“You’ve established an exemplary and very well-respected sport management master’s program, which we’re very, very proud of,” said San Francisco Giant’s CEO Larry Baer in November, as he accepted the University of San Francisco California Prize for Service and the Common Good.
It was an unexpected but enthusiastic shout-out before a crowd of nearly 500. “Your graduates, who have become our employees, have really become forces of nature within the Giants.” About 30 USF graduates work full time for the team, including 20 from the Sport Management Program.
It’s one of the best sport management programs in the country—no. 1, according to Lawrence Wenner, editor of Communication & Sport and International Review for the Sociology of Sport. USF's location in a top sports market pushes it ahead of Ohio State University and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, he said.
Wenner helped found the program and led it for seven years. It enjoys a national reputation and has an undeniable record of securing top internships and dream jobs. Students also come away with a sense of “pay it forward” that helps other students down the line.
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Matt Doyle ’11
Matt Doyle ’11 was part of one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent college football history. He was at the 50-yard line when Stanford University cornerback Usua Amanam intercepted a pass with 2:30 left to play and clinched the team’s recent Rose Bowl victory, the university’s first since 1972.
Doyle is Stanford's assistant athletic director and director of football operations. He oversees nearly every off-the-field aspect of the program, from booking jets and hotels for away games to scheduling media interviews with players and managing alumni supporters.
“Attending USF’s Sport Management Program was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Doyle said.
The program gave Doyle a new perspective. Before he enrolled at USF, he had already been at Stanford 12 years in his current position. “When you have been involved with the same organization for more than a decade, it’s critical to learn new approaches and gain new insights to how things are done,” Doyle said. At USF, he took courses in marketing and strategy, sports economics, sports law, and business development, topics he knew little about.
“Today, I can pick up the phone at any time and connect with a current or former faculty member or a fellow graduate in all areas of the industry. I can bounce ideas off them and ask their opinions,” Doyle said. It’s like having a personal panel of experts.
Doyle works with some of college football's top decision makers as a member of the Rose Bowl Game Advisory Committee and the Football Operations Director National Committee, and as a featured speaker at forums and seminars. “Serving on those committees and taking part in those seminars allows me to be part of real change taking place on a national level,” Doyle said. “It also allows me to meet and learn from the most dynamic people across the profession, while representing Stanford and USF.”
‘Get It Done’
Think of Rich Cellini as the program's drill sergeant. “At the beginning of the class, I ask them if they’ve ever been physically out of shape, and what it felt like when they started to work out again and get back in shape,” he said. “The program feels like that.”
Splitting his time between the San Francisco and Southern California campuses, Cellini teaches the first course every student takes: Leadership and Critical Thinking, which is designed to mimic real-world pressure, toughen up students, and prepare them to make clear-headed decisions under stress. “‘Get it done,’ is what he tells you,” said Ashley Atwell ’13. “By that, he means there are no excuses.” A month into the program, she already felt a new sense of confidence and determination.
A play-by-play announcer for the Pac-12 and ESPN, Cellini demonstrates one of the program’s key characteristics: its faculty work for some of the most respected names in the industry, companies like the NFL, ESPN Productions, Fox Sports, TicketMaster, The North Face, and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. They see firsthand how their companies are evolving and share that invaluable insight with students.
The Power of Internships
DeShá Runnels ’04
A strong work ethic is vital, but Cellini knows that connections and good recommendations matter, too. A lot. He heads up another of the program’s impressive selling points: an extensive and powerful internship network that lands students the best opportunities.
Students typically intern at three or four organizations, putting in 1,140 hours on average, when only 160 are required. They’ve interned with every major professional sports team in the state, with top California athletics programs like Stanford and the University of California, Los Angeles, and major companies like StubHub, America’s Cup, and Nike.
DeShá Runnels ’04 and Bobby Baksa ’07 are testaments to this power. After Runnels interned for the University of Southern California, the university hired him full time—a year before he graduated. That led to his current job handling the exclusive print, radio, and online media rights for one of the hottest tickets in college athletics: the USC Trojans, for Fox Sports Media. “It’s all thanks to USF’s Sport Management Program and the hard work I put in during my time in school,” he said.
Bobby Baska ’07
Baksa started as an intern with the Giants and was hired full time in 2009. “I wouldn’t be here without the USF Sport Management Program,” he said. In turn, Baksa just hired an intern who is also from USF’s program.
And this may be the best part of all: graduates like Runnels and Baksa landed their dream jobs, and they’re getting paid for doing what they love in an industry built on playing games! Baksa talks with Giants players on a daily basis, managing their appearances at fundraisers, corporate events, and special fan meet-and-greets. And you can tell, there’s still an element of hero worship behind his smile.
Staying a Step Ahead
As the industry and technology changes, so does the program. Keeping its curriculum relevant for students is its ultimate success, and today's students gain experience in three emerging areas: new media, entrepreneurship, and international sport management.
USF’s Bryan Srabian is director of social media for the Giants and also an adjunct professor who teaches students how to analyze trends in social media and use them to their advantage. For one assignment, Atwell and her classmates developed a Facebook campaign for the World Baseball Classic, which held its semifinal and championship games at AT&T Park in March. The idea was to offer prizes to fans who ate at San Francisco restaurants that served dishes from the teams' home countries—as long as they posted pictures proving it online.
Ashley Atwell ’13
“That class was awesome!” said Atwell, who recently snagged a part-time job creating and publishing highlight videos, game images, and story recaps for Pac-12.com.
The most exciting class for Rob Cann ’11 was Entrepreneurial Brand Building in Sports. It was taught by Keir Beadling, who helped turn Half Moon Bay's Mavericks surfing competition into an international sensation.
Cann enrolled in USF’s program after co-founding Street Soccer USA with his brother. The nonprofit helps end the cycle of isolation and marginalization among the homeless through soccer and provides them with access to education and employment opportunities. It has been featured in The New York Times and People magazine and is supported by the Coca-Cola Foundation and FIFA—organizer of the World Cup.
Beadling helped Cann develop a marketing and business plan that explained the organization’s core values and revenue model in a way investors could understand. “The concepts I learned in the course enabled me to take what we had and better tell our story and articulate where we were going,” Cann said. Twenty cities across the U.S. now have Street Soccer USA programs, and Cann hopes to reach 50,000 homeless men, women, and children within the next three years.
Sport management’s international immersion in South Korea also has exciting potential. Two dozen USF students traveled there for nine days, demonstrating the possibility for expanding the curriculum to include sport management with an international focus.
“In South Korea, in South Africa, and in parts of Europe there is an untapped market of sports fans. It’s like the U.S. was in the 1970s,” said Dan Rascher, academic director of the program. “Someone is going to run those organizations. Someone is going to win the trophies. Someone is going to invent a whole new way of watching sports. Why can’t it be someone from USF?”