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The Research Behind the Industry — the Journey of T. Bettina Cornwell

Front Office Sports

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By: Katie Willis, @_KatieWillis

T. Bettina Cornwell, Edwin E. & June Woldt Cone Professor of Marketing in the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon

Front Office Sports is honored to have sat down with T. Bettina Cornwell, Edwin E. & June Woldt Cone Professor of Marketing in the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon. Bettina was kind enough to have offered up her time and insight into her journey through the sports business industry. Her research focuses on marketing communications and consumer behavior, often including international and public policy topics. Bettina looks at indirect marketing, such as sponsorship, celebrity endorsement and brand placement in addition to how memory influences consumer behavior. She is author of “Sponsorship in Marketing: Effective Communication through Sports Arts and Events”, a book that makes a decade of research on sponsorship more accessible.

As a professor of marketing, research has played an important role in your work. What are you most interested in learning more about?

My interests are very much about supplying evidence for decision-making. My academic career is built around understanding subtle marketing communications, and contexts where it’s sometimes difficult to understand messages and where they may have unintended consequences. It also applies to public policy situations. A good part of my research has been on corporate sponsorships in sports marketing and entertainment. In that situation, you have a very deprived communication environment where a lot of people only see logos as a backdrop to competition or the flicker of a brand as it travels past them. That difficult communication context is what a lot of my research is based around. On the public policy side, children receive brand communications today at a young age and I am interested in how this shapes their behavior and their future. This part of my research is more public policy oriented and isn’t so much about sports but about health.

I am interested in a range of topics and for me, they all fall under the same umbrella. I enjoy understanding difficult communication contexts and even more, how people are thinking about things due to these minimal but repeated communications. In sponsorship, how do people gain information about a sponsor during a sporting event with everything else going on? In a similar fashion, young children learn a great deal in cluttered contexts and very young children pick up on brand messages about food whether it’s coming from commercials, products or restaurants. That’s the policy side.

At times, research on sport sponsorship and public policy come together. If a company is utilizing sponsorship in communicating about their brand and wants to be viewed as being healthier, they might sponsor sporting events even though they don’t have a healthy offering. Is that a bit problematic? We’ve been researching this and that behavior can be destructive to brand meaning clarity. It applies to oil companies sponsoring nature preservation and to fast food restaurants sponsoring sport. When you are on the environmentally unfriendly or unhealthy side, sponsoring environmentally friendly and healthy things cannot shore up your image. Moreover, we show these sorts of combinations are actually detrimental to the sponsored object- whoever is being sponsored.

My objective is to bring research evidence forward that is helpful to society and to the brand. If sponsorship is not authentic for a brand they should not want to raise skepticism. Likewise, sports must think carefully about their relationships. While the financial support that comes with sponsorship may be attractive a sport property, they must be careful about their own positioning and the authenticity of their brand.

Like companies who try and build an authentic relationship with their brand, how do people build a personal brand that is authentic? How does it apply when looking at various job opportunities?

I think that you cannot choose a better criteria for your own personal brand than to be authentic. You have to present yourself as you are on your social media, on your LinkedIn page and in everything you do. Try to be authentic and true to who you are. Don’t try to be something you think people want to see.

You have to think a little bit about the receiving side also. If you apply to three different companies and write your resume three very different ways, who are you really? You have to be the authentic you. It’s really better for you and the employer if you are honest about who you are, where you want to go and who you want to be in the future. They make a better choice about hiring you and you make a better job choice because you learn if it’s going to meet your needs and goals. Don’t try to form yourself into something you’re not. Be your best, but be you.

How can young professionals set themselves apart and distinguish themselves when entering the industry?

One of the things the market needs is analytic ability. If you want to make sure you stand out, have additional analytical skills, an understanding of statistics, software programs, customer relationship software, etc.

Another thing to distinguish yourself is to learn a second language — really, truly knowing how to speak a second language beyond your high school and college learning experiences. Actually, go to another country and develop your speaking skills to interact and to take it to the next level. This can be done while volunteering in the sport space or while interning.

Experience is your number one gig but it’s not experience that will set you apart. It’s your distinguishing characteristics that will set you apart come interview time. You have to get out there, volunteer, work part-time, be entrepreneurial, innovative–whatever you have to do to distinguish yourself from others. What are you going to do other than just having an internship? Most everyone has internships. What more are you going to do?

