Ever wonder what exactly is going on behind-the-scenes at an NFL team? The Houston Texans are teaming up with Rice University to provide students with exactly that.
For the Fall 2019 semester, the Texans are partnering with the university’s Department of Sport Management to run a new course titled, “Pro Sports: Management,” which teaches students about the daily operations of a professional sports organization.
“Being located in Houston, we are fortunate to have an excellent relationship with all of the professional sports franchises in town and we try to leverage that into learning opportunities for our students,” department chair Clark Haptonstall said in an email. “We have worked with the Houston Texans on different projects in the past, but we’ve never offered a class like this before. The Texans are one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world so our students can learn from the best.”
“It’s a passion of ours,” Texans President Jamey Rootes said about working with Rice on this class. “It’s gratifying, it’s rewarding – we are always looking for ways that we can give back to the things that are most meaningful to us. In this scenario we are giving back to the industry to provide real-world experience for the next generation of leaders in hopes that they really start with a leg up, and to those that are exposed to our organization that have the desire to come and be a part of the Houston Texans – that’s great too.”
According to Rootes, the class – which consists of 17 Rice undergraduate students – will be walked through the various departments that support a sports club. Every week, students will learn from various Texans executives in areas such as ticketing, public relations, event management, and human resources – among others.
At the end of every class, professor Diane Crossey and a Texans executive will present students with an obstacle surrounding the sports industry. For the following class, their job is to analyze the problem and make suggestions for how to address it – with a presentation to both Crossey and the Texans.
“One of the great things about teaching at Rice University is that our students want to be challenged and they are not looking to take the easy way out,” Haptonstall said. “Each week is going to be difficult for them and they will have to rise to the occasion when they present to a different vice-president each week. While it is hard work, it is also an amazing opportunity for the students as well.”
A long-standing history exists between professional sports teams and sports management departments from universities – both public and private. For Scott Rosner, he’s seen this relationship played out at both the college and high school level. Before becoming the academic director of Columbia’s Sports Management program, Rosner was the former program director of the Wharton Sports Business Academy – a summer program that introduces high schoolers to the sports business industry.
According to Rosner, Columbia has been approached in the past by professional sports franchises about partnership openings. While it does have formal partnerships with international soccer clubs such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, it has no interest in working with teams who want to expand their sponsorship portfolio.
While the Texans’ work with Rice is described by team officials as an “educational initiative,” Rosner points out that numerous teams and universities have done this in the past. The San Diego Padres’ partnership with nearby San Diego State University’s Sports MBA program is often cited as the first of its kind. For the New York Jets, they alone have two partnerships: one with NYU’s School of Professional Studies and Berkeley College’s Interior Design program.
“That’s not anything that [at] Columbia we are interested in doing – especially at the price points that are provided to us,” Rosner said. “It’s a good thing for the universities to sell as they’re trying to get more students into these programs. The formalized partnerships that are announced with a big splash – they don’t always play out the way that the press release announcing it says it’s going to be played out.”
Other sports management directors are optimistic about the growing relationships between pro sports and sports management programs. According to Janet Fink, chair of sports management at UMass Amherst, students attend for the networking benefits. UMass Amherst is ranked No. 15 in Niche’s 2020 Best Colleges for Sports Management in America list. However, Fink does concede that if UMass Amherst formalized a relationship with an organization like the Red Sox or Patriots, it’d make itself more alluring to applicants.
“I think we do a pretty good job of placing students with sports teams,” Fink said. “We have a really strong alumni network and that’s why kids come to UMass – but a [Texans-like partnership] would just enhance that strength that we have so, sure, we’d love to form some sort of partnership like that.”
While Georgetown University doesn’t have required courses similar to the Texans one Rice will now offer, it does offer electives that mirror it. According to Andrew Hirsch, program director for Georgetown’s Sports Industry Management Program, it has an externship partnership with the Washington Redskins.
During the football season, the Redskins offer Georgetown students game-day operations externships. It requires students to attend all eight regular-season home games and teaches them about responsibilities related to event and game management.
For many, it’s another opportunity to expand their sports-management portfolio. For some though, it’s their first foray into the industry, which is why Hirsch thinks sports management programs must provide their students these rare, real-world experiences.
“It’s not all on the cutting edge, but it’s becoming more and more commonplace,” Hirsch said. “It does give the students a chance to get experienced in the industry when they might not be able to. Every student is very different in terms of their experience level – so for some individuals that might be their first taste of working in sports. They might have not had the most successful history with getting involved in sports, and this is an academic opportunity that gives them that chance.”
Going forward, both Haptonstall and Rootes are noncommittal about any future plans between Rice and the Texans. To them, they each want to see how the semester goes before making any long-term decisions.
To Rootes, even if the class doesn’t continue into next semester, he’s happy that the Texans were able to create something that’s rarely been done before. If it becomes a success, he’ll make sure that every semester of “Pro Sports: Management” will be different from the next.
“If we were to [repeat this course], every time we do it, it’ll be different,” Rootes said. “It’ll be so organic because you have executives that are talking about the current issues and opportunities that are facing them – so It’ll always be evolving, which would be pretty neat.”