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Warsaw Sports Marketing Center – Sports MBA – Paul Swangard Interview

Sports MBAI was recently down in Eugene, OR to present to the Sports MBA student as the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center on the value of Sports Networking and Social Media.  While there, I had the opportunity to interview Paul Swangard – Managing Director, Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. The University of Oregon has never been about sports or business as usual–from legendary track star Steve Prefontaine to having one of the first environmentally friendly business school facilities in the nation.

Given that enterprising reputation, it’s little wonder that the UO’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center was the country’s first sports business program housed at a college of business (the Lundquist College of Business to be precise). Today, the center is recognized by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Sports Business Journal, and others as the leading think tank and training ground for the sports business industry.

During this interview, Paul provides insight on:

  • Overview of the Warsaw Sports MBA program
  • Their unique “Experiential Learning” approach
  • Success stories of past Sports MBA students
  • The story behind their great, late founder – Jim Warsaw.

Warsaw Sports MBA Interview

What is your opinion on the value of getting a Sports MBA?  Do you think it’s worth the cost? If you like this article, please consider sharing it with your friends on Facebook & Twitter!

Warsaw Sports MBA Students

It’s one thing to hear from the Managing Director, but you really get a sense of the value in obtaining a Sports MBA from the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center by hearing from the students.  In this video, three current Sports MBA students (Carolyne Wood, Steve Acampa, Katrina Galas) talk about why they chose Warsaw.

Warsaw Sports MBA Interview (Transcribed)

Trevor

Hey everyone it’s Trevor here from Sports Networker and I’m joined by Paul Swangard. How’s it going Paul?

Paul

I’m good, thanks.

Trevor

Good, good. So were at the Warsaw MBA program here in Eugene, Oregon. Paul had me come in and speak to the students about social networking and LinkedIn and how they can leverage all these tools from a networking standpoint. And, in getting to speak to these students I’ve really gotten an insight into where they’ve found value in the MBA program because really I’m just learning about these MBA programs myself. So I wanted to talk to the guy who’s really running the show here and get an insight into what the MBA program is all about. So what is the MBA program really all about?

Paul

I think people who are looking and getting themselves in to sport are often finding themselves in sports management programs and that really is the starting point for our education system. Programs in sports management have been around for decades. Typically they’re housed in the school of kinesiology, school of physical education. You found almost a plethora of different career paths that were related to sports from coaching to parks and recreation to tourism.

Our founder, Jim Warsaw, who was a graduate of the University of Oregon and grew up in the sports industry, noted in the early 90’s that there was actually no business school anywhere that was housing a program that was built around the world of sports. So in ’93 we founded the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center and we like to think we created a new way to study sports where students are coming here first and foremost to study business and get all those tools underneath them so they can understand finance and accounting and management and marketing and then mold on top of that study things that are specific to the world of sports. Then what the center does is envelops that whole academic experience with a rich array of out of classroom things. Everything from speakers like yourself to study tours to mentorship programs to events where they can get their own experience. We hope that whole elistic approach is something today that students are looking for which is more than just sitting in a classroom and listening to folks like you and I tell them how it’s supposed to be.

Trevor

So the experiential learning is the key  word in that and what you guys are pushing towards right? It’s less about the book skills and all that kind of stuff and more about what’s going on in the real world out here and how they can connect with other people that are doing sports as a business.

Paul

Yeah and graduate schools have always been built around that whether you’re looking to go to a school like Harvard or you’re looking to go to a school like ours which focuses more on kind of a niche area. It’s a “who you know” business so building your network and leveraging some of the great suggestions you made today I think is helping students understand the power of not only building a network the traditional way but in the new ways that can be given to you through technologies and other ways to link yourself with other people.

The line that Jim Warsaw always used was “This program is to be the aligning of where book smarts meets street smart” and there is only so much you can learn about this industry in the classroom. You sat in one of our seminar sessions today where we worked with one of our industry professors Declan Bolger who works with Major League Soccer. Bringing in real world what’s going on with Major League Soccer today and then some of the other construct events that are going on with our industry. When students can take what they’ve learned out of the book and connect with certain experiences that they’ve had where we’ve taken them to New York or taken them to China or taken them to other markets, when they can take the discussions they’ve had with senior industry people and tied all them all together I think they walk out of here with the network they potentially need and a few doors that have been open for them. And above all the confidence that they are immediately able to go into this industry and feel like they can contribute something.

