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Diversified

Sports' growing global reach reflected in new Rutgers sports management program

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Mike Finkelstein is executive director of Rutgers University's global sports business graduate program.
Mike Finkelstein is executive director of Rutgers University's global sports business graduate program. - ()

The NFL is playing more games in Europe and Mexico, China has a pro basketball league that is drawing worldwide attention and soccer — both men's and women's — is seeping its way into the mainstream sports arena in the U.S.

All this seems to validate Rutgers University’s launching a sports management graduate degree with a look to the future and an emphasis on the globalization of sports and the growth of the women’s game.

“It is a sport management program, but it has been based on the belief that the emerging areas of growth in the sports business world are both global and women’s content issues,” said Mike Finkelstein, executive director of the program. “Every course in our core curriculum will have an element that attends to both areas.”

Alumni from the undergraduate program, who later went on to get higher degrees at other universities, are sprinkled throughout the country at arenas such as the Prudential Center, Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, apparel and equipment companies such as Nike and adidas, marketing firms and, of course, within various pro leagues including the NFL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, according to Finkelstein.

The goal is to place graduates of this new master’s program within some of these organizations.

Rutgers, as well as some other schools in the state, already has some globally focused courses. But no school had a comprehensive global degree.

Interestingly enough, the success of Rutgers’ undergraduate program helped spur the new graduate program.

Finkelstein said students who graduated and went on to seek master’s degrees at other colleges often gave feedback that they were being taught things they already knew from their time at Rutgers, but eventually received their graduate degrees at places such as Columbia University, New York University and other elite colleges.

“I said, ‘This is silly — we are already teaching at a graduate level.’ We wanted to really evolve our program and simply raise our own to a higher level,” Finkelstein said.

And so the process began about three years ago, and all the necessary approvals were eventually received.

The program is now fully launched and the college will have its first semester this fall.

As the last FIFA World Cup viewership showed, the four main sports leagues in the U.S. are no longer the only players in the industry. Soccer, swimming, cricket, field hockey and track and field are just a few sports more popular in other countries.

In addition, U.S. sports like football and basketball have been going global in recent years, and baseball has been a large producer of international talent, Finkelstein said.

Finkelstein said the courses will reflect this evolution, including guest speakers from around the world, thanks to the professional network of the professors at Rutgers.

And, finally, one of the most important and unique aspects of the curriculum, indicative of the changes in sports, is lessons on protocol.

“At the White House, there is a chief of protocol to tell the president how to behave to meet foreign heads of state, what are the cultural nuances and what body language means,” Finkelstein said, adding it is an equally important skill in the business world.

“How to receive a business card, how do you eat properly … and understanding art and music in case you are entertaining a client,” he said. ”Also, how would a young executive interact with the C-suite? When is it OK to contact them, and what are the correct forms of writing letters and sending memos? All those questions are an integral part, as well.”

The school anticipates that about 30 students will enroll and expects the mix to eventually be at least half foreign students, who will benefit from the corporate matching at the end of the course.

Finkelstein said he feels placing foreign students with American companies will help the school gain internships overseas.

“Not every country even understands the concept of internships or executive training or hiring young people to work,” he said. “So that’s an educational process to show how successful it is here.”

Sports management, especially on a global scale, is a changing business, Finkelstein said.

To date, management programs have dealt with the basics of business, ethics and law, but many of the original founders of the major leagues and their successors came into power at a time when the concept was more casual — which can be seen in the increasing focus on corruption investigations globally, he said.

“Many of people who are older and reached the highest levels of many (sports leagues) did not come from traditional sports management programs,” Finkelstein said. “They were often people who came from business. A lot of owners are people who were successful, individually, or inherited a lot of money, so they are part of a fairly entitled billionaires club. They are not going to be as sensitive to the current needs to operate in a more open way.”

Rutgers, Finkelstein said, hopes to “see a different culture and a different way of operating. Part of that is global, including a different set of social ethics and acceptability.

“Without being Pollyanna-ish, we can illustrate that a more transparent perspective is almost always successful.”

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Anjalee Khemlani

Anjalee Khemlani


Anjalee Khemlani covers health care. You can contact her at anjaleek@njbiz.com.

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