Jason Williams of Maryville University discusses the courses and experiences that students are introduced to in order to be prepared for a career in the changing landscape of sports business.

 

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Show notes from Jason Williams Interview

Ryan Knuppel: All right, welcome back to another episode of The Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every time. Today we have a very special guest with us. We have Jason Williams, sports business leader out of Maryville out of the St. Louis area. Jason, are you with me?

Jason Williams: Yes, I’m with you. Great to be here. And thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Ryan Knuppel: Hey, no problem. Thank you for giving us a little bit of your time. And, you know, talking a little bit about what you do. I know a lot of times on this show, the audience is used to hearing true gaming professionals. You have a little bit of a different background. Tell us a little bit about what you’re up to these days and your job role currently in sports.

Jason Williams: Sure. My name is Jason Williams, I serve as the director of the Rawlings Sports Business Management Program at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. As you can tell our corporate partner is Rawlings Sporting Goods, which is huge baseball/softball company, actually, they’re right outside of our front door. We’ve partnered with them for over eight or nine years or so. But they put their name on the program about six years ago and it’s been a great partnership ever since. So that’s what I do from an overall perspective. From a more detailed perspective, I teach classes in our program, I also oversee our faculty both full time and part time and adjunct. And then also I continuously develop relationships with sport business organizations so that our students can get real world experience out in the industry.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, that’s awesome. And that’s actually funny you say that, that’s exactly where this talk is coming from one of your students has been working with us and kind of connected the two of us. So, I think that’s a really cool thing. I like to touch on that when that does happen. Because it shows one, the student has a little initiative to make something happen, which is amazing to see. Because that’s what we’re doing this for, right? That’s why they’re helping get real world experience for us. That’s why you’re connecting them with businesses to help as well. And so, to see students that want to take action just makes me smile. So that’s why we’re doing this today. I’m glad you’re here. And again, thank you. Thanks for giving that background about what you do there in St. Louis. And, and I will start by saying, man, I’m a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan. So, this is already starting out on the right foot.

Jason Williams: That’s always a good start.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, exactly. And everybody that listens to this knows, I’m always talking about the Cardinals. So that’s cool. So, let’s get into a little bit of more of the igaming angle. So, I know you guys do a little bit in the eSports space. Explain a little bit about how your involvement with eSports is currently happening. And have you seen it, I guess the increase in eSports exposure over the last year or so?

Jason Williams: Oh, absolutely. I mean, eSports has been there for a long time. It’s just that it’s getting more recognition because of the amount of young people, actually people in general, that are following it and paying attention to it and playing it. But to me, it’s been around for a while. It’s just now it’s getting to the almost the height of its notoriety, which that height, I don’t think it’s ever going to fall off for a long time. I think it’s just going to continue to grow. In our program at our university, we’ve got two different things going on. We’ve got probably one of the best eSports programs in the country, led by Dan Clark, who is a legend in eSports arena. We also last year did an eSports tournament for the Blues and the game of NHL 2020 where we had over 30 high schools participate in it and over 1,000 in the open division. And then we named a champion. It just so happened that the champion was a school here in St. Louis. So, we’ve been doing a lot of things in eSports. We’ve been down to Dallas to work some events, and then we had a chance to visit Jerry Jones’s eSports facility down there, which is just absolutely ridiculous. It’s called Legend. It’s absolutely ridiculous. So, we’ve been in the eSports position for a while. And those are some of the things that we’ve been doing as a program.

Ryan Knuppel: As far as educating kids in the eSports space, are there programs now at your college dedicated to this area?

Jason Williams: Well, we’ve done a couple of things in that area, Ryan. One, eSports is a unique beast itself, but a lot of the things that we teach in the business of sports, kind of go hand in hand with what’s going on in the eSports space. And so, of the things as relates to marketing promotions, basically revenue generation and event management, all those baseline things are the same. What we’re teaching our young people in those areas that now when you apply them to eSports, you’ve got to think about it from a more authentic way because that gamer or that person that’s following doesn’t like to have advertisement thrown in their face. They don’t like to have revenue generation thrown in their face, it needs to be very authentic, it needs to flow within the game itself or within the event itself, then it will make sense and be better received by that person who’s following that eSport or playing that game. The other piece is we as a university will be starting a certificate in eSports, the business of eSports, next fall. We’re working on that right now with Dan Clark and other professionals to help them understand, okay, how do we take advantage of this space from a revenue generation perspective? Because it’s huge as you can imagine.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, I mean, it is. And it’s just amazing to me to see all these programs launching and different certificates and things and it’s going to continue because it’s starting at such a young age, the esports industry, right? I mean, my kids know way more about it than I do. Just to think about how that’s going to translate into the college arena, and how you guys are going to have to be prepared for that wave of kids coming in. And it sounds like you are by offering these programs and things like that. I think that’s amazing. And it’s just not going to slow down one bit at all. One question I had you think COVID, we’re sitting here as we’re recording this, we’re hopefully getting passed this COVID-19 pandemic. But do you think that played a part in the growth of eSports? Just because people had more time on their hands? Or is that kind of a rumor and this was kind of growing no matter what?

