Last Updated on August 3, 2023
Interview with Professor Stan Emert
On this episode of Sports Degrees & Career talk, we catch up with Dr. Stan Emert, Director of Sport Enterprise Management at the University of Washington. They dive into subjects ranging from the University of Washington's new (as of fall '22) Sport Management program, why the Pacific Northwest is a great place to pursue a degree and career in sport management, the importance of youth sports, and much more. We hope you enjoy the show!
About Professor Stan Emert
Professor Stan Emert is the Director of Sports Enterprise Management at the University of Washington's Milgard School of Business.
Bryan Haggerty: Welcome to Sports Degrees and Career Talk, my name is Bryan Haggerty, your host, and today I’m joined by Professor Stan Emert, the Director of the newly launched Sport Enterprise Management program at the University of Washington. Welcome to the show!
Professor Stan Emert: Thank you very much, Bryan. I am always excited to talk about sports and sports management.
Bryan Haggerty: Well, you’re in the right place. So, professor, my first question for you: In learning about your background and reading your resume, I understand you’re a former collegiate athlete who spent over two decades coaching youth and high school sports as well as working in other sports operations work. Can you talk a bit about your career journey into the sports industry?
Professor Stan Emert: Well, yeah, and it really starts a long time ago because I grew up in the Southeast, particularly in Knoxville, Tennessee. And sports is a huge part not only of just what you do for fun, but it’s a part of the economy, it’s a part of life in the Southeast, and that’s a great thing. Southeastern Conference football, of course, as everybody knows, is incredibly significant.
And I like to tell people I grew up on a basketball court. That’s where I learned how to use the language, and that’s not always a good thing. But the primary thing is that I played in team sports. And if there’s anything that is more important in today’s business world than for people to be able to work together, I don’t know what that would be.
Bryan Haggerty: I think that’s a great point, and also leadership – I think that a lot of people say leadership is an important quality that you learn from team sports as well. Would you say that’s true?
Professor Stan Emert: Oh, absolutely. Because to be in sports, especially on a team, you have to surrender your ego sometimes. And that’s the same thing the way it is in business. You do have to surrender your ego sometimes to the greater goal that you have. I mean, in sports, it’s kind of easy because the goal is to win the game, but it’s really even more than that.
And in business, your goal is to make a good product, to serve your customers better. And there’s so many analogous circumstances between business and sports that to me, it’s kind of a natural partnership.
Bryan Haggerty: I agree. So, professor, just last fall, in the fall of 22, you launched the first undergraduate sport [enterprise] management program in the University Of Washington’s history, and it was also the first program of its kind that’s housed in a business school [in the state].
What makes this the ideal program for students in the Pacific Northwest who are looking for a successful career in sports industry?
Professor Stan Emert: Well, while it’s about the business of sports, the business of sports itself is a $2.3 trillion global industry. Now, it’s the 9th largest industry in the world. So it’s not just football or basketball – this program actually prepares people for a career in business, even if they don’t go into sports.
But your specific question is about the Pacific Northwest. And the thing of it is, we have all of the professional sports teams with the exception of the NBA, and that’s going to come back, we think. But there’s way more than that out here in the Pacific Northwest.
We have a tremendous advantage here from sports because for us, sports is on the snow, the lakes, the ocean, the mountains, even the ice caves. So if you think that sports is just what you see on Sundays or Monday night, then you kind of need to be in Sports Enterprise Management out here at the University of Washington, Tacoma. It’s the Milgard School of Business. And you will find that there is so much more in sports.
I got to tell you a really quick story. I had a student while she was 20 year old young woman from India who was taking my sports management class. And each of them have projects that they have to do, so she wanted to create a sports bar that was geared towards Indian sports. And you know what? The numbers worked out. The numbers made it look that it was very good, only she was too young to [even] go into [a bar]. So she asked me if I would escort her in. I just suggested perhaps that’s not the best thing for a professor to do, but if she could get one of her fellow students to go in with her.
But my point is that sports is so much more than just the ball on the field.
Bryan Haggerty: Professor, I’m going [to take a moment to review some of your accomplishments so our listeners understand just who we’re talking to here.
