Behind the scenes of the Chicago sports industry
In an industry such as sports, where the supply of jobs is so small and the demand is so high, sports industry leaders are bombarded by job requests all the time. Therefore, receiving uninterrupted time with these sports leaders is a rare occasion. But that is the exact opportunity myself and more than 20 other first-year Kellogg students had earlier this month on our Chicago sports business trek.
The companies on our trek represented the entire spectrum of sports: from collegiate to professional, from teams to governing bodies. For a group of students with varied professional backgrounds and differing interests within the sports industry, it was the perfect start to network with sports industry leaders. It also gave us a better understanding of the industry’s current issues and how an MBA could help these companies solve these issues.
Our first stop was in our backyard at the Northwestern Athletic Department right here in Evanston. We had the pleasure of meeting with Mike Polisky, deputy director of athletics (external affairs) and Janna Blais, deputy director of athletics (student-athlete welfare).
Mike discussed the unique structure and culture of the NU athletic department under the direction of Athletic Director Jim Phillips. For example, Mike touched on how the department and its teams are now run a lot more like a business compared to how they used to be handled. With the department still working through the Northwestern Football/Labor Union case, Janna spoke candidly about the challenges of the case and how the process has brought her department together.
As an added bonus, we were given a parting gift of a Northwestern hat honoring our country’s military personnel and veterans.
The next destination was “The House that Jordan Built,” – I mean the United Center – to visit with the Chicago Bulls. We spoke with recent Kellogg graduate and Director of Analytics Matt Kobe ‘11, along with a panel of speakers from the Chicago Bulls organization.
It was fascinating to hear how difficult it is to separate the performance of the team when evaluating the success of various business efforts within the company. Another key takeaway was the fact that headcount is relatively small for an organization with that much revenue, and that ticket sales are the key driver for other revenue streams, such as merchandising, food, parking and television ratings. A surprising challenge for the Bulls and other NBA teams is to reclaim a lot of the revenue taken by secondary ticket sellers, such as StubHub.
No visit would be complete without a visit to the Bulls locker room and to the stadium floor itself.
Stop No. 3 on our whirlwind tour was at the U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters on the south side of Chicago. This meet-and-greet involved another diverse panel that discussed all aspects of U.S. Soccer’s operations: marketing, coaching, referees, general council/legal and communications.
It was insightful to hear about U.S. Soccer’s relations with key constituents such as FIFA, Major League Soccer (MLS) and even youth leagues. We discussed the Federation’s strategic plan and how they plan to capitalize on the recent success of the U.S. Men’s national team and the upcoming Women’s World Cup.
In our quest to collect as much swag as possible, our parting gift was a scarf to combat the winter weather.
Priority Sports, our fourth stop, was the only sports agency we visited during our trip. As one of the only homegrown sports agencies to represent both NFL and NBA athletes, we learned about the unique world of player representation. Let’s just say if you like cheering for your local professional teams, you may want to disregard a career in player representation. In a firm such as Priority Sports, the focus turns solely to the athlete you are representing and not necessarily the team itself.
Given the negotiating demands of the job, we learned that in order to be successful, it is important to make sure the other party achieves their objective by agreeing to your proposal. If you don’t consider the other party’s goals, you likely will not reach an agreement as easily.
Our final destination was at the headquarters of Miller Coors in the Chicago Loop. I mean, who doesn’t like beer and sports? Adam Dettman ‘01, director of sports & entertainment marketing, was a highlight of our stop. He gave us insights into the dynamics of managing a global brand that is dependent on local distributors, as well as the unique and evolving tastes of consumers in the local markets. Our stop wasn’t complete until we ventured over to the Miller Coors bar to sample some of the company’s refreshments and to network with Kellogg alumni.
Overall, it was a full and memorable day as my fellow students and I networked, learned and looked “behind the curtain” of the sports industry. I know the world of sports business is tough to get into, but this trip left me excited as ever to get my foot in the door.
Nathan Pohle ’16 is a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA Program. After completing his undergraduate degree at UW-Madison in 2007, Nathan has spent the last seven years as an Actuarial consultant at Deloitte helping insurance companies across a wide range of consulting and audit engagements. Nathan is passionate about sports and finding innovative ways to apply data/analytics to improve fitness, nutrition and the overall sports experience.