Having your Drexel co-op in Italy is amazing, but having your Drexel co-op in Italy while working for an Italian football team is just incredible. Luckily enough, that is exactly what two sport management students, Rene Coleman and Cullen Hynes, are doing.
The Parma Panthers, based in Parma, Italy, are an American football team playing in the Italian Football League. Parma is located between Florence, Milan and Venice and is famous for its Parmesan cheese.
If you can’t tell by now, this is a once-in-a-lifetime co-op, which is something Coleman really wanted to take advantage of.
“As a transfer student, this was going to be my only co-op, so I wanted to make sure it was going to be something I wouldn’t have the chance to do later in life,” Coleman said.
The interview process was unconventional, much like the entire co-op experience.
“Out of the blue, we got an email from our professor, Amy Giddings, alerting everyone in the department about this opportunity she was working on for a co-op in Parma, Italy,” Hynes said.
A few interviews later, the duo found themselves being interviewed over Skype with the head coach of the Panthers.
“I was doing a Skype interview with Andrew Papoccia, the head coach of the Parma Panthers. One week later I got an email saying they were offering me the position, and the rest is history,” Hynes said.
Football is far from the most popular sport in Italy. It’s very much behind soccer, rugby and basketball, but that is exactly why Coleman and Hynes were hired.
Coleman said, “Outside of making their social media pages more attractive to fans, we are also help[ing] run the team’s TD Club (booster club) as well as try[ing] to bring on new sponsors and start camps.”
Marketing football in Italy is a very important aspect of the Panthers developing a fan base.
Hynes mentioned some of his duties working in Parma: “Every day I check on the team’s Twitter and Facebook, make sure all information is up to date, engage with fans, and try to expand our social media reach.”
Marketing and promotion seem to be working because when Hynes and Coleman walk around Parma with a Panthers shirt on, many people do recognize the team. But one of the major issues is having Italians understand all the rules of the game.
“Imagine going to Europe and watching a rugby match having never seen one before,” Hynes said. “You’d be so lost. That’s how it is in Italy.”
The Panthers have a solid 400-500 fans who come out to every game and really love the sport.
Coleman said he hopes that his internship promoting the Panthers will have a positive effect on the perception of football in Italy. “By doing a better job letting the public know about the games, hopefully those numbers will increase over the next three home games.”
So far the Panthers have had one home game this season, and both Coleman and Hynes were pleased with the turnout. “All of the fans were engaged, loud and excited for the team to win. Even at the four away games this season, every game featured at least a few Panthers fans, even the 3.5-hour road trip to Ancona.”
The Panthers have won three consecutive IFL championships and are looking for their fourth this season.
Coleman said he believes that more fans will come out to watch the best team in Italy. “The fans know that the Panthers are the top team right now and expect nothing but the best from them. They really get into the games and will even stay after to congratulate the players.”
Even though both Coleman and Hynes are working hard, they do have time to explore the beautiful country of Italy. Hynes was able to visit Rome with the three American players on the team.
“We spent two days and two nights roaming the city and stirring up trouble,” he said. “It’s a memory that I’m definitely putting in my scrapbook whenever I enter the scrapbooking part of my life.”
Coleman said he has loved taking team trips so far and seeing the different Italian cities. But his favorite part of the trip is right in Parma’s backyard.
“My favorite thing about being in Parma is the fact that we are in what I would call real Italy,” Coleman said. “It’s not one of the tourist cities, so we are truly immersed in Italian culture.”
Even though the IFL Super Bowl is July 7, Coleman and Hynes will be doing work until mid- to late August.
Feel free to check out the Parma Panthers on Facebook (ParmaPantersAFT), Twitter (@ParmaPanthers), the Web (www.panthers.it) and YouTube.