News & Features

The Competitive Edge

Next to the Olympia ice resurfacers, the spare arena seats and the electric lifts, down in the belly of the Scottrade Center, you’ll find the office of Joe Maier, Fontbonne University graduate and a manager of building operations for the 664,000-square-foot building in downtown St. Louis. 
 
“It’s a dream job,” said the 23-year-old. “Being a lifelong hockey player and a hockey fan, working for my favorite team is great.”
 
He’s referring, of course, to the St. Louis Blues, the National Hockey League team that calls St. Louis — and the Scottrade Center — home. As he walks through the building, he points out the marketing department, the Blues locker room (“It smells terrible right now!”), and proudly, the arena floor he helps maintain. 
 
He arrived at this place, in part, because of his sports management degree from Fontbonne, earned in 2008. 
 
“The sports management degree falls within the Bonnie and L.B. Eckelkamp College of Global Business and Professional Studies,” explained Dr. Erin McNary, an assistant professor and the recently appointed director of the sports management program. “We provide students with a strong business background and then include very sports specific courses. “The OPTIONS program also offers a bachelor of science in sports and entertainment management degree. This evening degree program is designed for working professionals interested in pursuing careers in sports and entertainment.”
McNary took over the leadership of the program in 2009, after earning her doctorate at Indiana University and gaining practical experience in various university fitness and sports programs, including the University of Illinois, Arizona State University, and the University of Texas-San Antonio. She strives to create connections and build relationships with professionals in the St. Louis community, bringing them to campus to speak and network with students. 
 
“Part of my job is to expose students to a whole realm of possibilities beyond the big four professional sports – basketball, baseball, football and hockey,” McNary said, citing amateur athletic organizations, minor leagues, city parks and recreation departments, the YMCA, campus recreation, and non-profits as just a few of many possible employers of sports management grads.
She’s also working to build the reputation of Fontbonne’s sports management degree.
“Right now, I’m looking at continuing to enhance the quality of the program,” she said. “One of my goals is to get the program accredited through the Commission on Sports Management Accreditation.” The commission is a specialized accrediting body that promotes and recognizes excellence in sports management education. 
 
While having an athletics background is certainly not necessary, according to McNary, many of Fontbonne’s sports management students have been athletes their whole lives. “They have a passion for sports. This degree allows them to formalize their passion.”
 
Rachel Zuellig, a 2010 Fontbonne sports management graduate, was one of those students.
“I wanted to work in college athletics, possibly in events or development,” Zuellig said. “Fontbonne’s sports management classes are oriented toward what you would need to know in the sports world. They help give you an idea of what you might want to do.”
 
Like so many other graduates right now, Zuellig hasn’t yet landed a job, but she’s interning and volunteering to gain experience in her field and is continuing her search for a position with the right fit. When the economy perks up, she’ll have stints with the St. Louis Sports Commission, the Missouri/Illinois Arch Rivalry game, and the Missouri Valley Conference on her resume. 
 
“It’s a very competitive field,” Zuellig said of sports management. “It’s becoming more popular and more accepted as a program. There are many people wanting the same jobs. It’s great that it’s offered at Fontbonne.”
 
To give students an edge in the job market, Fontbonne’s sports management curriculum includes courses in business, sports, health, English and communication. And McNary just received approval to add five new courses to the program, offering a more sports-specific focus, and filling in some curricular gaps, she said. These include social aspects of sports, sports psychology, sports event and venue management, leadership and governance in sports, and the capstone course, strategic management in sports. Students also have the option to minor in an area of interest that compliments the sports management degree.
Maier said that each day on the job, he feels like he uses the knowledge he acquired through his courses at Fontbonne. But perhaps the best counsel he received was the most basic, offered to him by a professor early in his college experience: “The sports industry changes, so you have to be willing to change with it.” Maier has seen the truth of that advice firsthand, and so he remains adaptable and open to possibility.
 
“I’m still learning so much,” he said of his fledgling career. Maier advises sports management students to look for internships, take chances, and not be afraid to accept opportunities, paid or not. He himself began as an unpaid intern at Scottrade — living proof that sometimes, risk is worth its reward. He added, “You never know where those opportunities will lead.”