Last Updated on August 3, 2023
Interview with Dr. Joe Cobbs
Sports Degrees Online had the chance to interview Dr. Joe Cobbs, Professor and Chair of Sports Business & Event Management at Northern Kentucky University. In the conversation, Professor Cobbs shares his journey through a variety of roles in the sports industry and eventually into academia. He provides invaluable advice on a wide-variety of subjects and shares his thoughts on areas of growth within the sports industry. Dr. Cobbs also discusses some of the unique courses that he offers at NKU and the selling points of pursuing a degree or a career related to sports in the greater Cincinnati region.
About Dr. Joe Cobbs
Dr. Joe Cobbs is Professor and Chair of Sports Business & Event Management in the Haile College of Business at Northern Kentucky University. He is also the co-founder of the research collaboration website Know Rivalry.
Sports Degrees Online: Welcome to today’s episode of Sports Degrees and Career Talk, brought to you by Sports Degrees Online. We’re joined by Dr. Joe Cobbs, Professor and Chair of Sports Business and Event Management at the Northern Kentucky University. Dr. Cobbs, welcome to the show!
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Sports Degrees Online: Dr. Cobbs, can you share a bit about your journey, and how you went from an undergraduate student studying marketing and finance to where you are today?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Sure. At the time that I was an undergraduate, I wasn’t even aware of this field of sport management as kind of a degree path. I mean, I was a sports fan growing up as a kid, although, interestingly, my parents are not sports fans at all, so I’m not sure how that happened.
But I was always interested in sports, and it wasn’t until my sophomore year as an undergrad, I took a sports marketing class. I was a marketing major, and I took a sports marketing class as an elective within the marketing major. And I was also a finance major as well, and that sports marketing class really opened my eyes to the business side of sports and the careers beyond just what you see on TV, the coaches and the general managers and stuff like that, the trainers.
So right after that sports marketing class, I had a summer internship with an insurance agency. It was basically a sales job where I learned a lot about the sales process. And it was a great internship from that perspective. But the agent that I worked with, the insurance agent, he had this part time gig as a sports agent in town locally, and he basically represented some of the college athletes when they graduated in basketball and they weren’t good enough really to go the NBA. So he helped place them, mostly with teams in Europe.
One day I said to him, ‘Hey, I’d love to help you out on your side hustle.’ And he was like, ‘Okay, you can definitely help me with that. Come in tomorrow at 5:00am. And I was like, ‘whoa, 5:00am?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, yeah, Europe is on a different time zone, obviously, than what we were on, and so I do most of that [side hustle] work before the business day starts here at North America.’
So sure enough, that’s what I did. I started drinking coffee and learned quite a bit. And that led to a position with the Detroit Pistons and a full time internship that I did up there. And from there it was just learning about what part of the sports industry was my niche, where I felt the most comfortable, what I was excited about. And for me, that turned out to be college sports.
“I started drinking coffee and learned quite a bit. And that led to a position with the Detroit Pistons and a full time internship that I did up there. And from there it was just learning about what part of the sports industry was my niche, where I felt the most comfortable, what I was excited about. And for me, that turned out to be college sports.”
And so I did an internship as an undergrad in our athletic department at Miami of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio, and not that far from Northern Kentucky University where I am today. Later, I got the chance to go back to Miami University as the marketing director in athletics. So that’s what I did for several years.
In between those positions above, I worked for a sports agency in Detroit as well. that was a great opportunity to sort of represent sponsors in their contract negotiations and things like that, mostly with sports properties in the state of Michigan. But we expanded a little bit beyond just Michigan as well, so I got to see that side of it as well.
And then, of course, professional sports with the Pistons. I worked for a minor league hockey team, so I got to see minor league sports a little bit as well. And I really felt like college sports was what was comfortable for me – being on a college campus and working with students and the variety that you get with college sports. I felt like it was a little bit more like a family atmosphere and a little less formal than the professional sports environment, but still really high level and can be really prominent and do a lot of fun events. That’s sort of where I had settled in.
Then I was always interested sort of in research and data and things like that, so I then had an opportunity to be an adjunct when I was working in college athletics and teach a class, and I started to think more about making a transition to academics full time. So I did that.
