Standing five foot three, Allison Howard has always been on the small side—but as a kid, that didn’t stop her from playing every sport that was available to her. And if a sport wasn’t an option for her, she changed things so it was.
“There was no girls’ T-ball team for us where I grew up in Minnesota, but I wanted to play and didn’t look at it as a girls’ thing or a boys’ thing,” Howard recalls. So she started collecting signatures from people in the community for a petition that would allow her to play. “That is where my passion for sports really started,” she explains. “I love the team camaraderie, the fun, athleticism, and just all of it.”
By the time she hit high school, she was playing numerous sports, including basketball—a passion that continues to this day. Nearly ten years ago Howard found her dream job working for the Los Angeles Lakers, and today she’s vice president of corporate partnerships for the sixteen-time NBA world champions.
It’s not where she expected her career to go, though. After graduating from the University of Dayton with a civil engineering degree in 2000, Howard went to work for the Shell Oil Company. She then headed to southern California to manage environmental cleanup projects, but the company she was working for at the time went bankrupt.
At age twenty-six, she was suddenly unsure of her next move. “To be honest, my heart wasn’t in it, and I realized I was too young not to be jumping out of bed excited about what I would be doing,” she says. In 2005 she stumbled upon a Craigslist posting for director of sales for a small sports marketing firm called Premier Partnerships.
That job reignited her passion for sports and gave her valuable experience; in her time with the company, she came face-to-face with top executives of teams in many different leagues and learned about the business of sports. She also served as an executive vice president with Women in Sports and Events, and as a committee member for Special Olympics Southern California. Then the perfect career opportunity bounced her way.
At the end of 2011 when the NBA lockout was ending, Howard was a working mother of two boys under the age of two, and she was starting to think the agency lifestyle was no longer a good fit for her. “I had made very good friends with people at the NBA and a contact reached out about a sales position the Lakers had open,” she says. “I jumped at the opportunity. I remember every detail about the interview and within two minutes of meeting [Lakers president] Tim Harris, he said, ‘I know you’re a mom, and I will make this job work for you.’”
As vice president of corporate partnerships, Howard is tasked with helping to grow revenue and protect the Los Angeles Lakers brand. Her sales team is responsible for bringing in new sales, and her activation staff is tasked with handling the day-to-day needs of partners once someone new is signed.
The Lakers currently have thirty-five partners, significantly less than the league average of ninety-five partners. That’s intentional, though: Howard explains that the team doesn’t want the brand’s value diluted. For the past seven years, she has organized a Partners Summit, where they take the top-spending partners away for a business meeting, bringing in motivational speakers, authors and other experts. And when the playoffs come around, she sets up personally curated playoff packages to offer to partners.
“We look at what’s the right amount of playoff packages and sponsoring elements that we want to come through for the brand as opposed to just letting the team speak for itself,” Howard says.
“We look at what’s the right amount of playoff packages and sponsoring elements that we want to come through for the brand as opposed to just letting the team speak for itself.”
One of her big initiatives is a partnership with e-commerce platform Wish that puts the company’s logo on Lakers jerseys. Part of the deal includes something called the Courtside Chronicle, where celebrities sit courtside wearing Wish T-shirts, interacting with the social media team and talking about the experiences they were able to have brought to them because of Wish.
“This is one of the deals in my career that I am very proud of,” Howard says. “Wish came to us several years ago and had never really explored doing anything with sports, but they knew the Lakers brand and they knew they needed brand awareness. Fans love that behind-the-scenes feel and look of what we are able to post with those celebrities.”
Another initiative Howard touts is the Lakers partnership with UCLA Health, a deal solidified in 2016 that included the naming rights for the team’s $100 million training center; a marketing partnership that tells the story of why UCLA Health is a top healthcare service provider; and appearances at the hospital by players, Lakers legends, Lakers girls, and others associated with the franchise. They also serve as the team’s doctors.
“They are at every game, they have offices just a couple of miles from our facility, and they provide an amazing concierge service for the players and the employees,” Howard says. “They align with us and we trust them with our most valuable asset—the players.”
For those interested in following in her career footsteps, Howard says it’s important to subscribe to the “we over me” mentality.
“The biggest thing is not to be looking for accolades,” she says. “Think of the entire group and not just yourself. Do your job and do it well and you will get noticed.”