Warsaw Sports Marketing Center

Center provides students with unique opportunities for experiential learning

Students of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center receive both theoretical and experiential training.

By UO student Lili Wagner

Offering a dynamic mixture of grounded theory and real-world application, the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center prides itself on fostering connections with the sports business industry and preparing students for their time after UO. Each year, the center serves twenty select graduate students pursuing master’s degrees in business administration, more than eighty undergraduate students working toward concentrations in sports business, and more than three-hundred undergraduate students participating in the Sports Business Club.

“The center was founded in the early ‘90s, ’93, and it was at the time meant to create a category of education that didn’t exist, which was the study of sport inside of a business school,” said Paul Swangard, the center’s marketing director. “It began with an MBA program in the late ‘90s and, evolving out of that, a formal concentration in sports business at the undergraduate level.

“We serve students in two ways,” he continued. “We have courses that are taught inside the business school, and what really has been the hallmark of the place is focusing on students while they’re not in the classroom.”

Hosting speakers, organizing study tours, facilitating internships, and promoting project opportunities are just some of the ways that the Warsaw Center encourages students to engage in experiential learning outside of the walls of the Lillis Business Complex.

“We build an ecosystem of what I would call stakeholders—alumni, industry partners, university partners, global partnerships with certain organizations—all in an effort to be viewed as a respected resource to the industry, which by virtue benefits our students who can hopefully go off and do great things when they’re done,” explained Swangard.

The center’s program manager, Whitney Wagoner, added, “We think that at a university like this—a broad-based liberal arts university—part of the mission is to showcase all of what’s potentially possible. We work really hard when we program speakers and site visits and trips for the club to really try to showcase as many areas and sectors of the business as possible.”

All students, regardless of whether or not they study business, are welcome to join the club. In the past few years the club has had strong leaders from a number of areas outside of the Lundquist College of Business, something Wagoner believes strengthens the program. “You have students from other areas of campus. The students learn a lot from each other.”

The Warsaw Center spends a lot of its energy enabling exchange: exchange amongst students and exchange between students and industry leaders. This system of exchange creates a cycle that mutually benefits the Warsaw Center’s students and the business industry. Using strong relationship with leaders in the area of sports business to facilitate experiential learning opportunities, the Warsaw Center produces prepared graduates who may go on to lead the industry themselves. These graduates retain their connection with the center and in turn help the next generation of Warsaw students. 

“It always starts by having the network built,” noted Swangard. “We work very hard developing a robust set of connections that we can leverage on.”

A unique aspect of the Warsaw Center is its study tours. Each year, graduate students are welcome to participate in a study tour in Asia. Last year, students travelled for two weeks through India, China, and Singapore, meeting industry professionals and exploring sites of sports business. An annual trip to New York provides graduate students with an opportunity to meet leaders in sports business during a hectic week of activity. Next year, Wagoner will lead the first undergraduate study tour to Europe, where students will explore the sports business in Germany.

“It’s a self-fulfilling cycle,” Wagoner said. “We do those trips, the industry knows we do those trips because they host us, and that becomes part of what our brand stands for and is known for in the industry, which means the next time we call them they’re more likely to call us back.”

But what really sets the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center apart from similar enterprises at competitive universities is its commitment to developing responsible business people and accountable leaders.

“The secret sauce in all this is the person who founded it,” explained Swangard. “Jim Warsaw was an Oregon student here in the ‘60s. He laid out in the formation of the center this idea of passion, integrity, and leadership, operating in an industry that can be seen as full of a bunch of people who don’t do business the right way. He very much lived by those words. Almost organically that’s been part of the DNA of the place.”

The Warsaw Center has grown tremendously in the past decade and will continue to flourish thanks to the commitment of its stakeholders and the strength of the students it produces. Along with its secret sauce of accountable leadership, the mutually beneficial feedback cycle fostered by a complex network of relationships will continue strengthen the program for years to come.