In addition to your career in academia, you attended law school, created a nonprofit television series, consulted global businesses on social responsibility, and you’ve spoken to institutions including the World Bank and the US. Chamber of commerce.
I think it says a great deal about you that you have also managed to stay so involved in coaching and youth sports while also accomplishing all of the above.
Can you talk a bit about why you feel sports are so important in today’s society?
Professor Stan Emert: Thank you very much for asking this question, because sports is hugely important because of all that it teaches you. Even when you’re with a bad coach, because if you’re on the team of a bad coach, you learn how to deal with difficult people.
[As part of] a team, you learn how to work together towards a common goal. You learn to surrender your ego like we’ve already talked about. But there’s something that I was really proud of. Our country has gone through some difficult times in the past several years – we have some growing up to do. And you know what? It was the athletes who stepped up.
I was very proud of many of our African American athletes who stepped up and said, “we have to do better. We have to be better people.” And they led the way where a lot of people, whether they were in politics or whether they were even in business, kept silent. But the athletes stepped up, and I was very proud of that.
Bryan Haggerty: Absolutely, I saw the same thing you did, professor.
[My next question is about the field] of Sports Management. Understanding the cost of a quality education in today’s world, some parents out there might be a little hesitant to fully embrace their child’s decision to earn a degree in sports management. Everybody knows that the sports industry can be very competitive because everybody wants to work in sports.
What would you say to the parents or those out there who are hesitant about whether it’s worth getting a sport management degree?
Professor Stan Emert: There are so many jobs, as we’ve already talked about. Now it’s the 9th largest industry in the world, and it’s growing, and it’s going to continue to grow. Just this morning, before we did this interview, I was over at T Mobile Park visiting one of the Seattle Mariners executives who was on our advisory board. And we were talking about all of the different income streams that professional sports is looking at now, that they weren’t able to look at before.
We’ve also talked about how there are so many opportunities, so many jobs, but you’re likely going to start at the bottom. And you know what? As with most businesses, that’s what you have to do.
And so the way to do it is to get an internship, get into a program like ours which makes our students more competitive in seeking the same job than somebody else. We’ve already proven that with so many of the jobs that our students have gotten, and we’re proud of that. Let me give you an example about [how the business of sports works].
We have our classes are held at Cheney Stadium, which is the home ballpark of the Tacoma Rainiers, an AAA baseball team that has been around for quite some time. And that’s where we have our classes. We remind everybody just by our classroom in a ballpark is that if you’re in the management of the Tacoma Rainiers, you’re not just in charge of a sports team, you’re managing several restaurants, a bar, a retail store, a banquet facility, a meeting and conference hall, a creative design company, a party venue, a COVID testing site, and of course, a community organization.
And these things are hugely important, and they require you to be able to do more than bounce a basketball and put the ball in the hoop.
Bryan Haggerty: On that point that you just made, there are so many facets to Sports Management. Everybody knows it’s a multifaceted discipline.
[Since Sport Management is comprised of so many different fields and areas, what advise do you have for] how students cab balance the importance of specializing in a particular area versus understanding all these different things you mentioned and how they work?
Professor Stan Emert: Well, one of the great things is if you are an intern with a minor league baseball team, minor league soccer, one of many of those team sports, you have a lot of different hats to wear. It’s just like being in a small business – you have a lot of different hats to wear and you don’t have any choice because that’s what you got to do.
Same thing, actually, even if you are working in a retail sports shop. In a retail sports shop, people come in and they’re looking for all kinds of things. They’re not just not looking for baseball hats, they’re looking for shoes, actually the number one sales item is running shoes. You’ve got to know about [many different things], and you really have to know your consumer – that’s so important in business.
And so sports to me is kind of like the ultimate business because you have to know so much more.
Bryan Haggerty: Part of our goal at Sports Degrees Online is to highlight and promote areas of growth within the sports industry where the best opportunities are emerging now and are expected to be in the future.
Can you take a moment to discuss some areas with good career potential and growth?
Professor Stan Emert: It all starts with revenue generation.