Now, it’s been about 15 years ago that I left college athletics and went to the University of Massachusetts for my PhD, and I’ve been here at NKU for about eleven or twelve years now since then.
Sports Degrees Online: Wow, you’ve packed a lot into your young life, I’ll say.
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Well, I’m not so young anymore, thank you!
Sports Degrees Online: That’s an impressive resume, honestly. Professor, after listening to your story, I just want to try to distinguish at exactly what stage did you get your master’s degree – was it straight after your undergraduate degree?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: That’s a great question. I was at Miami for undergrad in Oxford, OH and [after interning] I had an opportunity to go and go back to the Pistons, where I’d been an intern in a full time role. But I also had an opportunity to go to Ohio State for my master’s degree and be a GA (graduate assistant) in marketing in the athletic department and get my master’s degree. And so I decided to do that to go to Ohio State and get that master’s degree.
I feel like, people listening to this might say, ‘Well, you’re biased. You’re a professor,’ which of course I am, so I believe in higher education. But when you earn that degree, and no one can ever take that away from you. My father was a high school teacher and my mom was an elementary school teacher, so we always had that value of education in our family. Even though the Pistons would have been a great opportunity, I decided to [turn that offer down, and] go ahead and get my master’s at that point. And after that, was when I ended up going to Detroit and working for the sports agency.
“I feel like, people listening to this might say, ‘Well, you’re biased. You’re a professor,’ which of course I am, so I believe in higher education. But when you earn that degree, and no one can ever take that away from you. “
Sports Degrees Online: That’s got to be hard to turn down– you’ve got a job offer in hand with an organization that you’d been working for, and you can kind of envision what the next five years would look like. But still, I give you credit for stepping away and staying true to your path.
I think a lot of our students might find themselves in similar positions. Suppose someone takes an internship at the undergrad level, and then it’s like, ‘okay, I really want to do my masters, but I have this great opportunity in hand… should I wait and see how this opportunity pans out, or should I just go get me degree?’ There’s conflicting opinions – some people say it’s best to get the work experience under your belt, and then if you need the master’s degree later, you can go get it. Others will say, ‘just go for it.’
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Yeah, I think what really helped me in that decision and I think there is a lot of validity to going and working for a while and then going to get your master’s, because sometimes you can get a lot more out of that master’s when you have more work experience.
But I think another factor is, ‘what’s the opportunity with the master’s degree?’ There are so many graduate assistantship positions available out there in athletic departments, for example, so if you’re interested in working in college athletics, that’s a logical step. And I think at that point, although I was pretty young, I had been fortunate to sort of see different sectors of the sports industry, and I was already kind of leaning toward thinking college sports thing might be my angle. And since I had the graduate assistantship opportunity, I think that was what really tipped the scales for me in that decision – a great opportunity to work in a Big Ten athletic department. I had been working in Miami’s athletic department a little bit as an undergrad, so I had a little bit of mid-major experience. So I was like, ‘wow, I could work in one of the biggest athletic departments in the country.’ And I just kind of stepped into that.
Sports Degrees Online: Okay, now you say you kind of had that opportunity, but I’m sure everybody knows you have to make your own opportunities in life and in the sports industry. Were you applying for a variety of positions like this one along the way, or did these opportunities find you through your network?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: A little bit of both. Actually the professor I had in my sports marketing class was recommending that I apply for them. He said, ‘You should think about getting a graduate degree at some point. ‘He didn’t say I needed to do it right away, but he said that in addition to applying for jobs out of undergraduate, you might want to look at some graduate programs and just see what kind of assistance you can get through a GA, and then you can get work experience at the same time – [especially] if it’s a GA and something that you might want to work in.
So often professors and small things they say can make a difference, and I try and remember that now in my role.
And then at Ohio State, the person that I worked for in the athletic department at Miami, he was the marketing director and also sold the sponsorships there. He knew the person at Ohio State and connected me there and helped my resume stand out, if you will, in terms of sending an introductory email or making a phone call to David Brown, who was at Ohio State at the time, and said, “Hey, I’ve got an undergrad who’s applying to the Master’s program there that you might want to take a look at for one of your GA positions.” So in the end tt was a little bit of both, and you know how important that network is in sports, of course.
