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Internship Spotlight: Helena Heckschen ’23, National Basketball Association

Helena Heckschen ’23 shared her experiences from her internship with the National Basketball Association.

What did you do this summer? In this series, Laurie Toth asked rising second-year MBA students to check in from their summer internships, where they applied the lessons of their first year at Yale SOM.

Helena with NBA trophy

Helena Heckschen ’23

Internship: National Basketball Association, New York City
Hometown: Dresden, Germany
Preferred gender pronouns: she/her/hers
Clubs and affiliation: Women in Management, Media & Entertainment Club, Consulting Club
Favorite SOM class: YCCI Discovery Project
Favorite SOM professor: Lesley Meng
Favorite New Haven eatery: Barcelona
Favorite thing in New Haven: Walk up East Rock
Favorite place in New York: Backyard @ Hudson Yards

Although business school is often viewed as a chance to pivot industries, I stayed true to my love of sports this summer. (I did switch out the soccer ball I worked with at Red Bull for the basketball at the NBA, though.) For me, the sports industry is about connecting people across nations, socio-demographic characteristics, and generations like very few other industries can. The NBA has made basketball a truly global game and connects with Gen Z as few other sports properties can. Moreover, I have always been in awe of the innovation and business savviness of the NBA. I dreamed of being a part of this organization when I started my MBA, and I am thrilled that it worked out. Over the summer I interned in the NextGen Strategic Partnership Group, which identifies ways in which partners can support the new direct-to-consumer offerings of the NBA. As such, we worked on the development and execution of multiple partnerships over the summer.

NBA group photo of interns

Throughout the internship my team made me feel like a full member, which I am incredibly thankful for. In turn, I worked with them on developing different partnership proposals. In particular, I harnessed my learnings from the Discovery Project from the Yale Center for Customer Insights to consider fans' beliefs, goals, and choices in order to create attractive partnership proposals. I also followed the Discovery Project process by conducting an online ethnography to uncover initial fan sentiment. I further supported my team by developing a benchmark analysis of the existing partnerships of video-on-demand services to find ways to differentiate our offerings.

Another project I was tasked with was creating a structured overview of the existing assets the NBA has available to support any form of partner. Diving into the existing partnership landscape of the NBA was particularly interesting for me as I started to compare the way the NBA does partnerships with my past knowledge of European sports properties. One of my goals for the internship was to understand U.S. sports more intimately and identify the potential learnings on both the European and U.S. side, which this fed into.

Overall, the internship was a significant learning opportunity. Although I had worked on partnerships before and was able to draw on a lot of my experience, I was always in a more strategic role and less in charge of the execution. Seeing the complexities of the cross-functional working team needed to implement these partnerships was eye-opening. Having to think about the scope of tasks, clear roles and responsibilities, and timelines will help me in any future role. Thankfully, our Operations class taught by the great Lesley Meng familiarized me with process flows and allowed me to support my team in the development of our project plan.

People sitting, one person standing and presenting
group photo at NBA
Two people smiling

SOM helped me in my journey in more ways than just the lessons learned in classes. My first point of contact at the NBA was SOM alumna Sara Zuckert ’14. She truly embodied the SOM spirit by jumping on a call within a week of my reaching out on LinkedIn to talk about working in sports as a woman and life in the NBA. Moreover, when I first started the internship, I met another SOM alumnus working at the NBA, Chak Pellakuru ’20, who likewise was extremely forthcoming in sharing his experiences. I am grateful for both Sara and Chak, and the alumni network overall, and would recommend reaching out to the alumni network to anyone entering a less traditional industry.

Additionally, SOM helped me have a great summer through the amazing group of friends that I got to spend time with in New York. With more than 100 current MBA students and recent SOM alumni in the city this summer, there was always something fun to do.

Overall, I had an incredible summer in New York and at the NBA. I was drawn to the NBA for its commitment to innovation, diversity, and collaborative culture, and I was not let down. I had a great team that supported me and included me in meetings, providing me with exposure to a wide cross-section of the NBA. But the support went further than just my team—every employee at the NBA was more than willing to have a coffee chat and discuss their roles or take me with them to a random happy hour. We were also given abundant support through the Talent Team at the NBA, who created informative, educational programming, as well as fun opportunities like going to the Draft or a game of the New York Liberty WNBA team (which I highly recommend). The willingness to engage even extended to senior leaders, as our intern class had the privilege to hear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum speak and were able to participate in inspirational question-and-answer sessions with the NBA player and current President of the Player’s Association CJ McCollum, as well as Hall of Famer and current EVP of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars. I am incredibly grateful for all the support I received and the connections I formed over the summer, the interesting work I was able to do, and of course for the dedicated workplace experience team that provided us with free ice cream almost every week.

This summer reminded me why I love working in sports. The unique bonds that sports can form extend into the workplace and connect coworkers through more than just a shared goal, but rather, a shared passion. Being paid to think about basketball every day still seems surreal, and yet I have a Dirk Nowitzki jersey to commemorate my time at the NBA.