As the United States surpasses 50 million complete COVID-19 vaccinations, some sports organizations have put themselves in the center of the work to get vaccines in the arms of the members of their communities. One such organization is the AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE), parent company to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United of Major League Soccer. It has committed to providing 42,000 Georgians with COVID-19 vaccines per week for the next 8 weeks, a lofty undertaking that has both business and health implications. You see, the sooner populations of people get vaccinated, the sooner stadiums, arenas and concert venues can get back to hosting safe, well-attended events. One person helping to lead the charge for the 320,000 vaccinations in Mercedes-Benz Stadium (the largest vaccine site in the Southeast) is the Vice President, Event and Game Experience for AMBSE, Tameka Rish.
Rish shares, “We closed out 2020, not with a sporting event but by being the largest precinct for our Senate runoff election and we opened January 4th as the largest vaccine site in Georgia. We’re now the largest in the Southeast. We hope to help Atlanta get back to functioning as Atlanta loves to function. That’s our role in all of this. Arthur leads by example, making sure our concern is not just with the bottom line but also with giving back to our community. We’re here to give the community what it needs and to represent the community.”
Rish speaks about vaccinating over a third of a million people in very presidential fashion, but that shouldn’t camouflage the very daunting nature of the undertaking. To do the life-changing work of getting so many people vaccinated, she leads a team that must coordinate with FEMA, the Department of Defense, and state and local agencies on a daily basis. At the beginning of the year, the uncertainty about the number of vaccines and eligibility further complicated the process. But now that vaccines are in abundance and things seem to be looking up for events, Rish can start focusing on putting together the events she thought she’d be putting on when she took on the position in early 2020, events that create lasting impressions and bring revenue.
“We love events,” Rish explains. “We love putting on the biggest events. But we also love putting together the smaller events that have just as much impact in the lives of individuals. We have the opportunity to create experiences that are memories for a lifetime. Whether it’s the last event someone attended with their father, a wedding, honoring a high school coach of the year, or witnessing Atlanta United winning the cup, we create experiences that leave a lasting impression.”
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And the very same events that leave lasting impressions are those that drive revenue for AMBSE. While some NFL and MLS ownership groups depend on the success and popularity of their respective teams, AMBSE can look outside of its teams for revenue and success by hosting other major sporting events, concerts, conferences, private gatherings and more. So AMBSE is dependent on Rish to create and oversee events that keep people paying to come to their facility time and time again. But rather than focus on the bottom line, Rish focuses on the people—on making sure that the memories of those people far exceed any dollar amount they spend in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Rish is really good at and committed to people. In spite of her demanding executive position, Rish has a history of pouring into interns who cross her path. In her former position as Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at AMBSE, Rish created an internship program that is responsible for sparking the careers of budding professionals, with more than 80 of them continuing to work in the industry. The success of her interns is a testament to her determination to provide lasting experiences that leave genuine impressions on people’s lives.
“I’m really rigid and tough on them [the interns],” Rish admits, “but I’m tough on them for a reason. They’re in training. If you intern for me, my goal is to make you productive. My goal is to make you perform at a high level. My goal, when you finish here, is for you to be able to go into an interview, compete against someone else, and win. That’s my role. My role is to prepare you for a job interview. And getting an intern there comes with a lot of coaching and accountability. But if you thrive here for six months, you’re going to go into an interview and you’re going to be ahead of everyone else because of what you’ve been required to do here and the standards you’ve been responsible for upholding.”
The keen understanding of what it takes to be successful in sports that Rish imparts on her interns has been developed in a career that spans over 19 years in the NFL. Having gotten her start in football in the Football Coaches Video Department at the University of North Carolina, Rish has been proving herself to be knowledgeable and capable in an industry that did not always welcome women. When her first internship at UNC required her to take an insultingly simple quiz on football knowledge; rather than be deterred, Rish forged ahead dabbling in sports journalism before landing gigs with the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers and Octagon prior to joining AMBSE.
Along her career, while working her way from intern to executive, Rish has also found ways to extend her passion for impacting people’s lives beyond the sports industry. For more than seven years she has devoted her spare time to working as an advocate against human sex trafficking. A trip to Thailand in 2014 changed her life and her fervor for fighting for the women who are trapped in lives a sex workers.
“On the trip to Thailand, I didn’t really know what to expect, but when we got to work, I realized that we were dealing with a lot of broken people in complicated situations. One thing we realized that we could do in the midst of the complication was to restore the humanity of the women who had been stripped of theirs—women who found it difficult to express emotions like embarrassment or happiness; women who seemed to stare right through you. Through our interactions, these women would come back to life; their souls became visible in their eyes. Seeing that transformation was life-changing for me and instilled a new commitment in me.”
Rish brought her commitment back to Atlanta and became the Chair of the Marketing and Communications Task Force for the International Human Trafficking Institute located in the Center for Civil and Human Rights. The Task Force launched a month-long awareness campaign that was featured on CNN’s HLN.As part of that, when Atlanta hosted Super Bowl LIII, Rish was part of a campaign that distributed 16,000 flyers of the 34 missing children in Atlanta. Within two weeks, 23 of the 34 children were located. Again, that staggering success rate is a product of Rish’s commitment to impacting and transforming lives.
As Rish and AMBSE gear up for a post COVID-19 sports and entertainment world, there is no question that she will keep the people first.
“2020 was a blessing. There weren’t a bunch of fans expecting a whole lot out of me and that gave me time to focus on my people and really get to know the associates that worked with me. I got to learn how they think we can make the fan experience at AMBSE better…how we can refresh some of the things without losing any of our traditions. In focusing on my people, I’m enabling us to move faster in 2021. I can’t tell the future. I don’t know when we’re going to go back to full capacity. But I know that when we do come back, the people will love it.”