Not long after the United States won the bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Karen Bybee (BA ’81) received a life-changing phone call. It was Scott Parks LeTellier (JD ’78), Bybee’s long-time friend and the newly appointed head of the U.S. World Cup Organizing Committee, calling to offer her a position on the committee. The 1994 World Cup, which is often credited with expanding interest and launching Major League Soccer in the U.S, also signaled the beginning of Bybee’s 25-year career in international sports.
Fluent in Italian from serving an LDS mission, and experienced in event planning, Bybee was initially recruited by LeTellier to be the liaison between the 1994 U.S. Organizing Committee and the Italian hosts of the 1990 World Cup. “The 1990 World Cup was our one opportunity to learn everything we could about how to organize and stage the event before we had to do it on our own soil,” Bybee explains. Although she has since been involved in organizing numerous sporting events, Bybee says the rare opportunity she had to see the 1994 World Cup from its initial stages all the way to fruition will always be a highlight in her career.
To date, Bybee has been involved with four FIFA World Cups, eight Olympic Games, two Ryder Cups, and a Women’s World Volleyball Grand Prix—to name just a few of the events that make up her impressive resume. Her role varies from event to event, ranging from positions on the organizing committee to working with hospitality programs for event VIPs.
While all of the events are unique in their own way, every once in a while a particular assignment stands out for Bybee. During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, for instance, she helped facilitate Proctor and Gamble’s “Thank You Mom” program which involved working with the moms of Olympic athletes from around the world. “I knew these mothers were the ones that had been in the trenches, that had been driving their kids to the ice rink at 4 a.m. every morning for years,” Bybee recalls. “As a mother myself, I could appreciate all the great sacrifices they had made for their children. It was a very unique and meaningful assignment for me.”
Bybee has also enjoyed the international nature of her job, as many events require her to travel abroad for extended periods of time. “I love to travel, I enjoy new cultures, I enjoy meeting new people,” she says. “It’s hard to be away from home, but I love the opportunity to explore.”
Working mostly as an independent contractor, Bybee has been able to balance these travel opportunities with her home life. Having the flexibility to control the projects she takes on has allowed Bybee to spend time with her husband and three sons and to make sure each event will work for her family. “When projects required extended travel, I often negotiated to have my children join me for a portion of the event. My children have been able to be involved and see what I was doing,” she says. Her sons often encourage her to take on projects, hoping for an invitation to attend the event.
Although she has not followed a traditional career path, Bybee found that many of her past experiences had prepared her for work in international sports. She credits her public relations background at BYU for teaching her communication skills and how to manage difficult situations. As ASBYU Women’s Vice President, she gained valuable experience organizing events on campus. “I’m an event junkie at heart,” she says. “I’ve always loved to organize and put things together.”
Working on international sporting events has allowed Bybee to combine this love for events with her appreciation for sports. “There’s this wonderful sense of comradery and unity that sports bring,” Bybee explains. “Whether you’re a sports fan or not, I think all people appreciate an extraordinary effort and a great performance.”
—Melissa Barber Garrison ('16)