Sports business class helps students build connections

Last winter, media coach and public relations veteran Brian Berger began a new avenue of teaching in a university classroom. He taught Marketing 410: Sports Business Strategy at Portland State — a class exploring the wide world of new media and the dangers they present to modern athletes.

The course familiarizes students with the terms and tools common in the sports industry and shows them how to critically analyze decisions made on the business side. Berger’s class will be offered again winter term.

Berger, however, is not a traditional college instructor.

“I teach in a conversational style, not lectures,” Berger said. “There’s no textbook; I use my war stories of working in the industry for 20 years.”

He also uses mock interviews, guest speakers and a final project where students take on a real sports issue and develop a strategy for public presentation.

These projects could include introducing the city to its new female soccer team, the Portland Thorns, or re-branding the Portland Winterhawks. The goal is for students to have practical experience before graduation.

Several of Berger’s students last winter received internships from local teams after making connections  — relationships are one of the key lessons taught in the class.

“The importance of networking,” Berger said, “includes authentic ways to stay in touch. Don’t just call someone when you need something, call them when you have something to offer, or meet for coffee.”

Berger, who has been educating people about the business of sports for over two decades, worked in public relations for the Portland Trail Blazers front office before launching his own PR firm in 1998.

In 2004, he began hosting a radio program, Sports Business Radio, which today is nationally syndicated.

In 2007, he also founded Everything is on the Record, a marketing company where experts train athletes, politicians and CEOs in their media presentations. EIOTR’s client list includes Adidas, Keen, Schwinn, Nike (including Jordan Brand), the NBA, MLS, Mongoose, Cannondale and even the City of Portland.

The expertise Berger brings to the classroom does not rely exclusively on old-fashioned values like relationship building: he looks to the future. He incorporates technology, focuses on social media and seeks an evolving PR strategy to support his clients.

“Ten years ago there were no iPhones, Twitter or Facebook,” Berger said. “lmagine how those three things changed our lives. Imagine what we will have in 10 years.”

Berger also has strong opinions to share about the state of college athletics.

Money generated through college sports has turned every university athletic department into a business. The landscape has shifted dramatically as television deals for football and basketball games reach multibillion dollar levels.

Student athletes have their likeness used in marketing and merchandise, which brings in more money for schools, while the students themselves receive no monetary compensation.

Big universities argue they provide scholarships, room and board, and great facilities to practice and play in. Berger thinks this system is obsolete and unfair to certain people.

“I frankly believe D1 football and basketball should be governed differently than golf, swimming, tennis, etc.,” Berger said. “We know they are the revenue-creating sports.”

Berger believes that the college revenue model needs some updating.

“Some people get paid high salaries, some middle and some entry level,” Berger said. “In college athletics it’s one size fits all…The industry needs to be modernized. You can’t say one sizes fits all. For non-revenue producing sports, a scholarship is adequate.”

With television money continuing to rise and athletes facing greater scrutiny, Berger believes the need for people with training and education in this field is apparent. He is one of many strategic PR consultants who fill this increasingly in-demand niche.

Almost every major college offers at least one course in sports marketing.

The University of Oregon has the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, the first of its kind, connected with a college business school, and Marist College in New York offers the first available degree in sports communication.

For those with little or no chance of being an athlete, marketing and business offers a way into the sports industry.

“Sports is sexy, high profile,” Berger said.

More about Brian Berger and his Sports Business Radio show can be found at