AAPI Heritage Month | Phoenix Suns

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Month (AAPI), Suns Legacy Partners are celebrating members of our team who represent their AAPI heritage and our organization with pride. We sat down with four of our employees – Alisa Nakashima, Anita Tasavanh, Isabel Guerra, and Marc Garcia – to discuss their roles, AAPI heritage, and advice for others looking to succeed in the sports and entertainment industry.

Alisa Nakashima – Director of Event Services

Tell us about your role within the organization.

I am the Director of Event Services, basically responsible for all the front-line, guest-facing team members – our guest service representatives, hosts and our team captains. I’m also the person that if you have a complaint, you complain to me, and will respond to guest complaints, guest feedback, ensuring that our guest experience is the best, not only in the league, but just around the industry.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Just working with people and being able to change the course of somebody’s experience while they’re here. Turning a bad situation into a great one, or even enhancing a great experience for a person who attends our games. I also appreciate the variety of the things that we get to do. It’s never the same day twice. You rinse and repeat in some cases for games because those are kind of wrote, but the ability to change from a concert to a Suns game to a Rattlers game, to a small event to something completely different, it makes the job nicer because you have a lot to do. It changes all the time.

What is your favorite memory from your time here?

I would say being in the playoffs last year was a pretty cool memory of mine. Because we were kind of coming out of COVID, it was nice to be a part of the experience for the organization, having been here for quite a while. And seeing some of the faces of people who have been here even longer than I have that experienced the good things, and then obviously we were kind of in a hole for a little while, so to be able to experience that with folks.

How do you celebrate your AAPI heritage?

I’m fourth-generation Japanese American. My family is originally from California, but I think growing up I wasn’t exposed to a lot of Asian Americans just living where I lived. I was one of two and the other person was my sister…I would say that I celebrate my heritage. My family, my father is still practicing a lot of our heritage in California, so whenever I do get an opportunity to go back, there are celebrations that we have annually, kind of around the holidays, to pay homage to our family members and our ancestors. My parents were also in internment camps, and so that is a big part of my appreciation for them and the struggles that they went through as young adults and as children. And so, being able to celebrate those, being able to celebrate my family in that way, and the struggle that they went through.

What advice would you offer AAPI community members who are striving to succeed in the sports and entertainment industry?

I would offer a suggestion to do as much as you can expose yourself to different aspects of the business. Growing up I would have never thought that I could work in sports if I didn’t play, and so to find now that there are sports administration degrees. When I originally started out, I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I never gave any thought to being involved with an organization in the role I’m in, but I’ve been able to marry a career of 25 years with my love of sports and I get to do that on a nightly basis. I would just say exposure to all aspects of the business, and don’t necessarily pigeon-hole yourself into thinking that there’s only one way to do that. You can get in in a variety of ways as long as you’re exposing yourself to all aspects.

Anita Tasavanh – VP of Business Intelligence and Analytics

Tell us about your role within the organization.

I run the Business Intelligence department and we touch a lot of different departments that use data and help drive strategy and decisions on the business side. Whether that’s ticket pricing, helping our ticket operations group with some of the reporting bits that they need to do, and really just helping deliver information to ticket sales and to executives. We help out a bit in marketing, so there’s a lot of different areas that we go into. My team also does sponsorship analytics, CRM analytics, ticketing analytics, and then we’re going to branch out more into some areas where we slowly touch. There’s a lot that we can do, but we’re building up our infrastructure.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Every challenge is different and dynamic. Obviously in sports, you’re flying by the seat of your pants. We’re living game to game right now (in the playoffs). . . Every day is wildly different. For instance, a team is really hot and they’ve been doing really well and then all of a sudden an injury happens, and then our sales tank for that game. That’s something that we can’t control for, but we need to be able to watch out for and know that literally anything can happen to change the popularity of a game. A star coming back or getting traded to a really low-tier team that isn’t drawing a lot, all of a sudden might be the hottest ticket around. So, that’s been quite interesting to deal with a lot of those dynamic changes, and I think that’s really fun. It keeps you on your toys, you’re always thinking new, fresh solutions, being really innovative. So, that’s been really, really fun, all of the different kinds of challenges we face.

What is your favorite memory from your time here?

It’s the Finals. That energy was really unreal . . . The Finals were really fun because my past experience with the Patriots at the Super Bowl is you don’t get to control the atmosphere the way that you do for an NBA Finals series. And so many things can happen because it’s game to game, not just one night only, full of celebrities only, people who might just only go to the Super Bowl. It was nice to see our fans who had fully come back, as social distancing allowed, into basically a full-capacity arena, no masks and everyone is just really excited to cheer for the home team. That energy was unreal.

How do you celebrate your AAPI heritage?