In the sponsorship space, there is a great deal of job movement amongst sport, intermediaries-like sport marketing firms, and brands. If you’re going to work on the sports side of sponsorships service, collaborate with brands to achieve both their goal and your goals. It helps to know what they want and need. Get your mind inside of their brain. Put yourself in their shoes to better understand the sports properties and their value.

What is a characteristic someone can highlight about themselves when walking into a job interview?

Quality. If something is worth doing, do it to the best of your ability. Have a sense of what quality is, how to implement projects, and then, measure your outcomes. That applies to a Ph.D., to an MBA to an undergraduate [degree]. Invest in quality experiences and make sure you complete them. There are so many things that are left undone. Before you ever start it, look forward so that you can later measure. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? Make those goals so that you can measure them at the end and ask yourself, ‘Was it successful?’

At the end, you now have talking points. You can talk about what goals you had and the outcomes you experienced. You don’t need superlatives, fluff or puffery. You can go straight to: here is what we set out to do, here’s how we did it, and here’s the success story. That speaks so much louder than claims.

How important is mentorship? What can a young professional do to make sure they are establishing those relationships in a good way?

A lot of people talk these days about having your own personal board of directors for several different areas of life. You gain knowledge from a variety of people. I fall back on authenticity and quality. You want to engage with people who are meaningful for you and not just develop more friends on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn. You want to have deeper quality relationships. They have to be organic, look to people you can respect and can admire. Some mentoring programs place you with a mentor. While this may be a good person if their personal style is not good for you, it won’t work. You have to have faith in the relationship or it will not have value into the future.

There’s also sometimes value in ending relationships. Don’t stick with people or jobs that drain you. Go for jobs or relationships that fuel you. Just because you’ve been with someone for a long time doesn’t mean you have to continue along that path. You should cultivate relationships that fuel you, build you up and inspire you. If it’s not working, then that’s okay. You can end them on a good note and move forward.

Additional wisdom/advice:

Be thankful for family, friends and colleagues. Research is a team sport. My journey is tied to the journey of my research collaborators, my colleagues, my students and the support from my home team. In particular, my PhD students inspire and question me, and convince me every day that I made the right career choice. There really is not a better job in the world than to get to explore new ideas with people you enjoy.

We would like to thank her for her time and insights and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors!

You can follow her on Twitter here!

This interview is another edition of “Winning Edge Wednesday” in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry. If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at russ@frontofficesports.org.


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Online Program Helps Professional Realize Her Dream

The flexibility allowed Hannah Dougherty to advance her education on her own terms while still being able to gain valuable industry experience.

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*UOnline is a proud partner of Front Office Sports

Before taking on the business world, Hannah Dougherty took on the competition at Loyola University New Orleans.

A track athlete, Dougherty found a passion in athletics both on and off the field.

Upon graduation, Dougherty began work as a property manager and while the job paid the bills, it wasn’t what she truly wanted to do. Knowing her love of sports, she began looking for options that would allow her to combine her business background with a career that touched sports in some way.

“It just wasn’t what I was meant to do,” said Dougherty when talking about the property manager role. “I finally figured out that I wanted to go into sports, so I started looking at programs and at the time I was living in New Orleans. The fact that the Miami online program has flexibility was definitely a defining factor. I did some research. I had applied to the University of San Francisco, and the University of Florida but I ended up deciding on Miami.”

Although most of her experience with the program was outside of the classroom given the fact that it is fully online, Dougherty was able to connect with classmates on projects, networking opportunities, and even opportunities to work events.

“I became friends with one of the women in the program by working on a project together and she had sport management company that managed campaigns and events for athletes and brands,” said Dougherty when talking about the connections she was able to foster because of the program. “She ended up flying me to go work for one of her events. Even though we had never met each other we were able to help each other out professionally.”

Given that many people are worried about online programs because of the fact that you can feel out of touch with your professors and classmates, Dougherty believes that the flexibility and opportunities are really what you make out of them.

“For some people, they’re not sure about online because you’re not in class, and you don’t want to get behind, but if you are someone that is in a full-time position, have a family, or have kids, the flexibility is incredible.”

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After graduating from the program, Dougherty took what she learned to start GenUp Sports, a non-profit organization that provides health and wellness education, fitness classes and sports camps to underserved and at-risk youth in North Texas.

While still in its infancy, Dougherty credits the relationships she built and the knowledge she acquired as a catalyst to pushing her to start her own business.

“You can have the degree on paper and I think that that gives you a lot of tools organizations want and need, but the relationships I was able to build and the people I was able to meet was probably the most important part of the whole experience.”  