If you have the opportunity to take a sales class with someone who has been in sales or is in sales, take it. Absolutely take it. Because every single business in the world needs people who understand how to generate revenue.
It’s kind of funny – there are some people who kind of look down at salespeople. I always remind everyone, first off, that most of our CEOs started in sales, and salespeople fund your salary. So I strongly encourage you to work in sales. And you know what, getting in an internship into sports, especially in professional sports and team sports, the best way to get in is to get into sales first.
Don’t get me wrong, sales is hard [but it is a great place to get started]. If you do well at it, then your future is so solid.
Bryan Haggerty: For sure. Now, what would you say if there are students out there who thing sales is all about being pushy. It’s uncomfortable. What would you say to someone who is hesitant about entering sales for those reasons?
Professor Stan Emert: Well, and that’s the way that sales is portrayed in many of our media and on television and shows. But that’s not the way sales is. Sales today is about win-win negotiations.
What really good salespeople do is they realize that if I create a customer today, and then that means that I don’t have to spend all of that time earning that customer’s business tomorrow. Instead, what I do is I know about that customer now, and so I know what that customer wants. And as a result of that, we’re able to work together as a partnership as opposed to a unilateral transactional basis. And to me, sales is huge.
Bryan Haggerty: That’s a great way to look at it – finding a way for both of you to win. I think that makes it sound like fun, honestly.
Professor Stan Emert: Well, I’ve got one of my former students was one of the first salespeople for the Seattle Kraken, the NHL hockey team. She comes in and speaks to my classes sometimes. She is having so much fun, and she was not a hockey player, but she’s just somebody that loves sports. She does well with people, and she’s doing well in their career.
Bryan Haggerty: Professor, we’ve already touched a bit on this last question I’m going to ask you, but looking at the unique landscape of the sport related business in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve touched on some of the teams. You’ve got some minor league teams, you’ve got major league teams. I’ve heard the same rumors you have about the possibility of the Sonics coming back.
Looking at all of these things and also at some of the companies and the employers where you expect your graduates to be getting jobs, can you talk a bit about what companies are out there? Also, how is the Pacific Northwest different from the rest of the country?
Professor Stan Emert: You’d say, how is it different? That’s a great question, because we like to feel that we’re different from everybody else. The approach to sports is different here in the Pacific Northwest. It is more participatory.
I mean, you get up in the morning, you look outside. If you look to the east, you’ve got Mount Rainier that you can see, which is a gorgeous mountain. And there’s skiing, and there’s hiking, and there’s mountain biking. There’s all kinds of things to do there.
You look to the west, you’ve got the Puget Sound. And if you want to get into boating or be involved in the boating industry, that’s a huge sport. We have an incredible golf courses here. And golf, of course, is a huge business. Some people say, well, golf is dying.
The funny thing of it is there’s a golf channel. There’s actually several golf channels on television, and they don’t seem to be lacking for attention. So there’s so much for people to do. That is, outside of team sports, you don’t have to just go and sit in the stands and watch, although that’s very fun, and I’d love to do that too.
But I had speak to one of my classes, Tony Horton, who a lot of people know as Mr. P90x himself. And for those people who know that particular industry, you know that exercise is something that you can do well into your sixty S. And that’s where Tony is right now. He’s well into his sixties.
And so it’s the kind of thing that you just look outside. And the Pacific Northwest was made for sports management, in my opinion.
Bryan Haggerty: Sounds awesome. I was just listening to just imagining those views… I’ve never seen the Puget Sound or Mount Rainier, but I’ve heard wonderful things. I can’t imagine a better place to be launching a sport-related career.
Professor Stan Emert: I’ll tell you what, come out. We will take a hike up Mount Rainier. We won’t go to the top because that’s an overnight kind of thing, and it gets a little bit cold up there, but we will have a great hike. And then the next day we’ll go to a Seattle Mariners game. How’s that?
Bryan Haggerty: Sounds awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time, professor, I really appreciate it. All the best of luck with the new program, and I’m sure we’ll be in touch soon.
Professor Stan Emert: Thank you, Bryan.