/The Business of Athletics

The Business of Athletics

The Business of Athletics

Fred Hoiberg (’95 Finance), former Iowa State University basketball player and head coach who now coaches for the Chicago Bulls, has seen many points of view in the worlds of business and athletics. Many fans would be surprised at the amount of people, time, and resources that are ultimately put into the “final product” that is seen on competition days, he said.

“We all know about the amount of hard work that athletes put into practicing and studying their craft, but there are so many different people and areas of specialization that go into making decisions for each team,” Hoiberg said.

“The most successful teams and organizations that I have been a part of have smart, hard-working, caring people that find their niche and perform their area of specialization to the best of their ability, whether it’s balancing the budget, marketing their team, or preparing the scouting report for the opponent.” Hoiberg has experienced the connection between athletics and business for many years.

“My finance degree comes into play on a day-to-day basis when you look at the business side of this profession that I have been lucky enough to be a part of,” he said.

“Sports and the NBA in general are huge corporations when you factor in player, coach, front office contracts, ticket and merchandise revenue, TV and radio contracts, as well as corporate sponsorship just to name a few. It’s safe to say as a player, member of a front office, and coach I have had numerous occasions where understanding the business side of athletics has been a valuable tool,” Hoiberg said.

One thing that has helped Hoiberg through his career transitions has been his business degree.

“I have a better feel for how money is being used to help drive decisions that are made within a team,” he said. “I can give informed decisions and make wise choices because I better understand not only the present but also the future of different business decisions being made within sports, and teams that I am a part of. It has made me a more informed player, coach, front office member, colleague, employee, husband, father, and son.”

Hoiberg is just one example of how a business degree benefits students and alumni.

david_gerdin1-150x150Today’s business students have opportunities they never had before, said Raisbeck Endowed Dean David Spalding.

“At the College of Business, we provide students with the skills they need to pursue a career in many different fields, and that includes the sports industries,” he said.

“Athletic departments all over the country are hiring people with skills in marketing, accounting, data analytics, management information systems, and management.

“Think about all of the data that is generated today,” Spalding said. “Ninety percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years. Someone needs to understand that data. Someone needs to know how that information can be used to improve a business. Nowhere is that more important than in the world of athletics.”

pollard-head-shot-2014-e1459788285401-150x150Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard agrees. “Athletics is a business. Iowa State University is a business,” said Pollard, who has a degree in accounting. “Ninety percent of my job is related to the business of athletics. Many people think my job is hanging out with student athletes, but that just isn’t the case,” he laughed.

Pollard, a former national champion long-distance runner at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where he is also in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, oversees a department today that includes 450 student athletes, 18 sports and 165 full-time staff, and a $73 million annual budget, which relies on no tax dollars.

“What we do in our business is everyone else’s recreation. That’s what makes it unique,” said Pollard, who has channeled his competitive drive into an athletics administration career. Prior to arrival at Iowa State, he served in various athletic administrative capacities at Wisconsin, Maryland and St. Louis.

Having a degree in any area of business is beneficial to students, Spalding said.

“No matter where our students work, they will work in an organization that operates with business principles,” he said. “They will manage some type of budget. Supplies or product will need to be ordered and shipped. They will require some managerial skills in their lifetime. That all comes from a degree in business.”

Iowa State University Athletic Department at a Glance:
  • 450 student-athletes
  • 18 sports (11 women’s & 7 men’s)
  • 165 full-time staff
  • $73 million annual budget
  • Public entity, but no public funding