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Online Program Allows College Administrator to Balance Job and School

UOnline is helping Iva Earley achieve her educational goals while still allowing her to work full time for Miami Athletics.

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Outside of being able to work in sports, working in college athletics presents other benefits like getting an advanced degree while still working.

That’s exactly what Iva Earley, the assistant director of operations for the University of Miami Athletic Department, is doing thanks to UOnline’s Master’s in Sport Administration program.

Earley, who joined the athletic department at Miami after graduating from NC State in 2016, sees the opportunity to further her education as a way to get her one step closer to achieving her ultimate career goals.

“I have never taken a sports administration class before, so as someone who works in this field, I felt that it was important to learn from the people studying it day in and day out,” said Earley when discussing why she decided to jump into the program. “I just turned 24, so I’m still pretty young, but especially for anyone with my experience to have the education to match it is a powerful thing.”

Not only can Earley match her education with her experience, in the college athletic space, having an advanced degree is crucial to reaching the upper echelons of the industry.

“Having that education to back up your experiences is a powerful thing in college athletics. If I’m going to ever want to cross over to another conference or be compensated like other top candidates I have to have the same paper as they do.”

Looking ahead, Earley is most excited about the fact that she will have the opportunity to not only learn from her professors, but her peers, many of whom have many years of experience in different parts of the industry.

“As a grad student, it will be nice to be around other professionals who are like-minded and are looking to either advance their career like me or make a career change. Being able to apply what they already have experience should be beneficial in helping me get to the point where I want to be.”

That point? As a Senior Associate AD by the time she is 30. A lofty goal, but one that Earley is confident that will happen.

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“By the time I’m 30, I want to be a Senior Associate AD and be able to have my hands in larger facility projects and renovations. Right now, as part of my job, I help give a lot of tours and I wouldn’t be able to give a tour and show off our school if our facilities weren’t state of the art, so I’m really into the whole renovation and facilities structuring as well as overall operations of the athletic department.”

Whether she stays in the ACC or transitions to the SEC, which is part of her goal, Earley is building herself a foundation for future success.  

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WNBA Player Turns to Online Program to Further Educational Aspirations

Angel Robinson, who currently plays for the Phoenix Mercury, spends her free time immersed in online classes.

Front Office Sports

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The term student-athlete is normally reserved for athletes who play competitive sports in college along with studying to get their degree.

For Angel Robinson, that moniker has followed her to the WNBA.

Robinson, who currently plays for the Phoenix Mercury, is now studying for what would be her second master’s degree, this time through the online program being offered by the University of Miami Sport Administration Program.

The University of Georgia product, Robinson sees the degree as a way to continue her athletic pursuits while setting her up to have a successful transition to life after her playing days are over.

“As a WNBA and international professional basketball player who competes year-around, the online program at the University of Miami has been flexibility with my traveling schedule, dealing with the time zone differences, and thankful my professors were able to help me and advised me to work ahead and stay track.”

It was this flexibility that ultimately pushed Robinson to apply as she was considering what she wanted to do once she was done playing basketball professionally.

Coming from a family that has put an emphasis on education her entire life, Robinson saw the second masters degree as an opportunity to marry what she has done on the court with her future career aspirations.

“As much as I love playing basketball, I know that I cannot play forever and that it is just a chapter in my life to travel around the world and compete at the highest level,” said the 6-foot-6 center, who is in her third WNBA season. “I was encouraged by my family to start preparing for my next transition in life after basketball and going back to school for my second master’s in sport administration was the start for me.”

“I grew up in a family where education is the key to what we want to do in life.”

For an athlete that spends much of her time on the road and traveling from city to city for games, Robinson needed a program that fit her needs. UOnline delivered.  

“I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone who is working or raising a family or need a fresh start in their career to join an only graduate program,” Robinson said. “You work on your own pace, in the time that the professor gives you, with an opportunity to network in the field with people who are willing to help you achieve your goals.”

Regardless of if she plays another year or five years, after she hangs up her sneakers, Robinson sees a future in helping other student-athletes, this time at the collegiate level, achieve their dreams and goals.

“Toward the end of my career, I want to work with student-athletes as an athletic director or athletic academic advisor. I want to be the role model to encourage these athletes to take advantage of their education and to teach the value of hard work and the importance of competing on and off the field.”

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As athletes get smarter about their future, Robinson is one of the many who are now taking both their business and educational aspirations seriously.

Her north star? This quote from Asa Hutchinson.

“You’re never too old to start learning, and you’re never too young to aim high and make great things.”

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