The first job Mackenzie Silverio Henderson ’00 had was selling hot dogs and soft serve ice cream at Fenway Park. She worked underneath the stands, along the third-base line, surrounded by the buzz of the crowd and the excitement of the games, all while selling some 1,000 cones a night.
To Henderson, the ballpark felt magical. “I spent my high school and college years at Fenway,” she says. “It was a very cool place to spend my summers.”
Henderson was a big Red Sox fan, and while at the games, she started to think about the team beyond just the players on the field. She thought about what happened behind the scenes, about the people who made the organization run. “I always saw people on the field looking official and serious,” she says. “That got me thinking of the business of sports.”
That interest blossomed while at Babson College, where she took a sports management course filled with case studies from the business side of athletics, and she cold called all the New England sports teams, asking for an internship. “The Celtics called me back,” she says.
Henderson landed an unpaid internship with the Boston Celtics as a junior, and right after her graduation, she started a job in ticket sales with the team. Almost 22 years later, she remains with the Celtics, serving as senior vice president of ticket sales.
In her role, she has watched as the team dealt with the uncertainty of the pandemic while also embarking on a sellout streak that now has reached more than 230 games. Henderson attends every home game, and to stand in a packed TD Garden arena is to see all the effort she and her team put into sales come to fruition. “It’s where everything comes together,” she says.
The first woman ever named a vice president with the Celtics and a champion for her female colleagues, Henderson also has seen an organization that was once so male dominated become much more empowering of women through the years. “This business is a better business with a diversity of voices,” she says.
When she first came to the Celtics as an intern, Henderson found herself immediately smitten by the organization and its values and tradition. “I truly bleed green,” she says.
When she started there as an employee after graduation, however, she was unsure what the future held. At the time, Henderson was just one of 10 women working in the team’s front office. “I kept a journal in my early days,” she says. “I wrote that I wanted to be a vice president, but I wasn’t sure it was possible.”
Times have changed. The Celtics now have a half-dozen female vice presidents, and women are much more represented, not just on the business side of the house, but also in basketball operations. “I think anything is possible now,” Henderson says. “Women are making decisions. We are hiring people. We are using our voice.”
A big reason for this increased representation is the team’s leadership. “They truly believe in the fact that diversity and inclusion is crucial to our business,” Henderson says. “It is top of mind. When we are hiring and promoting, we are looking for a diverse group of people.”
For her part, Henderson always is looking to support the women coming up behind her in the organization. She asks them about their aspirations and helps them visualize what their career path may look like, often by connecting them with others who can offer assistance. “When we all are thinking about the future, we need to be able to see it and know that is obtainable,” she says. “Without having those mentor relationships, it can be so unknown.”
Beyond the Celtics, Henderson thinks the NBA in general has been very intentional and thoughtful about diversity. “We have made a lot of strides across the whole spectrum of diversity,” she says. Last year for the first time, for instance, two female referees worked the same game, an emotional milestone for Henderson. “I cried,” she says. “Representation is so important. For young girls to see it, it is incredibly moving.”
As the senior vice president of ticket sales, Henderson and her 12-person team play a key role in making sure the TD Garden stays full night after night. They keep a robust database of potential season-ticket customers, such as those who have attended games in the past, and will reach out to them with often personalized messages. The department targets companies as well. “We keep our ear to the ground for corporations who are new in the area,” she says.
Henderson and her team also handle VIP tickets for local pro athletes or movie stars who may be in town. “I arrange their game-night experience from beginning to end,” she says. That means planning celebrities’ parking, where they’ll eat, and how they’ll get to their seats without being swarmed by fans. “The last thing we want is a crowd around someone when they’re going through a stairwell,” she says.
“I think anything is possible now. Women are making decisions. We are hiring people. We are using our voice.”
Mackenzie Silverio Henderson ’00
The TD Garden fell silent during the pandemic, as the 2019–2020 season was finished in isolation in a so-called “bubble” in Disney World. The 2020–2021 season returned teams to their home arenas, but they faced significant restrictions on attendance. At times, the Celtics were allowed only 2,500 fans in a building that sits more than 18,000. “We moved on to this awkward stage of only a few fans. It was a bit of a blur,” Henderson says. “COVID was not a good time in the live events business. I learned a lot about crisis management. It was never something I thought I would go through.”
Henderson still recalls the energy at the tail end of last season, when the building was finally back to full capacity. “It was electric,” she says. When she attends games and sees the passion of Celtics fans, Henderson is given a tangible reminder of how much the team means to people. That’s particularly true when Tyler, her 4-year-old son, attends a game.
“Seeing his excitement when he steps foot in the arena is a fantastic reminder to me of how special it is for all of our fans, but particularly the younger fans, to come to our games,” she says. “It is truly creating lifelong memories for people and families.”
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership