People and Companies Women's Inspired Leadership

Spirit of Empowerment: Shelly Wilkes

Photography by Julie Fletcher

Shelly Wilkes

Senior Vice President of Marketing and Social Responsibility

Orlando Magic

“Women tend to take on a lot of not only home responsibilities, but even organizational cultural responsibilities that men don’t always do. I often have this internal debate of, ‘Is this innate to who we are, or is it learned behavior?’” – Shelly Wilkes

Attending the University of Central Florida on a volleyball scholarship, Shelly Wilkes had changed her major from education to business after encountering the dreaded Calculus II course that weeds out math lovers nationwide.

Then something happened that altered her career trajectory altogether: a guest appearance in a sports marketing class by Dr. Richard Lapchick, known as “the racial conscience of sport.” He was president of the National Consortium of Academics and Sports, known today as the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, which brought him recognition by the Orlando Sentinel in March as the 2022 Central Floridian of the Year.

Lapchick told the class he would be leading a new UCF DeVos Sport Business Management program, named after Amway’s founding DeVos family, which owns the Orlando Magic National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise. “My eyes lit up,” Wilkes says. “I wanted to be part of the program, and I wanted to work with him.”

A Life of Sports

She got both wishes. She secured an internship with Lapchick in the spring of her senior year, and she was accepted into the 2002 inaugural class of the post-graduate program.

Since then, her professional life has revolved around sports. Today she is the senior vice president of marketing and social responsibility for the Orlando Magic and is breaking ground for women in sports. Wilkes grew up in Fort Myers, where she was a softball player and a cheerleader before adopting volleyball as her sport in 10th grade. She holds master’s degrees in both business administration and sport business management.

Besides working with the Magic on class projects and during game nights in college, she served a summer internship with the NBA in New York. When she graduated, she interned with a sports marketing agency in Kansas City. That was when she received a call from the Magic that they had an entry-level coordinator role open.

“I was offered the job and packed up in August of 2004,” she says, “and I never left.”

Now in what she calls “my 18th season,” she remembers how she started off in ticket sales. “I still credit that with the knowledge base I have of the Magic organization and the fan base. I say this a lot to college students: Sales is where you learn the business because you have to talk about it to so many people so often.”

Then she became responsible for “game presentation,” which she describes as all the “fun stuff” that is not the actual game, including contests, music, mascot, dance team and video production. She stayed in that role 12 years, moving up to senior director level.

“Because of the organization’s belief in me and faith in my capabilities, I was able to do a lot of projects in that role,” she says. She was part of the team that planned events for the Amway Center’s grand opening in 2010, and she produced Orlando Magic games in Brazil and London and an NBA All Star game in Toronto.

First Woman President

In December 2016, Wilkes was named president of the franchise’s minor league team, a G League squad now called the Lakeland Magic, when it was moved to Central Florida from Erie, Pennsylvania. The promotion came as she was 8½ months pregnant with her first daughter. During her three years in that role, she had a second daughter, and her husband Dallas — a sports enthusiast and former college wrestler who works in technology with the Walt Disney Company — would drive Quinn, now age 5 and Addison now age 2, to Lakeland’s RP Funding Center to watch the games.

The G League became big news in December 2021 when the omicron variant of COVID-19 was spreading across the NBA. Numerous Orlando Magic players tested positive and had to quarantine, so their G League counterparts were called in as substitutes. “It’s one example of why the G League is so valuable,” Wilkes says. “The NBA season would have had to go on hiatus.”

“Why does it take so long for women to become firsts?” – Shelly Wilkes

She’s thankful for the experience of being the first female G League team president, but she wants to see more women in top sports positions. “Why does it take so long for women to become firsts? But I am appreciative, and it gives me a bit of a platform. It gives me opportunities to lift up other women. I hope this has opened doors, or at least has provided representation, for other women who are interested in the sports industry to know it’s a feasible opportunity.”

In Lakeland, Wilkes became ingrained in the community, working with elected officials and other leaders to spread enthusiasm for the team. She created a women’s leadership program, which she has replicated in Orlando under the name Gamechang(HER) Empowerment & Leadership Summit.

Like the NBA and G League teams she has represented, she is focused on goals: “I want to bring women together, shine light on what women are doing and advocate for others.”

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i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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