Lineart icon of a laptop with a running figure on the screen against a background of a grassy playing field

The Business of Sport in the Age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic presents many challenges for sports business educators and students, but also many opportunities, participants learned during the latest edition in the Lundquist College of Business Digital Speaker Series.

Presented December 1 in collaboration with University of Oregon Stewardship and Donor Services, the online discussion was titled “Mighty Oregon: Business of Sport” and centered on ways the sports business programs at the Lundquist College have been transformed by the pandemic—including challenges and setbacks—but also unexpected accomplishments and unforeseen opportunities.

Ellen Schmidt-Devlin, executive director of Portland Programs and cofounder and executive director of the UO Sports Product Management program, moderated the talk. Offering first-person student perspectives were Braden Buerk, a sophomore at the Lundquist College double majoring in sports business and economics, and Alex Grant, a second-year student in the Sports Product Management program in Portland.

Additional panelists included Shelly Gourlay, director of the Sports Product Management program in Portland, and Craig Leon, MBA program manager at the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center in Eugene.

Leon offered two primary examples of the Warsaw Center pivoting in the COVID era. He touched first on the Warsaw’s Center annual collaboration week with our partners in Amsterdam.

During this collaboration, MBA and undergraduate students connect with Dutch students and executives from such sports business marketing industry leaders as Coca-Cola and the U.S. Olympic Committee. This year, the five-day event took place on Zoom.

The Brooks Running case competition also transitioned virtually this year due to the pandemic. During the competition, sixteen undergraduate students interfaced virtually with Brooks Running’s CEO and executives.

Lundquist College sophomore Braden Buerk engaged in both the Amsterdam University collaboration and the case competition.”

It’s pretty cool to know that work that I participated in is going to make it to the CEO of a big running company,” he said.

Leon was amazed how well these events translated to Zoom.

“It’s been fun to see things not just survive COVID, but also thrive,” Leon said.

Like the Warsaw Center, Gourlay and her team also faced setbacks due to COVID-19, primarily around crucial internship opportunities and lab work.

Gourlay said her program offers distance internship opportunities with new and well-established brands, thanks primarily to our head of industry engagement, Mariel Tyler von Wrangel.

Lab work transitioned from twice a week with a 50-student cohort to once a week with 15 or fewer students. The change was so successful instructors don’t plan to return to the former structure.

“They feel strongly that our students’ learning experience is much richer in this more concentrated, shorter amount of time,” Gourlay said.

Second-year graduate student Alex Grant participated in three internships offered through the Sports Product Management program—Nike, Portland marketing agency Common Brand Co., and Portland Sneaker Week.

“I was blessed to have the opportunity,” she said.

During the question and answer portion of “Mighty Oregon: Business of Sport,” the students were asked what parts of the COVID-19 experience will they carry forward through their education and career, and what they will leave behind.

“I’m definitely more willing to leverage the internet to reach out to people for informational interviews and connecting with people in the industry,” Buerk responded.

Grant said she hopes to maintain the healthier work-life balance she is experiencing during the pandemic.

“Maybe we’ll see companies say you don’t have to be in the office five days a week,” she said. “We’re seeing you can do both and still be productive.”

—William Kennedy, Lundquist College Communications