Sports Degrees Online: Shifting gears a little bit, Professor – with all of this experience that you have in the sports industry, how do you manage to bring that experience into the classroom and help your students learn some of the lessons that you learned along the way?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Now, I mentioned that I’ve been at NKU now for over ten years. Some of the stories from when I worked in sports. I try and be real cognizant of the fact that the sports world has changed a lot in the last ten years. And so I think that my experience, more than anything, [is most valuable] because I’ve maintained that network and tried to grow it in the industry. And what that has allowed me to do is bring the people who are still working in sports on a full-time basis into class.
And [the network that I’ve maintained has] led me to have conversations with them, even outside of class, of what’s going on right now. Sometimes we’ll collaborate on research projects or things like that, which is how a lot of full-time professors stay really connected to the industry through their research, or I’ll bring them in to do a class project in one of the classes. And in that process or in that conversation, it helps me to stay current on what’s happening in sports right now. I certainly do inject some of those anecdotes from when I worked in sports, but I also try and be real conscious of the fact that that was a decade ago, so I got to stay current.
“And [the network that I’ve maintained has] led me to have conversations with them, even outside of class, of what’s going on right now. Sometimes we’ll collaborate on research projects or things like that, which is how a lot of full-time professors stay really connected to the industry through their research, or I’ll bring them in to do a class project in one of the classes. And in that process or in that conversation, it helps me to stay current on what’s happening in sports right now. I certainly do inject some of those anecdotes from when I worked in sports, but I also try and be real conscious of the fact that that was a decade ago, so I got to stay current.”
Sports Degrees Online: Yeah. And on the subject of staying current and making sure that your students are studying relevant subjects and kind of cutting edge subjects – during your time at NKU, you’ve actually created two new courses from scratch. The first of which is Rivalry and Rituals in International Sports, and the other is Moneyball: The Economics of Sports. Can you talk a bit about each of these courses and why they’re relevant for sport management students today?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Sure. They’re pretty unique, especially the rivalry course. I’m not familiar with anybody who has a regular course offering that’s quite like this one. So I’ll start there with that one, and then we could talk a little bit about the Moneyball Economics course.
I developed the rivalry class in 2013, I want to say it was. And then it took about a year or two to get it qualified for [a general education course] here at NKU. So that class has a lot of students, a lot of different majors across campus because it does qualify within our general education platform in what’s called cultural pluralism.
Getting more to the details of the class, what we really do is we travel (virtually) around the world and talk about the most popular sports in different regions, and what are some of the biggest rivalries are within particular regions. And I’ll switch it up semester to semester so we don’t always focus on the same regions, although we try and touch on all the main continents at least a little bit in every term.
But I chose the framing of rivalry, not just because I do research in rivalry, but when you think about outside of, say, elimination or championship series, playoff series, really the biggest sporting events today, I think, are rivalry matchups. That’s where you get the most media attention, the most amount of sort of passion from the fans, the highest kind of secondary ticket prices, the biggest demand, a lot of sponsors now – you see really them trying to get more and more innovative about how they can get involved in rivalry.
And so we use that context to sort of learn about the social psychology of sports fans and that whole idea of first the in group and how a sport fan identifies with their team and it becomes part of their own sort of self identity. But when you do that, you’ve got an out group as well in the case of sports. So you’ve got this opponent that means more than other opponents to you. And so we talk about why that is in other parts of the world. A lot of it comes down to political history; it could be sort of religious history; it’s different aspects of culture; it could be immigrant versus native population.
And the sports teams represent these in group and out groups that are part of the larger culture. And I think that’s really important for sports business students – in addition to kind of anybody who’s who’s trying to be a good global citizen is because now sports is global.
That might seem obvious, but think about it – even if you want to work for the local minor league team, and you’re really into your community and you appreciate what that minor league team offers to your community, you might say, ‘Well, why do I need to know about sports in Japan or sports in Europe or sports in South America if I want to work for my local minor league team?’ Well, people in your town can stream La Liga matches or can stream Nippon Professional Baseball, if they want to, from Japan.
