04/18/2013 10:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Warsaw Sports Marketing Center: Two Decades of Educating Sports Marketing Leaders

Continuing an ongoing look at unique marketing education techniques, I now visit the unique contributions of the country's first dedicated program to Sports Marketing, the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business. With the sports industry estimated at $500 billion, the economic impact of the industry is vast. Sponsorship specialist IEG forecasts that sponsorship spending in 2013 will grow to $19.9 billion, and the emergence of new technologies such as social media and mobile check-ins means more ways for sports marketers to engage consumers. With the stakes so high in the marketplace and growing sponsorship costs, the founding of the dedicated sports marketing program two decades ago showed incredible foresight.

Not only is the program notable for being the oldest dedicated sports marketing center, it is also recognized as the exemplar. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Wall Street Journal recognize the Warsaw Center as the first and best sports business program in the United States. Key to the program's success and widespread recognition has been its unique approach. From deep integration of sports marketing concepts into the curriculum to strong partnerships with industry, including teams, sporting good manufacturers, and the mainstream media, Warsaw has created a unique contribution to marketing education.

Take the Field
Students enrolled in the Warsaw MBA program benefit from the legacy of two decades of building a fiercely loyal alumni network. It is clear why alumni remain so dedicated to the program as the training provided in the program and post-graduation opportunities are quite rich. The traditional business curriculum is augmented through opportunities for students to gain 'street smarts'. All students have the access to industry experts via campus events featuring cutting edge sports management and marketing topics, and this interaction enhances the classroom experience. Furthermore, study tours to such locales as New York City, San Francisco, and even China provide an insider look at the workings of sports sponsorship agencies, teams, and apparel marketers.


In the second year of the program, students undertake a strategic planning project to apply their learning and critical thinking skills. Because of the aforementioned partnerships with global sports business leaders like Nike, Adidas, and EA Sports, students have the opportunity to apply their knowledge via real world consulting projects. Rather than case studies of past problems or theoretical dilemmas, actual problems with real world top-tier clients are the focus. This applied learning means that the sports marketing industry constantly gets a stream of competent, trained professionals graduating into the marketplace.

Varsity Scholars
In addition to the rich education that students receive, the faculty at Warsaw are also dedicated to furthering academic knowledge of sports marketing, predicting and explaining phenomena of interest to both scholars and practitioners. Warsaw faculty members cultivate a rich fellowship between the Center and their fellow members of the marketing academy at other institutions. For example, faculty members serve on top journal editorial boards and also contribute to the academic community through guest editor roles for special issues in sports marketing.

Additionally, the Center brought together global marketing scholars when it put together a very successful academic conference in 2012 focusing on sponsorship issues; by assembling scholars with diverse sports-related research interests in an intimate, supportive conference environment, existing research streams were advanced through peer feedback and new research streams were identified. Moreover, Center faculty members have taken an active leadership role in the American Marketing Association's (AMA) Sports Marketing Special Interest Group, organizing special sessions and panel discussions on the state-of-the-art research in sports marketing, including emerging topics such as social media marketing and mobile technology for sports fan engagement.

Media Touchdown
In addition to academic research, the Center's faculty serves as an authority on all things sports marketing and sponsorship. In 2012 alone, the Center's faculty was quoted in 571 media outlets globally. Flagship outlets featuring faculty and staff include NBCNews, ESPN, CNBC, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and USA Today. Recent issues tackled by subject matter experts in the media have included the impact of Lance Armstrong to sponsorship marketing, the Oscar Pistorius saga, the fit of a prison operator sponsoring a sports venue, and the maligned NBC broadcast execution of the Olympics.

Rallying the Team
As mentioned previously, the program and its rich experience have fostered strong loyalty among alumni. In fact, an anonymous $500,000 donation was given to the program in honor of its 20th anniversary, quickly followed by an additional $100,000 by Bob Warsaw, brother of founder Jim Warsaw. Through the end of June 2013, donations made to the program will be matched dollar for dollar, available at the Warsaw website.

When asked what drives the program's success, Center Director Paul Swangard replied, "For longtime Ducks like me, it's hard to put into words how far we've come as a university with competitive athletic teams during the past twenty years. The recipe for success is simple: invest in infrastructure, attract top talent, and market yourself aggressively as innovative and best in class."

This post is part of my ongoing investigation into the Connected Consumer. If you would like to share how you use mobile and social technology as part of my Ph.D. program research, join the study online.