Pioneering in the West, the Journey of Katie Cavender

By: Amari Dryden, @Amari_Dryden

Katie Cavender, Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Communications for the Mountain West Conference. 

Katie Cavender, Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Communications for the Mountain West Conference. 

Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Katie Cavender, Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Communications for the Mountain West Conference.  She fell in love with collegiate athletics after interning in her alma mater’s athletic department.  She was gracious enough to offer up her wisdom on how technology has had a great impact on branding in the sport industry and why every part of your journey in life in beneficial.

What has your journey been like going from a graduate of the University of Nevada-Reno to now being the Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Communication for the Mountain West Conference?

“After I finished undergrad in 2005, I was fortunate to become a public relations intern for the then-Pac-10 Conference. It opened my eyes to what life was like on the conference side of things and helped me grow my network. 

From there, I spent about a year at Boise State, which transitioned me to some opportunities in game operations and facilities, areas I didn’t have experience in. 

I then went to graduate school to make myself more marketable. I attended the Intercollegiate Athletics Leadership graduate program at the University of Washington. It was an intense year-long program and was a way for me to hone in on working in athletics.

An opportunity to become the Multimedia Coordinator with the Mountain West Conference popped up during my time at Washington. I went through the interview process and was fortunate enough to be hired for that position and I’ve been here ever since. 

I was hired as a webmaster, which transitioned into having some sport information responsibilities where I could use that experience I had with the Pac-10 and grow that skill set. Since then, it has grown into overseeing all of our social media initiatives, which has been really great. My role grew and I took on more responsibilities as I was able to assist with the Mountain West Network, which is our video production department for both live stream and on demand content such as features, players of the week, highlights, etc. 

What inspired you to work in the sport industry?

“I am from a small town where sports are what you spent your extracurricular time doing. My mom was the first female to be inducted into our high school hall of fame for track and field.  My younger brothers played football, basketball and track and I played volleyball and basketball in high school. 

I attended journalism school in undergrad, because originally I thought I would become a sports writer. When I started my internship with the University of Nevada athletic department, I saw the behind-the-scenes execution and administration aspects of an athletic department and what it takes to coordinate events and to tell the stories about student-athletes and coaches. 

I found that there is an opportunity in college athletics to tell the stories of the student-athletes and coaches that aren’t necessarily always being told. Some of our greatest successes have been some of those “off-the-field” moments and stories that we have shared that wouldn’t otherwise get noticed in traditional media. How can I help promote what the student-athletes and coaches are doing either on the field or off and then extending that by making the brand presence a little more elevated as well.
— Katie Cavender

What are your main responsibilities as an assistant commissioner of a conference?

“I oversee all of our digital communications and social media including our website, while directing how we tackle each of our social media platforms. I create content for our social media channels and coordinate with our media relations staff and the Mountain West Network to curate the content they’re producing as well in an effort to get as many eyeballs as we can. 

I also assist as much as I can with our communication efforts when our staff executes Conference and NCAA championships we host. 

I also assist with the execution of our football championship game. I help with signage and promoting the event as well as our other championships, but I have a little more in depth interaction with the football side of things.

I work very closely with the Mountain West Network and our partners at Campus Insiders. The Mountain West Network streams games across the Mountain West. Each of our schools are streaming games and we coordinate all of that to make sure that content is populated to the schools’ websites, our website and mobile apps and to Campus Insiders. I help coordinate the production and promotion of original content, such as feature stories or Skype interviews with someone who’s had a great performance.”

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

“My favorite part is that the Mountain West has always been a conference that is not afraid to be a trendsetter. We’re one of the youngest conferences at the FBS level, yet we have that western pioneer spirit, and we’ve been able to experiment with some things that maybe wouldn’t be the case working at other places. 

The Mountain West was the first that had a conference-specific television network called The Mtn. We were the first to experiment with the coaches’ challenge in college football instant replay. This job has played well with my drive and my sense of loyalty and passion for the industry.

The MW does not have the resources that the big five conferences do, so we also have an “all hands on deck” mentality on our staff. By nature, I am one who wants to be involved in as much as possible, so I find this to be pretty awesome. It’s challenging, but it has provided an opportunity for growth for me.”

How has the change in technology over the years affected your job?

“It has changed it in so many ways. For instance, if we talk about the Mountain West Conference, the Mountain West was the first to have its own television network. When it closed its doors a few years ago, we had a void to fill. There was so much content The Mtn. was creating to cover the Mountain West and its institutions, but we also had a void to fill in the digital space that we hadn’t endeavored in before due to internal resources and television rights agreements.  

Technology has definitely affected things on the video side, such as being able to stream and broadcast events live from a computer as opposed to wheeling in a big production truck.  When I first started here in 2007, people had smartphones, but they weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are now. The great part about my position is that I can get my job done and cover it wherever I am, especially when we have championships and media days that we’re covering and producing content from. 

Technology allows me to stay as productive as possible. Since I oversee our social media, I am always on either my iPhone or my iPad keeping up with the conversations, participating and monitoring what’s going on so we can get as much engagement as possible. Technology has allowed me to have the type of role I have now.”

You received your Master’s degree in intercollegiate athletic leadership from the University of Washington and still assist with the program.  What is some advice you give to those students who want to work in collegiate athletics?

“Getting involved in various aspects of college athletics will not only help you determine what you do and don’t want to do, but it will make you that much more marketable down the road as you continue your career. In undergrad, as a journalism major, I had experience studying print journalism, public relations, and advertising. I wasn’t always convinced in my journey that some of those courses and experiences were things that I would need to lean on, but I do go back to those skills to this day. 

Technology has been a key contributor in the growth of professional networking. Having a presence on social media and interacting with thought leaders and colleagues around the country is beneficial. When doing this though, remember to stay as authentic as possible.  Some of those “old school” traditional tactics still work, such as writing thank you notes, picking up the phone and having actual conversations with people, and spending one-on-one time with your mentors or colleagues to get to know them. Get as involved as possible, make sure to be authentic and connect with those around you to help you grow.”

Parting wisdom for the sport industry as a whole?

“I would put a huge emphasis on communicating clearly. That will take anybody far in any industry, but especially the sports industry because it is so fast paced and there are so many people you’re interacting with on a daily basis. Being able to communicate clearly not only verbally but with your writing is extremely vital. That’s a craft that takes practice, time and focus. Growing your skills in communication will help with conducting business, which will help propel careers forward.”

We would like to thank Katie for her time and insight and we wish her the best in all her future endeavors!

You can follow her on Twitter here, or connect with her on LinkedIn here!

This interview is another edition of "Winning Edge Wednesday" in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry.If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at russ@frontofficesports.org.

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