Concordia's School of Business and Economics (SOBE) is rebranding and re-focusing its former sports management program as a BA in Sports Business, while also launching a new MBA in Sports Business. These new programs will address market needs, producing more sophisticated leaders in the everchanging world of sports business. As it does, sports industry heavyweights are weighing in on the present landscape—and how Concordia’s updated program will help students.
One supporter is Leigh Steinberg, perhaps the most wellknown sports agent in recent times, and the model for the lead character in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. Steinberg has represented 64 NFL first-round draft picks and eight number one overall draft selections, more than any other agent.
“Much in life comes down to values, and if you can instill the proper values, the importance of honesty, consistency, loyalty and make them the trademark of the students, they will take those values into the society and the business world and be much more successful and effective and productive,” Steinberg shared. “People will want to do business with them. They will trust their judgments. Reputation is everything, so [it’s about] convincing a group of young people that they have a long-term ability to have this as a profession, but to think about long-term goals. These are teachable qualities, or emphasize-able qualities. A program can set a moral-ethical compass for these students for some time to come.”
Steinberg knows of Concordia’s program because of his friendship with Concordia's director of sports business programs, Mark Francis, who is heading up the new programs. They met 12 years ago when Francis began teaching sports business at UCLA.
“Mark is uniquely qualified as someone who has been very involved in sports marketing himself to bring real-life experience. It’s not all just theory, but there are practical skill sets that are learned: how to recruit or sell, how to negotiate, how to maintain client relationships” says Steinberg. “I’ve worked with him on a number of different things. For a period of time he came and worked with me before going back to academia. I found him to be very creative and thorough. I have great admiration for his skills.”
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From Canada to SoCal
A native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, Francis coached men’s and women’s ice hockey at two very successful high school and college programs, winning conference and national gold and silver medals. An “executive mentorship” with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team brought him to L.A. in 2008, where he helped create grassroots marketing programs and special projects for the team, while also coaching hockey clinics.
In a happenstance of right timing, he landed a job teaching sports business at the Center for Media, Entertainment & Sports at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. He also coached UCLA’s American College Hockey Conference Men's club team for seven years.
“Both those things allowed me to get to know everybody in the athletics department at one of the number-one sports schools in the world,” Francis says.
He then worked as a consultant with a production company, BaAM Productions, which produces large-scale sports events for majors pro sports entities, including the NHL Winter Classic, NHL All-Star Game, MLB All-Star, Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Rose Bowl game, and more.
“All of that really got me interested in immersive fan experiences and what would draw people to go to stadiums instead of sitting at home with their big-screen TVs,” he says. “In L.A. there’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar. There are 12 major professional sports teams here, but it’s easy to stay at home because traffic is terrible. You have to provide experiences at stadiums that fans can’t get at home.”
In 2020, Concordia hired Francis as an instructor in what was then the undergraduate sports management emphasis, now rebranded as a sports business degree program. His role has expanded to be program director for both the MBA sports business and undergraduate sport business programs.
“The one thing I have always wanted to do was run a program like this,” says Francis. “Concordia gave me that opportunity. I have always wanted to be an influencer in the industry to produce highly-ethical, qualified leaders in the sports industry. This allows me to do that. We are developing the next round of sports executives. Ethics and character are a major part of that.”
Dean George Wright says these two programs are additional examples of the SoBE’s commitment to serve Concordia students as well as the local, national, and international business communities. He “thanks Professor Emeritus Curt Cattau, MBA Director Drew Wolf and Program Director Mark Francis for creating, refreshing, and delivering these unique sports business programs that align with Concordia's mission statement and will serve sports business and all the related industries in an even more impactful manner.” Steinberg, who is participating in his 48th draft this spring, agrees and says sports is essentially a relational business.
We are developing the next round of sports executives. Ethics and character are a major part of that.
“At the end of the day, everything comes down to relationships with other people,” Steinberg says. “Character, reliability, trust is key. Whether you’re an athletic director, a general manager, an agent or a reporter, you’ll be dealing with the same people over and over again with an understanding that no one transaction is worth destroying the relationship.”
The world of sports now offers multiple employment opportunities—all of which operate on the same basic principles. “Someone can work for a team, a league conference, an athletics department, sports branding, public relations, a players association, sports-themed content, motion pictures, documentaries—the field is exceptionally broad,” Steinberg says.
“Some students may end up working in entrepreneurial startups that don’t exist now. The key is to prepare them with skills so they can move in any way. … By garnering a basic skill set that focuses on work ethic and being focused on this moment, it can counteract some of the lack of focus that comes from obsession with social media and cell phones and the rest.”
Steinberg is a student of human psychology, which he calls perhaps the most important skill.
“[It’s] an understanding of why people are motivated to act the way they do, and being predictive in that process,” he says. “Also listening skills, which is how to draw out another human being, to peel back the layers of the onion to reveal a person’s greatest anxiety, fears, hopes and dreams. If they learn to put themselves in the heart and mind of another person, then they have the ability to navigate through life gracefully.”
Like Steinberg—who helps athletes set up charities and foundations after they retire from professional careers— Francis sees sports as “a great influencer in society,” capable of promoting positive change.
“My students would tell you we spend a lot of time on current, real-life situations,” he says. “We review legal cases. I teach sports law, sports finance, sports marketing. We spend a lot of time on what’s right, what’s wrong.”
Concordia's undergraduate sports business major presently counts more than 50 students. Alums have received jobs and internship placements with the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings in the NBA, the NHL in Toronto and Anaheim, the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Francis continues to teach UCLA students from all over the world each summer.
Steinberg’s counsel to students at Concordia and elsewhere is simple: “Be kind to your future self,” Steinberg says. “Do those things in business practices and networking that may not come to fruition instantly.”