All of those sports entities around the world are competing for the attention and the discretionary income of sports fans anywhere in the world. Having that better understanding of sports around the globe, I think, will help you, whether you want to work for the NFL, the EPL, or for your local minor league sports team. So that’s the basis of that particular class.
“All of those sports entities around the world are competing for the attention and the discretionary income of sports fans anywhere in the world. Having that better understanding of sports around the globe, I think, will help you, whether you want to work for the NFL, the EPL, or for your local minor league sports team. So that’s the basis of that particular class.”
Sports Degrees Online: That’s very cool. So it makes me think of a popular quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said, “He who knows no foreign language knows nothing of his own.” In the same way, if you haven’t seen another sport context, you can’t even understand what your actual sport context is because you don’t have any perspective. So I think that’s a brilliant idea for sport managament/sport business students to be exposed to. I think that’s very cool.
Dr. Joe Cobbs: And I’ll even give you an analogy, Bryan. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to different parts of the world and experience different sports cultures, which really helps me in terms of designing that class.
But one of the things I’ve noticed tangibly about what you just mentioned is I’ve gotten more and more familiar with cricket. And I’m by no means a cricket expert, but I’ve gotten familiar enough that I could see sort of the same debates that are happening in baseball right now with regard to the pitch clock, speeding up the game, and trying to make it a little bit more ‘consumer friendly’ versus the debate of, ‘well, that’s not what baseball is’.
And the traditionalist debate is the same thing that goes on in cricket when you talk about 2020 cricket, which is sthe short version of it, and then test cricket, which is the matches that last days on end. It’s that finding that middle ground, or ‘what can work in the marketplace?’, and ‘who’s the target market for this particular version of the game?’, and ‘how do we implement these changes?’. And I think both sports have learned from each other and continue to learn from each other. So to take your analogy sort of a step further, I think that would be a good example.
Sports Degrees Online: Yeah, that parallel between cricket and baseball makes a lot of sense, and I can see how there are great opportunities for them to learn from each other as they balance making changes for today’s world while also staying true to their traditions. I appreciate that.
Professor Cobbs, tell me a bit about the Moneyball course that you created.
Dr. Joe Cobbs: That course is a little bit more traditional, if you will, from the standpoint of when you think across sport management or sport business programs, it’s essentially an economics of sports class. But we spend a month in the class reading the Moneyball book and then talking about kind of what the Oakland A’s did at the time and finding sort of these arbitrages in the labor market and how they were looking for something that no one else was looking for at the time.
And then what we try and do is use that understanding to apply to sort of the business side of sports. The A’s had a very limited budget, very limited resources, but what they were really good at was using those resources really efficiently and using data to do that.
We talk about college sports, minor league sports, even professional sports, and the growth of consumer analytics and how a lot of these teams are adding positions in sports on the business side. A lot of these sports teams are adding positions on the business side that are trying to help their salespeople, whether it’s sponsorship salespeople or whether it’s ticket salespeople. They are helping them be more efficient with their time by targeting the right audience a little bit better and then using the consumer data that’s collected or understanding how to collect that data. So we try to make that transition a little bit within that class, and then we also talk about your traditional topics of public financing and industrial organization and revenue sharing and those sort of things as well.
“We talk about college sports, minor league sports, even professional sports, and the growth of consumer analytics and how a lot of these teams are adding positions in sports on the business side. A lot of these sports teams are adding positions on the business side that are trying to help their salespeople, whether it’s sponsorship salespeople or whether it’s ticket salespeople. They are helping them be more efficient with their time by targeting the right audience a little bit better and then using the consumer data that’s collected or understanding how to collect that data.”
Sports Degrees Online: Now, with regard to sports analytics – I would say most people outside of the sport management first think of on-field metrics and statistics and related opportunities with teams and organizations. But in reality, most of the ‘sports analytics’ jobs and opportunities that are emerging these days are on the business side. Would you say that’s true?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s definitely true. And I mean, there’s certainly jobs on the player side as well, but that’s not really the focus of our program. We have some students that are interested in that, and we support them and help them with connections through our athletic department. But most of the students in our program are focused on working on the business side.
