Mr. Elisburg recently shared with us his journey from intern to top executive. Andy graduated from STU with a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Administration in 1989.
How did you get your start with the Miami Heat?
One of the requirements for St. Thomas University was to get an internship, and I got it with the Washington Bullets because I am originally from Maryland and I was able to do it over the summer. The Bullets are now the Wizards. One of the people that I met was Mark Pray who was director of PR [public relations] for the team. After the internship I came back down for senior year and two weeks later Mark came down to join the Miami Heat before the start of their first season. There was no PR office of any kind at the Miami Heat and Mark needed some help. He asked me if I would volunteer some time and I said sure, and basically began a second internship. I was just there to work for a short period of time, but I kind of fell in love with the place, and continued on throughout my senior year until the point in time when I literally graduated on Monday and started full-time with the team on Wednesday morning. I have been here ever since, and that was 26 or 27 years ago. We are about to start our 26th season.
How much would you say the organization has grown since you started with the Miami Heat?
It’s completely different. In certain ways it’s very different and in some ways it’s very much the same. From the scope of the business we were an expansion franchise just running a franchise at the time. Now we are a fully formed NBA franchise and we are also organizationally managing an arena. At the time I started with the Miami Heat I think there were some 20 employees plus the players, and now I think we are about 150-160 employees. So it is just a transformed business of what it was at that time. It’s grown so much. You were able to be involved with so many different things at the time that I started, more so than you would be able to today if you came in and did what I did, because with 20 people there is no such thing as different departments, you did everything. Coming in as an intern was a terrific training ground to be able to get involved in all different kinds of things.
Your relationship with St. Thomas University has remained strong throughout the years, in fact you employee a lot of our alumni and hire interns to work at the Miami Heat.
Yes, St Thomas University is a terrific training ground for those who are committed to the world of sports. It provides the vehicle for someone who is a sports fan to learn about sports as a business. I think that St. Thomas University still does the best job of providing students with the opportunity to understand the business of sports. The South Florida community is also such a fervent market for opportunities for students to get involved in different things. There are so many sports down here, so many opportunities to get experience in sports, and that is really the lifeblood of the [Sports Administration] program at St. Thomas University.
What would you say is the one thing that you learned at St. Thomas University that is still helping you in your career to this day?
For me, the biggest thing I probably got out of the program was an appreciation for sports as a business and really understanding that. I think I came in with an appreciation for that, more so than maybe others did, but it drove the point home and it gave me a lot of experience. Taking the sports financial management course and appreciating budgets; taking the sports marketing course and getting the best lesson I ever learned from that class that I still use today. I still remember that intrinsic lesson from the class. The professor asked “what is the most important word in the world of marketing”, and everyone came up with these different suggestions and he kept saying “no, no, no, no” and this went on for about 20 minutes until finally he wrote “No” on the board and he said, “this is the most important word in marketing because it’s the word you’re going to hear most often.” He said no means you need to do it better, no means you need a different way, no means you need to find another challenge. So as you confront different things in life, in sports and in any business you’re going to find a lot of roadblocks and you need to understand that it doesn’t end at no, and no is still a beginning, and no takes you just to another level of how to do it differently and more creatively. I took that class my sophomore year, that’s almost 30 years ago, and I still remember that class, I still remember that lesson, and it has helped me so much throughout my career.
Who would you say has had the most influence in your career?
It’s hard to name any one person. There have been so many people that have been responsible for what I have accomplished. First and foremost my family, my parents and my sister, and those who have been around me for many years, and obviously for my entire life. My father has been my best advisor. It begins there. Dr. Bell has also been instrumental throughout my career over the years, being able to be an advisor to me and my wide angle lens sometimes, she has been a wonderful mentor to me over the years. So many people here at the Miami Heat from the Arison Family to the Rileys, it’s so numerous to name the people that have helped me and have been responsible for getting me to where I am. You get to where you are because of the people who surround you and I have been very lucky and fortunate in that regard.
You come back to St. Thomas University often to speak to Sports Administration students, and you have also been very generous giving back financially to the University. Why do you think it is so important to give back to your alma mater?
Well, it’s about giving back but it’s more about paying it forward. For those of us who have been successful, for those of us who had the opportunity to get to where we wanted to get to, it is our responsibility to help the next generation to get to where they want to get to. That’s what St. Thomas University has meant to me, being able to give back to those students. I am where I am today because of people who were there at various points in time who helped me. They advised me sometimes, they gave me a kick in the pants, or they told me things I needed to hear but maybe not necessarily things I wanted to hear. That’s some of the things that have helped me get to where I am today. If you have the opportunity when you have reached success in where you are, and really at any point in time, I think it’s always your obligation to always try to help those that are with you or who are coming up behind you, the next generation. I care about the world of sports and I care about who is going to be around for the next 30 years, the next 40 years, the next 50 years and being able to pay it forward and helping others along.
What advice would you give to students that are interested in following a similar career path as yours?
The advice I always try to give students is do a great a job in everything you do. Treat everything you do well. You want to give your best effort all the time. When I speak to classes, one of things I like to tell everyone is, look around the room because some day someone in this room is going to help you either get a job or keep you from getting a job based upon how you treated them, and you don’t know who that person is going to be. You want to make sure that you are giving your best all the time in all the things that you are doing, because you never know who is watching, and you never know where your experiences are going to come from. If you’re a student out there, get involved as much as possible, do the best job in the things that you are doing, and do it with a passion. You never know what thing you are volunteering for or what thing you are involved with is going to be the key to getting you a job. Take advantage of all opportunities. This is the best time to take risks. Go forward. Life is an adventure. Enjoy it.