Kristen Kuliga ’91 swears that she never intended to become an ambassador for the small number of women entering the male-dominated sports and investment industries; it just sort of happened that way.
“I always looked at [my work] as just a job, and I happened to love what I was doing,” she says. Now, though, “I do feel a sense of responsibility to help other young women achieve their goals because there are not many doing it.”
This isn’t an exaggeration. Kuliga, owner of K Sports & Entertainment and senior vice president of investment banking firm Alchemy Global, had to break into sport representation, a field where just 3% of agents are women. The other 97% are men, many of whom don’t exactly welcome outsiders to the boy’s club.
Luckily, Kuliga’s obsessive organization, coupled with a sense of humor, has not just placed her among top-ranking female agents in the business—it has landed her a fast-paced role sourcing and furthering business development within one of the first investment platform dedicated to the sports, media and entertainment industries. There’s not a lot of rest for those who want to stay ahead of the game.
“You can’t listen to the nay-sayers saying it’s too hard because you’re a woman, or that it’s going to be more difficult,” she advises. “It’s all about being proactive, networking and moving forward.”
That tenacious attitude traces back to Kuliga’s childhood, where her father’s work as a high school athletic director inspired her to further her understanding of football from an analytical perspective. Harnessing her passion for facts and data, Kuliga waffled between studying law and economics at UMass until fate (and a couple of her roommates) stepped in and changed her path.
“I was an economics and political science major and I thought I wanted to go to law school. I wasn’t even aware that UMass had a sports management major,” she recalls. “However, both of my roommates senior year were sports management majors and introduced me to the program, and it was then that I had an opportunity to take a class with Lisa.”
Lisa Pike Masteralexis, associate dean for administration and associate professor of sport management, bridged the gap between Kuliga’s interests. “Lisa was really influential in helping me apply to law school,” Kuliga says. “I focused on anti-trust law and the business side of the legal field.”
This niche combination of sports management and legal studies helped launch Kuliga’s career, landing her an internship and ultimately a position with Woolf Associates, one of the world's most prominent sports and entertainment representation and marketing firms. It was through Woolf Associates that Kuliga met Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, the big-name football player who became Kuliga’s first NFL client, and became the first woman to negotiate a NFL quarterback contract – for a mere $33 million.
With Flutie as a client, Kuliga took her experience and knowledge and applied it toward starting her own agency, K Sports & Entertainment. Her success has skyrocketed since, having represented numerous top-ranking athletes, corporations and entertainers. And now as senior vice president at Alchemy Global, she handles investor relations and provides advisory services for merging companies in the sports and entertainment fields. “It’s another hugely male-dominated industry,” she notes, “but it’s the perfect opportunity for me to combine my economics side with all of the sports connections I’ve made over the years.”
Unafraid to make her footprint in these playing fields, Kuliga has used her success to further the betterment of women’s lives and promote philanthropic efforts outside of the sports arena. Most recently, she’s become the chair of the steering committee for Women for UMass Amherst (WFUM), a network which seeks to “educate, encourage, and inspire women to be avid supporters and philanthropic leaders engaged with the university,” and is an advocate for the Women for UMass Amherst Fund.
“What I love about the Fund,” she says, “is that everybody who donates, whether it’s ten dollars or thousands of dollars, has a vote that determines how the money is spent. Just last week we awarded $35,000 to various organizations on campus.”
For women entering male-dominated fields and disciplines who are at the precipice of their careers, Kuliga empathizes and urges them to leverage their UMass connections now.
“Whether you’re a man or a woman, there are a lot of alumni that really want to help and assist you in succeeding,” she stresses. “You need to think about yourself, find out what you like and go after it. Get in touch with alumni in your area, network, network, network, and move forward.”
Kuliga, herself, is happy to be part of that networking process. “As I’m getting older, I receive emails from other young women that need mentors. They need to see that other women are doing what they want to do and that there is opportunity for them. By seeing us succeed, they believe they can, too.”
By Samm Smith '08