That’s part of what sort of differentiates our program is we’re in a college of business, the Haile College of Business. So that’s more of the focus of our program. But Moneyball is such a great story, and so it provides a nice gateway to understand what they did and then say, okay, how can this be done on the business side of sports?
Sports Degrees Online: Shifting gears a little bit again, Professor, I’d like to discuss the actual programs that you offer at Northern Kentucky University. You offer both an undergraduate degree in Sport Business and Event Management, and also you have the MBA program. So first I’d like to discuss the undergrad program and Sport Business and Event Management. Can you talk about some of the highlights of this program?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Sure. We’re just hitting on 20 years since that sports business program was started, and I think the rationale behind that title was to emphasize that it’s in a college of business and the focus is not necessarily on coaching or training or that side of sports, but it’s on the actual finance, marketing, employee management, that side of accounting, that side of the business.
And then we added Event Management a few years ago because we found that a lot of non-majors were taking our courses who were interested in running corporate events or they had their own sort of side business. Like they might be a photographer or they might be an artist or they might be some other person in the creative arts. They were seeing the connections between some of the stuff that we were teaching about how to run an event or how to put on an event and how to market an event. We have a pretty strong group of students that are interested in nonprofits both in our college of business and in the larger university.
When you think about working for a nonprofit, a big part of that is putting on events, fundraising events or marketing events to spread your brand. Sometimes it’s events to help whatever your cause is and involve those people that you’re trying to help, but really, it’s a lot of events. And so we became more deliberate and decided to add that to the major because we were really already teaching it.
We were pretty focused on sporting events, but then we were already talking about concerts and other type of events, and so we decided we could pretty easily expand this and be more inclusive. And so that was the reason to add the event management. And then, like a lot of programs have done with the rise of Esports, we’ve added an Esports minor, too, that students are able to take. And you don’t have to be a sports, business and event management major to take the Esports minor. You can be a major in anything on campus and take the Esports minor if that’s something that interests you.
Sports Degrees Online: What do you have to say about the Esports minor and the Esports industry from your perspective?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Yeah, I mean, I should say I’m certainly not our Esports expert here. We have a professor of practice, Shonda Harris, who’s our Esports expert, but I think it made sense for us to add the minor because the jobs in Esports are in some ways pretty similar to what we were already teaching, but in some ways different in terms of the technology and the structure and things like that. There were definitely enough nuances to it that adding a specialty or a minor, and it made sense for us, but it’s certainly a growing field.
And just like I was talking about with the event management, when you think about Esports, you have the sponsorship side and you have the team management side and the media side and all that, which you have with traditional sports as well. But so much of the ecosystem is focused around these huge events where for some of the events, you have in person attendance, [yet] you have such a huge virtual audience for most of them. But it really is like producing an event. And so that industry, as it grew, really fit well into a lot of the concepts that we were already trying to help our students become experts in.
Sports Degrees Online: Professor, I also want to give you a chance to say a few words about your MBA program as well. Can you talk about some of the strengths and highlights of that program?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Yeah, so that program is all it’s fully online unless you’re an international student. If you’re an international student, because of the residency requirements, there are some in person classes so that you can maintain your visa if you’re visiting, but for the most part, it’s online.
And then we have several different tracks in the program, and all of our classes in that MBA program are five week classes. So they’re nice kind of quick hitters. And it enables you to do it while you’re working, because it’s online and because of the five week you can do it for a five-week session. And then if you’re in the busy season, in your job, and you want to take a month off or two months off, that’s fine. You can come back in when it’s convenient for you and jump right back into a class within a week or two because they restart kind of like I said, every five weeks.
We do not have a sports specialty within our MBA program at this point, though I wouldn’t be surprised if we expanded into that. There’s been some talk of that already and some people asking about it here in our marketplace.
But with it being online, of course you could take it from anywhere. We do have some relevant tracks for people that are interested in sports, and we’ll have some of our undergrads that will move on and take our MBA program as well. And they’ll take like the marketing track or the project management or two of the several tracks that are somewhat related to sports.
Sports Degrees Online: Okay, now is there any sort of cohort model or is it totally like individual? Are students ever meeting up for discussions within the 100% online program?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: They’ll have synchronous discussions in certain classes virtually, but they do not meet. There’s no requirement to ever come to campus within our program, although we do have quite a few that come to graduation. I was just at graduation, it being this time of year, and there was quite a few of our MBA online graduates that it was nice to see there in person at graduation.
