Going the Distance
During his summer in Shanghai, Trinity Basketball’s Kevin Owens helped bring NFL stars Tom Brady, Russell Wilson to China
Friday, December 1, 2017
Basketball player with kids

At 6’8” and 235 pounds, Kevin Owens ’19 routinely carves out space near the rim for the Trinity Tigers NCAA Division III basketball team.

But this summer, Owens used his business savvy and Chinese language skills at a Shanghai marketing company to help carve out market space for a different game in China: the NFL. As an intern for Mailman, a Chinese marketing agency, Owens helped plan trips to Shanghai for NFL superstar quarterbacks Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

“A lot of NFL players are coming over to China,” Owens says. “For individual athletes and their branding, it opens them up to more of a market.”

At Mailman, where Owens interned for four weeks in June while studying abroad as part of Trinity’s Shanghai Program, Owens ran blogs and handled social media for both Brady and Wilson’s visits. He also developed a presentation on growth opportunities and challenges for the NFL in China.

“Football isn’t an Olympic sport over there, so it doesn’t get government funding,” Owens says. “They need to find space for fields, and they need to expand their youth leagues, too.”

Wilson and Brady, who have six Super Bowl rings between them with the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots respectively, are household names in the U.S. but aren’t as well known in China. There, Owens says both athletes needed help connecting with fans.

While Brady’s trip itself was organized entirely by his Under Armour representatives, Owens helped the Chinese media come up with questions to ask Brady during his June visit to Shanghai.

“He’s a very humble guy, which I didn’t expect,” Owens says. “It was raining that day, but he was very adamant that ‘I’m still doing the event’ even though it was pouring.”

Owens played a larger part in Wilson’s July visit, suggesting activities for the former University of Wisconsin standout. Wilson ran a youth camp at Nike’s Shanghai Campus, did an interview session with media, and made time for some public sightseeing. While Nike handled Wilson’s logistics, Owens helped Mailman come up with this itinerary.

When he wasn't working on NFL marketing, Owens and his Mailman coworkers spent plenty of time playing pickup basketball.

These responsibilities came easily for Owens, who had been to China two times before this summer. The junior has enough connections in the country that he can assemble a competitive pickup game of basketball with friends at just about any open gym he can find.

Spending a summer with Mailman also represented a perfect, three-way intersection of Owens’ top interests: business, Chinese language and culture, and sports.

“When I decided to come to Trinity, Chinese was one of my major must-haves, and Trinity has a really good Chinese language program,” says Owens, pointing to the university’s East Asian Studies program. “Trinity… had everything I wanted, with Chinese, basketball, and the business school, so it all just kind of clicked.”

Owens notes that Trinity’s versatile approach means students with similarly unique combinations of interests don’t have to compromise when picking a career path.

“I think Trinity does a really good job of opening up opportunities,” Owens says. “If you seek it, then they either have something or they’ll try to make something for you, whether it’s through study abroad, or a lot of culture clubs on campus, or with your language department.”

Beyond studying abroad, Trinity has a strong international focus on campus, too, Owens adds.

“We have a lot of native Chinese speakers that can help you out with homework or any questions you have, so there’s really a lot of opportunities we have as students to be a part of other cultures while on Trinity’s campus,” Owens says. “Then, you can also go to those cultures through study abroad.”

Owens (second from right), and his coworkers at the Mailman office.

After this summer’s experience working with NFL clients, Owens says he plans to keep working towards a career in basketball. Owen’s “dream job” is working with NBA China—which handles outreach efforts and recruiting in the country—and to get there he plans to work with the NBA main offices in the U.S. first before obtaining a work visa.

“Getting one of those is easier if you have a job already lined up,” Owens says.

Regardless of his career path, Owens is also determined to return to his fourth passion: the food in Shanghai.

“Honestly, that’s what I liked about Shanghai the best,” he says. “It’s a lot cheaper, and it just tastes a lot better than American Chinese food.”

Jeremy Gerlach is Trinity University’s brand journalist and you can find him playing pickup basketball on campus at noon on Fridays.

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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