginning to say UNT and the Cowboys are connected,” Nauright said. “Now if we can take that into the specific areas that we are directly tied into, it would help grow those programs. They have so many associated businesses that our students might connect more widely through their array of businesses.”

Time will tell if the partnership can be labeled as a success. In the meantime, UNT has recently announced future plans for academic learning, mentorship and internships in conjunction with the Cowboys partnership.

“[UNT] has gone from being the state teacher college to the state university to the University of North Texas with a global outlook,” Nauright said. “Go big or go home — that’s what we are going for.”

About Author

Jordan James

Jordan James

Sports writer covering Mean Green Sports and more

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