Sports Degrees Online: Okay, great, professor, we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back to talk about Know Rivalry.
Sports Degrees Online: Dr. Cobbs. You founded no rivalry together with your counterpart, Dr. David Tyler of UMass, Amherst. Can you talk a bit about what Know Rivalry is?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Sure. Know Rivalry, and I should spell it out for those that are listening “K-N-O-W Rivalry”. Know Rivalry is a research collaborative that looks to get students involved, alumni and industry professionals involved, other professors besides Dr. Tyler and I who co- founded it, we get involved. Our objective is to add scientific data and scientific analysis to the discussion and knowledge surrounding rivalry.
Rivalry is a fun topic. You hear it debated on sports radio or podcasts all the time. And of course, there’s lots of articles written about it and lots of shows about it, but it tends to be very subjective. This fan thinks this, this fan thinks this, this show host has this to say about rivalry. There’s a lot of anecdotal stories around different rivalries, but what we try and do with the Know Rivalry project is to study hundreds or thousands of rivalries across different sporting contexts and different geographic contexts and look and see what the similarities are that we can discern across all of these different rivalries.
“Rivalry is a fun topic. You hear it debated on sports radio or podcasts all the time. And of course, there’s lots of articles written about it and lots of shows about it, but it tends to be very subjective. This fan thinks this, this fan thinks this, this show host has this to say about rivalry. There’s a lot of anecdotal stories around different rivalries, but what we try and do with the Know Rivalry project is to study hundreds or thousands of rivalries across different sporting contexts and different geographic contexts and look and see what the similarities are that we can discern across all of these different rivalries.”
And at the same time, [we look for] unique things that might pop up for particular rivalries. This project has been going on for over a decade now, and you can actually go to the website knowrivalry.com, and have a look – we have a page for every team in the major five North American sports. So your traditional four major sports, plus MLS. We also have college football, D-I, FBS. College football teams each have an individual page as well. And what that page will show you is [data directly from] fans of that team that have filled out our survey on questions like: ‘who do they see as that team’s biggest rival?’, ‘who’s the second biggest rival?’, ‘who’s the third biggest rival?’
And [beyond that], we hope to get up on the website in the next year is the data that we have already on what is it that makes those opponents a rival versus just a regular opponent. We call that the ‘rivalry recipe’. One of the main things that we’ve discerned in all this research is that there’s these ten common ingredients to rivalry. When you look at rivalry across all these different contexts, there’s kind of ten common ingredients. But the recipe – meaning the combination of ingredients – changes rivalry to rivalry. And so that’s how we’ve sort of put the science to a topic that is very kind of subjective, if you will.
“One of the main things that we’ve discerned in all this research is that there’s these ten common ingredients to rivalry. When you look at rivalry across all these different contexts, there’s kind of ten common ingredients. But the recipe – meaning the combination of ingredients – changes rivalry to rivalry. And so that’s how we’ve sort of put the science to a topic that is very kind of subjective, if you will.”
Sports Degrees Online: Yeah, that’s very cool. I’ve had a dive into the site, and it’s very interesting stuff. I encourage some of you listeners out there to definitely check out the website and look at some of your teams and see the information that’s compiled. It’s very interesting.
Professor, do some of your students end up helping out with Know Rivalry, or is it students from all around the country or who contribute to this project with their data?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Yes, we definitely have students that participate at various levels. Sometimes I’ll have a class that will get involved in something as a class project. I have students that do independent studies to work on the project with me. It also happens at University of Massachusetts with Dr. Tyler – he has students, both graduate and undergraduate students, that work on it. We both love to have student involvement, that’s why we kind of call it a collaborative project.
If you’re on the website and you click on the “About Us” and you scroll down, you’ll see a list of all the students that have contributed over the past years to it. So we want to give them credit, and hopefully it gives them a nice story, a research framework or discussion that they can use in interviews to say, ‘hey, I helped develop this survey’, or ‘I helped to get respondents for this survey or analyze the survey data as it relates to this rivalry project’. And it can be a nice discussion point in interviews for them.
