WCU alum returns to head important athletics position

First published in The Western Carolina Journalist. 

In November 2020, Tyler Pope was self-employed, producing a sports podcast with two of his friends from his undergraduate and graduate years. A year removed, he holds one of the most important positions in the Western Carolina University Athletic Department.

Pope, a native of Burlington, N.C., was hired in September 2021. A Western Carolina University graduate from the class of 2017, he returns to his alma mater as the Director of Marketing and Fan Engagement

The position, which calls for working more than 40 hours a week, includes promoting sporting events, planning on-field or on-court promotions, and

Director of Marketing and Fan Engagement, Tyler Pope, assists with the production of WCU’s football game against Furman University on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Photo by John Moore.

establishing a game-day atmosphere. 

Two months in, he believes that his position is vital to the success of the university.

“I think that my role is very important, especially throughout each sporting event. I’m usually courtside, on the sideline, or in the press box directing everyone. Game atmosphere-wise, I’m in the ear of the band, the booth, and the scoreboard, making sure that we are going by the script and hitting all the elements. Day-to-day, it is a lot of emails and planning,” said Pope.

Marketing at the collegiate level, and the responsibilities that come with it, are not a stranger to Pope. 

After spending three years as an apprentice at WCU during undergrad, he interned as a marketing assistant at Elon University and Duke University. Following his graduation at Western, he became a graduate assistant at Northern Illinois University from 2017-19, where he obtained his master’s degree in Sport Management. From NIU, he made it back down to the southeast and was a promotions assistant at the University of Georgia in 2019.

“Seeing how everything worked back then, being an alum, and wanting to implement my ideas, made me stand out against other candidates, in my opinion,” said Pope. 

Chad Gerrety, Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs at WCU, was a part of the hiring committee that interviewed Tyler Pope, earlier this year. He said that Pope’s demeanor and can-do attitude levitated him to pull the trigger on filling the position.

“I saw him as an individual that could step right in and start performing the duties that we needed in a tight timeframe. He always seemed willing and ready to do something to help the program,” said Gerrety. 

As the winter sports season approaches Cullowhee, Gerrety expects Pope to improve on his touted success from the fall.

“Moving forward, he will have more time to map out some of his visions. Not that he hasn’t been able to do that, but it will allow him to get creative with on-court or on-field promotions that are his own,” said Gerrety.

Starting this month for basketball, Pope is launching an initiative to get more fans, specifically students, to attend the games.

“We’re starting to get some leaders for our student section. We’re kind of creating a committee of those leaders who can be in the front row of every game, screaming, making noise, and leading chants. By inviting ten of their friends, and we have eight or nine leaders, that’s around 90 people in the section,” said Pope.

Tyler Pope (middle) with marketing apprentices, Paul (left) and Moises (right), celebrating after a Western Carolina score in the fourth quarter against Furman on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Photo by John Moore.

Outside of preparing and promoting each sporting event in Cullowhee, Pope’s position also calls for leading Sport Management apprentices to assist with his roles. 

As a degree requirement in the Sport Management program, each student must work a minimum of 70 unpaid hours through the athletic department. Students are allowed to choose three areas that they would like to work in – including marketing. This will satisfy one credit on their degree audit.

This semester, Pope oversees five apprentices, including Tyler Rodriguez, a track student-athlete from Texas. 

On football game days, Rodriguez assists in the press box as a spotter for the public address announcer. For basketball, soccer, and volleyball, he helps out with game-day promotions.

“It has been easy and a lot of fun. Tyler is always on top of things, letting us know when each sporting event takes place and what we will be doing for the week,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez added that his favorite part about working with Pope is his positive attitude and the jokes that he has.

“Being able to take the apprenticeship seriously, at the same time, adds to the fun and allows us to learn in the same atmosphere. He’s been able to show us what it takes to be at the helm of marketing and sponsorships,” said Rodriguez.

While Pope has already made an impact on his co-workers and student assistants, he hopes to remain in Cullowhee for a portion of his career. After all, he calls it “his home away from home,” when away from Burlington.

View a photo story of Tyler Pope here:

Feature Story – John Moore