We have a mixture of “career switchers”; you met some today, I was an accountant, and they’re trying to evolve their careers in a new direction around that passion for sport. We have others who have that industry experience and all of them are looking for the same thing; A little more training and a few more people in their network. We’ve fortunately been pretty successful at doing that in a very boutique way; we’re very proud of the fact that we only take 20 students per year in our graduate program. It means something to have been a Warsaw Center student and that’s what we’re very proud of and hope to continue moving forward.

Trevor

You actually answered a question that I was going to ask which is how many people do you typically have in the class on a yearly basis. So it’s around 20?

Paul

Yeah. The Oregon MBA program is small by design and what Oregon decided a long time ago is we’re not going to be able to compete for the general MBA audience when we’re looking at trying to attract students who are looking at the top 25 schools. But if we took areas that Oregon would be known for that are natural to what you would think the Oregon brand would stand for and specialize in those areas, that’s what would be our success moving forward.

So we’ve picked four areas. Entrepreneurship and innovation, Oregon is known as it’s pioneering sprit; sustainable business because our team colors are green and yellow and sometimes all sorts of different colors these days, but the greenness of Oregon; financial and securities analysis, there’s a lot of money management going on and we have a strong focus in the Asian pacific; and then sports business.

I think, for a lot of people, their first introduction to the Oregon brand comes through our sport brand whether it’s our ever-changing football uniforms or the heritage of track and field and the Olympic success our former student-athletes have had. So each of our modules, those four areas, are only trying to attract about 20 students per year and 40 across the two-year program and they become a unified group of MBA students and yet they all have their individual passions that are interconnected with the center that they’re affiliated with.

Trevor

Are there any specific success stories that you can point to with past graduates who went on to work with different companies, leagues teams, whatever it might be.

Paul

Yeah, I’ll give you a few, dating back to our first graduating class in 1998. Lee Chung, he’s actually a Chinese national, rose through the ranks at Visa and was asked then to move back to China to lead their sponsorship program for the Beijing Olympic Games. Then he rose to general manager of the company and has recently moved on and started his own sports and entertainment company, which is a fascinating story. He’s started with a focus on music and figure skating. He’s basically using figure skating to grow the sports market in China. That’s a theme you’ll see with a lot of our students; kind of an international flavor.

Trevor

Seems like a very niche type of a sport and you just never know if the people in China are going to have a mass of following.

Paul

For those who followed the success of the Vancouver games the Chinese did very well. He had a filter where he wanted to have a sport where the athletes in the country were good, and that was the case with that sport, where he can make stars out of them and these particular skaters at that moment had some great stories that he could tell. It was television friendly and event-attendance friendly and he found ice-skating was where he wanted to start.

Acoste Jane another one of our MBAs who is now leading the NBA’s India initiative. So he’s moved to India after working in the league offices in New York and is in charge of grass-roots development of a sport where more people like cricket more than they like a basketball game.

We had Ty Stewart who is the executive director of The World Series of Poker.

Trevor 

So a real wide range then of talent.

Paul

Yeah, a wide range. I think our buckets are pretty clear and the three legs to our stool are teams, leagues, events and activities but we found at the MBA probably more leagues than the actual teams. Sponsorship and agencies, the intersection between non-sports brands and their alignment with sports as a marketing vehicle [are some other examples]. And then as you drove down here from north of the boarder and drove through Portland which is the epicenter, at least in our mind, of the sports apparel business. Not just for the brands you associate with Oregon like our friends in Beaverton but North American headquarters of Adidas, Li Ning’s first North American presence and store front is in Portland. Keane, Yakima, Ice Breakers from New Zealand; there’s an amazing array of companies there and obviously you attract a lot of students who have interest in that apparel sector. And that works it’s way all the way up into the northwest, which is great because we’ve got not only great companies in Seattle but in Vancouver as well with LuluLemon and others so lots of great opportunities.

And I think, as you have gone through your career too, it’s important for people to understand that the way you can work in sports is a much broader definition than often times where even our students come in the door and say “I want to be the manager of my favorite team” and that is often the starting point for a lot of people. The truth is if you can define your ultimate job description first rather than focus on a specific brand or a specific team, it’s really amazing to see how many different ways you can do what you love with an intersection in the world of sport. I think that’s been the culture we’ve tried to create here where so many kids will come in and say “I have this passion for wanting to be around sports and I think I know what I want to do,” but the serendipity of having all of these experiences that they get exposed to there is great satisfaction in my 10 years here of seeing the moment where a light turned on and a kid didn’t even know that light was available. If we can give them that runway to go off and give them something to do then we’ve done our job.

