John Elkins, MS '77

Supporting Sports Business Careers

For John Elkins, a career with financial services, advertising, Visa, and more took him to New York, San Francisco, and around the world. Now, after reconnecting with the University of Oregon and the Lundquist College of Business’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, he is glad to give and help students navigate the space where business, sport, and sponsorship intersect—a space where he was able to carve out a rewarding career.

When Elkins, MS ’77, attended the University of Oregon, the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center hadn’t yet come to be.

“The wellness phenomena was taking off at that time,” he said.

Companies were realizing the connection between productivity and health, and he saw a potential career path.

A dual resident, Elkins grew up in the United Kingdom but had visited the United States. After graduating from the University of Exeter, he was researching graduate programs around the world. He knew people who had attended the University of Oregon and was looking to study the commercial side of sport. He didn’t find exactly that, but saw some intriguing options in UO programs.

He took courses in recreation, sociology, and business, and was able to craft an MS based out of the recreation department, he said.

“It enabled me to get closer to what I was looking for,” Elkins explained. At the UO, he was also able to play soccer and coach the women’s team.

“I met lots of Dutch and Australian international students, as well as domestic students during grad school—some of whom I am still in touch with,” he said. “I also managed the University Inn (now Barnhart Hall). Soccer was really taking off, as was Nike—it was a really cool time to be in Eugene.”

During his time at the University of Oregon, Elkins also met his wife Terry. They have been married 40 years and have two adult children.

“Sometimes you have luck, and sometimes you make your luck,” he said. “The relationship to work and leisure and how it was changing ultimately drew me to Naisbitt Group.”

After starting up the west coast office, Elkins eventually moved to Washington, D.C. and became CEO of Naisbitt. He next launched Diefenbach/Elkins—taking it from five to 50 employees and its selling to IPG in 1996. At Futurebrand (IPG), he served on the executive committee of the McCann Erickson World Group Board ($1.2 billion in revenue) and grew revenue from $12 million to $120 million post acquisition.

That’s when Visa came calling.

“I got headhunted for Visa, a great brand,” Elkins said. “I was commuting from Colorado to New York and started commuting from Colorado to San Francisco.”

The change allowed the Elkins family to raise their children in Colorado, which had been their goal.

As executive vice president/CMO of global brand, marketing and communications, Elkins helped Visa win the FIFA World Cup away from MasterCard as its official payment partner. As a Top 10 sponsor he also worked on several Olympic Games. This included managing merchant relationships such as Disney, Marriott, Google, McDonalds, British Airways and others.

“Looking back, Oregon set me up for success in a number of different ways,” Elkins said. “I was glad to see Warsaw emerge as it was what I was looking for originally. Sports marketing and sports business are part of a big world that goes beyond traditional business.”

Elkins was able to share some of his wisdom about licensing, merchandising, ambassadors (like Michael Phelps), and brand during a recent visit with Warsaw students.

He and Lundquist College alumnus Sheng Li, MBA ’98, were also able to host a number of interns from the Warsaw Center, providing meaningful exposure to sponsorship opportunities as part of Visa’s Olympic partnership.

“It’s six year cycles from when a city is announced to when thousands of guests show up for the games. It can be a challenging regulatory environment—in China we ended up with 2,500 guests and ran a domestic program with 7,500 other local guests. It’s big programs with huge logistics and connects back to what the Warsaw program is teaching.”

After work with McKinsey and as president of First Data International, Elkins retired but works with several boards and organizations.

“It’s a huge, great place for someone to have a career, “ Elkins said of business and sport. “Warsaw is a top program in this country and recognized around the world and I’d like to support that.”

Warsaw students recently experienced the exciting world of sport sponsorship first-hand.

“Without the generosity of John Elkins, we would not have been able to take six current students to Japan this spring,” said Craig Leon, MBA Program Manager for the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. “There they got an up-close look at preparations for the Tokyo 2020 games—from the very people bringing them to life. It also allowed us to lay the groundwork for future meetings and site visits with our MBA ’20 class this September and for our plans during next summer’s Olympic Games.”

—AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom ’05, Lundquist College Communications