Beyond the Bases
By Ashley Smedema
Photography by Nuoffer Media
For most people, spending a day at the ballpark is a treat. For Liz Kern, it’s just another day on the job. Liz is the Vice President of Big Top Baseball, an organization that oversees four baseball teams in the Northwoods League as well as an event company. Her hard work and determination have gotten her where she is today. While she sees players hit homeruns in games all the time, she’s busy hitting her own homeruns in the world of business.
Liz began her career journey in college at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, where she studied sports management and business. During that time, she was encouraged to get as much work-related experience as possible. That advice led her to apply to work for the Madison Mallards in 2004, a relatively new baseball team at the time. She worked as a game day employee in the ticket office that summer and the following two summers.
After graduation, Liz was hired on full-time with the Mallards as their customer service manager. During the three seasons in which she held this position, her goal was to become as involved as possible in all aspects of the business. She immersed herself in it, and it paid off in 2009 when the Mallards owner and General Manager partnered to purchase the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Liz was appointed General Manager of that team, making her the first female GM in Northwoods League history as well as the first ever GM for the Rafters. At the conclusion of the Rafters’ inaugural season in 2010, Kern earned league and national awards for her work. She was named 2010 Northwoods League Executive of the Year and 2010 BallparkDigest.com Executive of the Year.
After four spectacular seasons in Wisconsin Rapids, the ownership group expanded to include the Kenosha Kingfish and Green Bay Bullfrogs. She relocated again – this time to Green Bay, where she took over as GM of that team. After two and a half seasons building that franchise, the opportunity arose in 2016 for Liz to become VP of Big Top Baseball (BTB), the company that was overseeing all four teams.
She then relocated to Madison for that position, where she began working on oversight of human resources, finance, and special events. At the same time, she started taking on responsibilities within the event management side of BTB. She was assisting with Festival Foods Shake the Lake and large concerts at Breese Stevens Field. This is what she still does today, overseeing these event management areas as well as the four baseball teams.
Getting there was a lot of hard work, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. Liz took the time to build relationships at each step of the way, gaining experience and doing everything possible to learn about more areas of the business. This ambition has earned the respect of those around her and enabled her to keep moving forward in her career. When asked about her experience being a female leader in the sports industry, Liz said, “Overall, it’s been really positive. My colleagues have been very welcoming, respectful and open to my ideas.”
The biggest challenge she faces in her position is all the planning that goes in to making a season successful. There are a lot of short turnaround times that can affect the entire season, and keeping up with everything can be difficult. It’s all worth it for Liz, though, because she enjoys the diversity of her work, constantly being challenged by new tasks and opportunities. From reviewing reports to troubleshooting deliveries to laying out a new event space, every day is different than the last.
In her free time, Liz enjoys golfing, attending sporting events, and canoeing. She also enjoys farming, which comes as no surprise since she was raised on a dairy farm outside Beaver Dam.
At the end of the day, Liz’s favorite part of the job is seeing attendees enjoy the show she has worked so hard to bring to life. Whether they’re participating in an on-field promotion, enjoying quality food and beverages, or watching a fireworks show, being a part of what put a smile on their faces is Liz’s biggest reward. Her advice to those just beginning their career journey is to try lots of new things without fear of failure. “It is important to know what things you like and don’t like, but always try. You won’t know until you try.”