(Ohio University is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)
First introduced in the Fall of 2010, Ohio University’s Professional Master of Sports Administration (PMSA) program — a blend of virtual and in-person education for sports business executives — churns out an impressive list of graduates each year. In 2021, the PMSA rings in its first decade, and there is so much to celebrate.
Attracting professionals from all stages
The PMSA program was launched with the intention of offering sports business professionals the opportunity to further their education without leaving their current positions within the industry. The program leverages the OHIO Sports Administration program’s deep-rooted network of industry pros — the department was originally formed in 2010 under the leadership of Dr. Heather Lawrence-Benedict and Jim Kahler, past Executive Director of the AECOM Center for Sports Administration. The first cohort brought together executives from all facets of the business: college athletics administration, live entertainment and events, broadcast media, agency, and the front office of professional sports franchises.
“There is no typical student,” said Kelley Walton, Director of the Professional Master of Sports Administration Program. “Each year we select a small, but diverse group of approximately 30 professionals who are looking to take the next step in their career by enhancing their education and expanding their network.”
Positioning sportsbiz pros for their next opportunity
Do you need a masters to succeed in the business of sports? Many successful executives would argue no; however, the most commonly cited reason PMSA students give for applying to the program is that they want to take the next step up in their career. It would seem that the degree offers many of them the opportunity to do just that.
Andrea Williams, now the Chief Operating Officer for the College Football Playoff, was accepted into the PMSA program in 2014. She held the role of Associate Commissioner of the Big Ten at the time. As she prepared to graduate from the program, she was offered the position of Commissioner of the Big Sky Conference. Brett Sturba, now Director of Tournament Administration at Augusta National, accepted his position soon after graduation.
“The timing could not have been more perfect,” said Williams. “One of the last projects we were responsible for was identifying our path forward. It helped me to narrowly focus on how I wanted to position myself after graduation, and being able to go from the Big Ten Conference to the Big Sky Conference at that time spoke volumes about that program and that education and being able to put that on my resume.”
Highlighting esteemed PMSA alumni
Jackie Reau, ‘12, CEO, Game Day Communications
Dan Butterly, ‘13, Commissioner, Big West Conference
Corey Breton, ‘14, CRO, Global Attractions, Legends
Jess Smith, ‘15, Head of Corporate Partnerships, Angel City FC
Reggie Brooks, ‘15, Alumni Relations at Notre Dame, ex-NFL player
Andrea Williams, ‘16, COO, College Football Playoff
Dan MacKenzie, ‘19, President, Canadian Hockey League
Rick Brenner, ‘21, President, Michigan International Speedway
Staying high touch in a virtual setting
The online academic component of the program is as robust as it is convenient for working sports business professionals. Students move through the program in cohorts, staying with the same group through the duration of their degree, yet still in touch with the cohorts on campus as well as those a year ahead and a year behind them. This intentional model of growing the professional network of each student has proven to be a cornerstone of the deep relationships established with peers. Coursework is delivered in a blocked sequence, offering students the ability to complete the degree while working full time.
“We have found that the cohort-style program, where students stay together for 21-months, is one of the things our students appreciate most. They build long-lasting friendships with their classmates, and that’s something that they tell us year after year,” Walton said.
Blending academics and networking during residencies
Most PMSA graduates would cite the on-campus residencies as a program highlight. Annual events like the National Sports Forum and OHIO’s annual Symposium draw alumni from across the country to Athens, Ohio, each year, and the PMSA students have the opportunity to mix with sports business professionals who are engaged and willing to give back to their alma mater.
“We wrap our residencies around a strategic blend of events, live networking… and academic content,” said Walton. “This is one of the biggest evolutions of the program. We are being very intentional about the topics we bring in and how we deliver the content to our students.”
Prioritizing emerging trends in the sports business
As the sports business evolves, so does the PMSA program. Program faculty and leadership evaluate the curriculum regularly to ensure that they are preparing students for success.
“Each year we place our focus as a department on which special topics courses to offer,” said Walton. “We have included important topics like eSports, DE&I, and Sports Gambling—and we’ll package them into our residencies. We also evaluate our core curriculum to ensure we are meeting the needs of the sports business environment. We have added Data Analytics as a core course and we have recently updated our Revenue Generation course to ensure we are providing relevant content in a crucial content area.”
Building long-term relationships
Ask any PMSA graduate about the green book and you’ll hear all about the incredible alumni network that exists in Ohio University Sports Ad. Many loyal alumni travel across the country each year to network with their fellow Bobcats, and that certainly has intangible value for sports business execs.
“People want to stay involved. We’re always hearing ‘How can I help?’ from our alumni. It’s part of how we stay high touch and remain valuable to our students before, during and after their stay with us,” said Walton.