Trevor

There are a lot of people that want to work in sports and everyone has a favorite team and they say, “I want to be the General Manager of that team.” But the students that you have in this MBA program, I can tell, are very proactive right? So a lot of them have work experience already whether it be internships or actual paid jobs within sports teams and stuff. And of course you get experience along the way in a number of different roles as an intern but sometimes it’s pouring coffee other times it’s filling out spreadsheets and other times it is real world experience.

I think the one thing that I started to get from talking to your students today was that with the MBA program here they kind of get a feel of everything right? They can hear from people like Declan, who is in club services, who has been involved in a number of different roles in sports. And he can give his feedback and insight of his own experience. Anytime you learn from a mentor of sorts it helps you define or at least understand what’s out there right?

Paul

Anybody that comes into this business should not wear blinders when it comes to their professional career. I did not grow up dreaming to be a college administrator. I wanted to work in sports and had a background in sports media but I found my way here for the reasons that I spoke to before. There are things about this job that I absolutely love coming everyday to do.

I think so often students get fixated on what that summer experience is going to be as if that’s their only step into the real world while they’re here as a student and what we’ve tried to do, and what I would encourage any other program like ours to do, is to create an environment where you’re stepping out of that door of academia everyday. You’re writing about it – we’ve created a platform and a blog for our students to write about the industry as the issues come up. We provide them opportunities to work on signature events where they get the opportunity to go out and sell a sponsorship or design an event that will be better than the events we have seen in the quote-unquote real world. And afford them the opportunities with their industry partners to get a “snacking” size experience with brands.

So we’ve had this fall students working with Adidas on product focus groups. We’ve got some students working with the MLS on some online initiatives. We’re working with the Olympic trials here in the US that will be here in Eugene next summer on their social media strategy. All of those, if designed, could have been a summer internship for one person but now we’ve created a structure where a number of students can all come together and have the opportunity to get a little taste of that and then walk away and reflect on that experience which I think a lot of students don’t often do. “What did I learn? What do I not like about it? What would I never want to do again?” To do that multiple times and on an ongoing basis in this program I think sets them to be much more keenly aware of where they’re going to go with their career once they get out the door after graduation.

Trevor

Cool. I wanted to bring up one more point. The University of Oregon is obviously done an amazing job of the last number of years with their own brand. The colors themselves really stand out. The one thing I’ve noticed in your own branding for the Warsaw MBA program.

Paul

We have a two-foot tall bobble head here off camera but maybe we can pop it in.

Trevor

Yeah, we’ll pop it in. I’ll maybe try and find a photo of it or something. But it’s a bobble head of the founder right? Jim Warsaw correct?

Paul

Yeah

Trevor

I’ve noticed from a social strategy that you guys have taken photos of it at different events and stuff kind of as a branding thing to show here’s Jim coming along with all the students. What’s your thoughts in regards to the brand of Warsaw overall as it relates to The University of Oregon.

Paul

And here comes big Jim. We’ll actually put him right here and I’m honored to have him in the broadcast. He’s very agreeable every time I talk to him about subjects.

Quick background, Jim Warsaw’s family, his father David Warsaw is believed by many to be the father of sports licensing. They did a deal with the Wrigley family in the 1920’s to get the rights to do an ashtray that looked like Wrigley Field and sold it out in front of the stadium and it was kind of the first example of licensed merchandise. In the 1940’s the family came up with the bobble head doll.

Jim unfortunately is no longer with us, he was diagnosed and fell ill due to complications from Parkinson’s disease and one of the last things we did before he died was commissioned a bobble head to celebrate our 15th anniversary. In the tragedy of losing him we wanted to instill in our students that it was really his core ethos that really made this program important and the sense of family that we wanted to carry forward. We knew that, with only 20 students coming out of the door every year, if we didn’t have a strong inner-connection between those 20 the scalability of this brand and the strength of this thing would be very hard. We could do it over maybe a 50-year planning horizon but over the first 20 years of this place every student mattered. So out of the tragedy of that we created a micro site jimwarsaw.com that tells his story. And then we actually got the bobble heads built, smaller ones obviously for most people.