Sports Degrees Online: Very cool. Shifting gears again, professor, part of our goal at Sports Degrees Online and through this podcast, Sports Degrees and Career Talk is to highlight and promote areas of growth within the sports industry where some of the best opportunities exist today and will in the near future. What are some fields within the sport context where you think there’s good career potential?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: I think one of the things that we’re seeing a lot of is sports trying to expand into different geographic markets. And I think it’s definitely has become much more aggressive in that growth strategy as the technologies have developed, with more and more streaming platforms and the ability to be on a high-speed network to consume sports in that way. So I think and I tell my students, a big advantage that you can have if this is something that you’re interested in, is you’ve grown up with this technology and you’ve grown up in an environment where you had access to [these emerging sports markets].
“I tell my students, a big advantage that you can have if this is something that you’re interested in, is you’ve grown up with this technology and you’ve grown up in an environment where you had access to [these emerging sports markets].”
I’m here in the metro Cincinnati, on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, of course – but you can be here, growing up in northern Kentucky, and you’ve had access through your high school years and now into college to all of these European Premier League matches. Formula One – you can stream all the races, all of this sporting content outside of North America, [for example]. And so you understand, just as a sports consumer, how many different properties are vying for your attention.
And so, getting back to your question, I think there’s both an opportunity for students today to work with some of our domestic teams and help them grow their brands in foreign markets, but also we see some of these foreign teams opening offices in the United States. I think that trend is going to continue – they’re looking for people that understand global sports. And so I think that’s one area where there’s a lot of opportunity, particularly for the people that are students now, or the younger generation of the workforce that sort of grew up with it to find career paths.
“I think there’s both an opportunity for students today to work with some of our domestic teams and help them grow their brands in foreign markets, but also we see some of these foreign teams opening offices in the United States. I think that trend is going to continue – they’re looking for people that understand global sports.”
Sponsorship is another one – I mean, sponsorship is clearly not a new thing, but I think that it’s not going away and it’s only going to continue to grow as it has in the last few decades. And I think sponsors [are increasingly] trying to really add value and integrate their product with the sports property and think about ways that they can get their story out. [And they can] help tell the sport properties story at the same time and do it in an authentic way, so I think that is certainly a field that will continue to grow.
“I think that [sponsorship is] not going away and it’s only going to continue to grow as it has in the last few decades. And I think sponsors [are increasingly] trying to really add value and integrate their product with the sports property and think about ways that they can get their story out.”
And of course, there’s NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) as well in college sports and high school sports that’s just starting to really take shape. So I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for people who are students now to really shape that field and find some good traction in a career in that NIL space.
And there’s gambling as well – that one, of course, is either becoming legal, or has become legal, depending on what state that you’re in. There’s a lot of jobs in that. That one’s a little bit more fraught with controversy, whether you want to contribute to that or whether you think it’s something that’s maybe not for the betterment of our society and you want to steer clear of it, but there will undoubtedly be career opportunities within that field.
Sports Degrees Online: That’s some great advice. I want to ask one short follow up about the sponsorship aspect. You mentioned that early in your career, you were representing sponsors, or you were basically working closely with sponsors. For students out there who think that career path sounds interesting, how would they put themselves in a position or qualify themselves to be representing or managing sponsors?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Yeah, that’s a great question. I feel like a lot of students, they come into class and they have some understanding of the B to C, you know, business to consumer side, because they’re, they’ve been sports consumers and they understand that these teams are businesses and they understand the sponsors are businesses. I think you’re asking about where they sort of lack awareness is the B to B side the business to business side of sports and agencies play such a huge role.
The athlete agents get all this publicity and movies about them and stuff like that, but there’s just as many agencies that represent sponsors, marketing agencies, but yet they’re not quite in the headlines as much. That’s where really connecting yourselves to sports business news outlets and you start to read about some of those agencies and what they do within those trade publications, and that gives you a better understanding of how the agencies work.
“The athlete agents get all this publicity and movies about them and stuff like that, but there’s just as many agencies that represent sponsors, marketing agencies, but yet they’re not quite in the headlines as much. That’s where really connecting yourselves to sports business news outlets and you start to read about some of those agencies and what they do within those trade publications, and that gives you a better understanding of how the agencies work.”