It’s interesting here because my family is from Laos and there’s not a lot of Lao people that I’ve met out here since I’ve moved here. I like to at least acknowledge and make sure my teammates and people I work with know about some holidays that are important to me. Lao New Year is between April 13 and April 15. It’s a three-day celebration where one is the last day of the year, one is not in any year, and one is the first day of the new year. But no one really knew that was happening, so I wanted to celebrate by just telling people, “it’s my New Year! Happy New Year to all Southeast Asians!” Because it’s celebrated in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and I think Myanmar. It’s really fun to try and celebrate my heritage by teaching people about my culture because lot of people are quite interested in it and are always really curious. I’ve had some people ask me, “can I speak the language? Can you say something? That’s so interesting, I want to know more.” So, it’s always really nice to do that, to bring people with me, because they’re always really interested, they’re always very well intentioned.

What advice would you offer AAPI community members who are striving to succeed in the sports and entertainment industry?

I think a big thing for them to do is try to connect with other AAPI because we are always happy to help bring someone along, help share our knowledge, bring them with us up the ladder as we move, and open doors for them. I don’t think that we use our network as much as we should or can, and there’s a lot of really awesome, successful AAPI out there doing really cool things, especially in the sports industry. And I think if you just start to try to reach out, people are always willing to have an informational interview or a virtual cup of coffee and just talk to you about your experiences and how to help, and I think that we very underutilize that.

Isabel Guerra – Manager of Brand Marketing

Tell us about your role within the organization.

I work as the Phoenix Suns Brand Manager on the Marketing team. Essentially my role is to make our brand cool and ensure that we are hitting all of our initiatives that pertain to the brand. . . Part of my role, and that’s why it’s a little hard to answer the question of what it is, is I have become a catch-all, and I do work on so many different things.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

My favorite thing about the role is that I am able to be creative and my parameters are whatever I set it to be. I can ideate and conceptualize what I think is best, and then at the same time implement and execute that. I love the fact that I can take an idea and then make it come to life. . . Whatever I can think and think I can do, I usually get to do.

What is your favorite memory from your time here?

I can’t not say this, it has to be the Finals from last year. I know it’s kind of everyone’s favorite memory, but at the end of the day, so many people in sports don’t get to experience that ever in their career, they can work 40 or 50 years. And although it was exhausting and mentally just crazy, I can’t imagine not experiencing it.

How do you celebrate your AAPI heritage?

Some ways I celebrate my heritage is a lot of family-instituted kind of traditions, culturally through them. I think me being farther away – my family is from California – sometimes I lose those traditions. So, whenever I go back home, and through the food and through Christmas, we are able to kind of bring back some of those culture-filled, inspired items. A lot of my AAPI heritage will just directly be whenever I’m with my family and those traditions.

Some ways I celebrate my heritage is a lot of family-instituted kind of traditions, culturally through them. I think me being farther away – my family is from California – sometimes I lose those traditions. So, whenever I go back home, and through the food and through Christmas, we are able to kind of bring back some of those culture-filled, inspired items. A lot of my AAPI heritage will just directly be whenever I’m with my family and those traditions.

What advice would you offer AAPI community members who are striving to succeed in the sports and entertainment industry?

I think being in the AAPI community and also being a woman in sports is kind of hard because you don’t really see people like you often. But, I think advice given is keep going on the path that you see, and even though you don’t see people like you, it doesn’t mean that you don’t belong there.

Marc Garcia – Account Executive, Arena Sports Group

Tell us about your role within the organization.

I work on the Sales and Service team for the Arena Sports Group. I essentially focus on the three properties in the building, so the Phoenix Mercury, Phoenix Suns, and Arizona Rattlers. I sell new clients for each property and also service current season ticket members. My job is to make sure they have the best experience possible while they are season ticket members!

What do you enjoy most about your role?

As a basketball junkie, being around the NBA and WNBA is a dream. I grew up watching and playing basketball and being around the highest level is a blessing. I get paid to watch basketball…How can I not love that?

What is your favorite memory from your time here?

My favorite memory has to be the road trips we took during the NBA and WNBA Finals. Even though we lost both games, the experience is something I will never forget. The memories made on both of those trips make working in sports worth it!

How do you celebrate your AAPI heritage?

By constantly educating people about my heritage and where my family came from. There are not a lot of Filipinos in Arizona as a whole, so introducing them to the culture, lifestyle, and food (which is FIRE) is something I love doing. But also letting them know how blue collar the Filipino and Asian American culture is as a whole. At the end of the day, you have to be proudful of where you come from and do it for those who came before you!

What advice would you offer AAPI community members who are striving to succeed in the sports and entertainment industry?

Keep grinding and make as many connections as you can. Most of the time, it’s more about who you know than what you know! Also, just because something did not go your way at the beginning, don’t get discouraged. Keep chasing that goal whether it’s working in sports and entertainment or not. I am a big believer in everything happens for a reason! There are not a lot of AAPIs in sports, so that should motivate you to work harder!

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