Trevor

Seems a little tough to throw in the carry-on at the airport right.

Paul

Yeah TSA would probably have an issue with it.

And we asked every student, every alumni, when they are at a place where they feel the Warsaw Center, and more in particular Jim, had enabled them to get to a place where they were saying “this is what I really wanted when I went to Oregon” we asked them to take a picture. It’s kind of our Travelocity gnome, this idea of getting him into places. Jim was always so very proud of what students were able to accomplish once they left here and in a small way, it’s not only for his memory but for his family.

Now it’s just become who can get the next great picture. So last year it was Marcus, one of our alums who works for the Miami Heat, got Jim into the Miami Heat Dancers tryouts. Jim would’ve loved that. We were in Luzon, Switzerland when they awarded the Olympic bid to Brazil; we’ve taken him to the Great Wall of China.

I think that’s important for companies. In the wake of the untimely loss of Steve Jobs at Apple and we use the example of when Bill Bowerman the legendary shoe designer and co-founder of Nike passed away. If you cannot instill in the future generations of your employees, or in our case our employees are really our students, if you cant make them understand what it meant and why we started this place in the first place it becomes really hard to keep the core essence of your brand strength alive. It’s been a fun activity, Jim has been an indomitable spirit and somebody we’re very proud of promoting any way we can.

Trevor

Well in the research that I’ve done and just feedback from other people he sounded like an amazing man. Obviously I never got the opportunity to meet him but he is an extension of what everyone in this program represents so that’s awesome. I just wanted to make sure we got this guy on camera because I didn’t even realize that this one actually was a bobble head but that’s brilliant.

Paul

Well his idea was, and we talked about it earlier, it’s where book smarts meet street smarts and he’s actually standing on a road. Passion, integrity and leadership were his three brand pillars for this place and while we miss him everyday we believe that everyday we’re living up to and maybe even exceeding some of his expectations. And it’s what we do and there’s great programs around the globe now entering this space and if anyone watching is interested in learning about an educational opportunity I think just look for places that really deliver on the ultimate promise. Are they getting people in the industry? Do they create an environment where you’re getting a good blend of both training from really smart people and experiences where you can build your resume? I like to think, and I don’t know if you disagree or not, five percent of your resume is where you went to school.

Trevor

We actually had that conversation earlier right before we started this interview and without a doubt I agree with that yeah.

Paul 

So what we can do for you to build up that other 95 percent. And there are great schools that focus on wanting to work in the Olympic movement versus wanting to work in team sports. So just do your do diligence and make sure you’re investing what is an expensive dollar these days for education and getting what you’re coming for which is a return on that investment.

Trevor

Well I love what you guys are doing here and I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. How can people find out more information? Where do they go? They can just come into your office sit down and fire questions at you right?

Paul

Operators are standing by. WarsawCenter.com is our landing page. You can also follow us on Twitter and I tweet a lot. I do a lot of stuff, like you do, related to issues in the industry and providing some perspective. Or just reach out to us by phone or by email. We’re really excited when we can share what we’re doing but also just offer advice to people. There’s a lot of challenge these days trying to maneuver through what this world is going to look like once we figure out what the economy is going to look like and we’d be more than happy to help. It’s all about just creating an environment where we feel like people we can be a resource to them. So whether you’re a student or a prospective student or just someone in the industry that’s looking for more information we encourage people to reach out

Trevor

Great stuff. Thanks again.

Paul

No problem. Go Ducks as we say.

Trevor

Go Ducks.

 

 


 

 

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@GrassInTheSky1 My pleasure....great to meet everyone!
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@DePauwAthletics Thanks for having me....great to hear all the questions and feedback!
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3 Responses to Warsaw Sports Marketing Center – Sports MBA – Paul Swangard Interview

  1. MichelleMarcus December 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Fantastic interview! What a great program!

  2. Deepak May 27, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Great and fantastic interview

    One correction to point out .

    In the paragraph

    .”Acoste Jane another one of our MBAs who is now leading the NBA’s India initiative. So he’s moved to India after working in the league offices in New York and is in charge of grass-roots development of a sport where more people like cricket more than they like a basketball game.”

    Name in the biggenning is Aakash jain” not “Acoste Jane”

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