And then just doing your background work – maybe talking to your professors, doing some Internet research and trying to find an agency in your location and just reaching out to the people that work there is what I would suggest. I got connected to the agency that I worked for in Detroit through a connection when I worked for the Detroit Pistons. And at that time, I didn’t know that much about the agency world. But then working for the Pistons, part of my job was working with a few of the Pistons sponsors to help them achieve their goals through their sponsorship. And some of those sponsors were represented by agencies. And so I got the chance to learn about that side of the business when I was working on the team side, and that really opened my eyes to it.
Sports Degrees Online: Thanks for sharing that. My last question for you, Professor, I want to give you a chance to talk about your geographic region – the greater Cincinnati area, including Northern Kentucky – and why it’s a good place for students interested in sport management.
You mentioned you went to Miami of Ohio. Now you’re across the river in Kentucky, same metro area out of Cincinnati. What are some selling points of this area regarding whether this is a good region to pursue a degree and launch a career in sports? How is the sports economy generally in that region? And what can you tell me about what your graduates are doing after they graduate?
Dr. Joe Cobbs: I think one thing, if you’re listening to this and you’re a high school student, or maybe you’re a parent of a high school student, if your student is really focused on [earning a degree related to sport management or pursuing a career in the business of sports] – I would encourage you to really think about the metropolitan area beyond just the universities you’re considering.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a metropolitan area, but you need to think about what are exactly what your question is, Bryan. “What are the opportunities beyond the campus where I can get some sports experience or some event experience in the Northern Kentucky Cincinnati region?” We’re blessed with a wealth of experiences here. We’ve got, of course, everybody knows the Bengals and the Reds, our traditional teams, but what’s happened in Cincinnati in the last ten years has been amazing.
“I think one thing, if you’re listening to this and you’re a high school student, or maybe you’re a parent of a high school student, if your student is really focused on [earning a degree related to sport management or pursuing a career in the business of sports] – I would encourage you to really think about the metropolitan area beyond just the universities you’re considering. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a metropolitan area, but you need to think about what are exactly what your question is, Bryan. “What are the opportunities beyond the campus where I can get some sports experience?”
On the soccer side, we weren’t even on MLS’s radar for an expansion team. And FC Cincinnati started in 2016 as a minor league team, and they had so much fan support that it really forced the MLS to pay attention. And now we’ve got the MLS team, and I think they’ve sold out every game this year so far, and they play in a relatively new stadium from the last couple of years.
I got to go to the USA Mexico match world cup qualifying that was hosted there at TQL stadium in Cincinnati, and it’s just been unbelievable, the growth of that particular side of sports.
And of course, the Bengals have had a great run, and hopefully that will continue with some of their young players that have become superstars. But outside of just sort of those obvious ones, we’ve got several colleges here, Division I, Division II, and Division III here in the metro region that all have athletic departments. We have graduates that work not only in our athletic department here at Northern Kentucky, but also at University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.
And we have several agencies, which we talked a little bit about. We have a PR agency here that specializes in sports, where some of our graduates work. We have a sponsorship agency, like I mentioned before, where other graduates work. We have another agency that runs athlete camps. For a lot of the professional athletes here in our metro region, they hire this agency to kind of run their camps for them, and we also have alumni who work at that agency. So there’s a lot of different kind of opportunities like that.
In addition to some of the nonprofits that are here that we talked about earlier that put on events, the DAV – Disabled American Veterans – is headquartered here in our region, which is the Disabled American Veterans, huge nonprofit organization all over the country that supports our veterans. They do events all over the United States, but they’re headquartered here, and so we use them for class projects and things like that quite a bit and also have students that work there as well.
So a lot of different opportunities beyond just kind of those professional teams that might be top of mind. And of course, we have alumni that work at the professional teams too, but I don’t want people to just limit their thinking to that obvious one.
Sports Degrees Online: Thanks for all that, professor. It’s been great learning more about everything you have going in, including your programs, Know Rivalry and everything. I appreciate your time very much.
Dr. Joe Cobbs: Thank you, Bryan. I enjoyed it as well.