Jason Williams: Yeah, I think it was growing no matter what. But I do think that the pandemic, being what it was, did help it grow. There’s no question. It helped grow a lot of different aspects of the industry. Gor us to sit here and say that it didn’t, I don’t think that’s a rumor. I think that’s just a fact of how human beings actually do things on a daily basis. Let’s just think about it if I played games before the pandemic, right? And now I’m at home, and I don’t have to, even for the person who’s a working adult who plays eSports. Okay, now I don’t have to drive to work. That maybe gave me an extra 25/30 minutes to an hour in my day, well, what might I go do? Well, maybe on my lunch break, I’ll pop over here and I’ll play a couple of games. I’ll jump online with a few friends and play. Maybe that because of this on the weekends, instead of maybe going to a sporting event or going to watch an egaming competition, I then watched it more on Twitch or whatever other system, or whatever the platform I enjoy. So, I do think that this pandemic definitely allowed eSports to grow. It also allowed, I think, a lot more digital marketing to grow. We’re already moving in that direction. It just exacerbated it. There’s no question.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure. 100% agree with you on that. Let’s shift gears here for a second. I want to ask you a question. So, as you may or may not be aware in Illinois now, sports betting has been approved and now legalized. These different states, Missouri I know is kind of right in that area as well. My question to you is, from a college perspective and a sports business management perspective, are you guys embracing that industry? Or is it still kind of a gray area from how you’re implementing things in the gambling, betting industry into your programs? Because I know that’s going to be a big space and is becoming bigger and bigger here in the United States as it legalizes from state to state. So, I was just wondering how you guys either embrace it or are ignoring it.

Jason Williams: Well, we’re obviously embracing it. And that’s kind of what we do as a program as the industry moves, we move along with it. So, when our Rawlings Sports Business Management Program, I’ve been here, let’s see, I’m working on 13 years now being at Maryville University. After a 20-year career in the in the sports business industry, we changed our curriculum five times. We do that because the industry changes. If I was teaching our students what we what I taught them 13 years ago, we wouldn’t have a program for heavens sakes. We would need to have a program and I’d be ashamed to offer it. And so, the betting space is just another piece to that. To me, when you talk about the business of sports, you need to be talking about gaming, you need to be talking about gambling, you need to be talking about digital marketing, and you need to be talking about revenue generation. That’s it, and everything you teach. Now, we may teach it on that from a theoretical perspective at first, but then when students build on that next platform of where they want to be in this industry, those are the things that they’re allowed that they have the ability to go do because of what we’ve talked them down here in this base. And so, betting, very much so is a big part of the industry. I mean, when you saw the major league organizations getting involved in it that told you the whole story, and that was like four years ago. So betting is huge. We’ve actually taken a trip over to the UK, obviously because of COVID we weren’t able to do it this past summer. We’ve gone to the UK the last three years in a row. And that’s the first time our students saw what we were talking about as relates to betting. Because over there, you could be in your seat, you walk downstairs, you go ahead and I can bet right here on who’s going to score the next goal, right? Who’s going to get the next red card as relates to UK football, which is obviously our US Soccer over there. So, it’s always been a part of our industry. Yes, it is getting larger. And we’ve always been part of that, as far as that’s concerned, as relates to our curriculum.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, I mean, are you seeing I’m just curious, are kids that are coming in, are they even aware of this space? Are they excited about this space? Or is it something that they are still maybe uneducated that it even is going to be a thing here? What are you seeing from an incoming student perspective? I mean, are they coming in all excited about, hey, I want to get into this space? Or not so much?

Jason Williams: Yeah. They don’t come in thinking that way. They come in with the only probably touch of betting is fantasy sports. And that’s where we meet them. To help understand that is betting. And then we bring them into the rest of it as we move along.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. Because there’s going to be so many careers that are popping up in that space that they probably aren’t even aware of. And that’s what you guys are there to teach them is what opportunities are going to be available and what different areas, so I was just curious what their mindset was coming in there.

Jason Williams: Yeah, most students come in thinking I’m going to be a general manager of a team, or I’m going to be a sports agent. But then quickly, because of the way our program is set up, they start to think about so many other aspects of the industry that they hadn’t even thought about. So, one of the things that we do, here in Illinois, we have a racetrack, that’s, I don’t know, maybe 20 minutes or 30 minutes away from our campus called Worldwide Technologies Raceway. We’ve been over there the last three out of the four weekends. They’ve had events, and we have our students working those events, because a lot of our students are anything about motorsports either. And so that’s something that we kind of continuously are exposing our students to so that they can see so much more of the industry than they currently think.

Ryan Knuppel: Wow, man, I could ask you so many questions. Jason, I really appreciate you being here. This is amazing. So, let me ask you this. With the sports shut down, we had the sport shut down, we went through three months with no sports, which I imagine was very tough on you, being a sports guy like myself, it crushed my soul, right? I mean, what did that do to you mentally? Did that make you rethink some things at all in the sports industry? Like, oh, man, what if? What if this doesn’t come back In a way? What if there’s not going to be as many jobs in this space? Did it make you rethink this area at all? Or was it just like, okay, this is going to come and go, and we’re going to be fine in a few months?

Jason Williams: Right. Well, to me, it’s all about change. Everything is about change. And so, you just always have to be continuously prepared for it. It did make me think about, okay, what will the industry look like when we come out of this? Because of that, we again, we changed our curriculum. So, we added more aspects of digital marketing, because obviously, that’s a growing space. Our students, this spring, will be certified in Google Analytics, through a course that we’re going to take. So, we were just continuously changing as the industry changes. As we do that, we find more and more opportunities for our students to get involved just in a different way.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. That’s really cool.

Jason Williams: Then for me, personally, as far as the not having sports, yeah, no question, I was like going through withdrawals to a certain extent. I’m like, okay, so I was watching everything that was on TV, I think there was something on TV where they had these rocks that were racing, marbles that were racing down in the sand. See which one would finish up first, I was watching that just because I needed to see something competitive go on, even though it wasn’t human beings. It was rocks. I was taking whatever I could get. I think a lot of people were in that same space.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. I mean, I think you’re just hitting the nail on the head here. You know, the thing to think about is that what is the opportunity in sports business for kids? Is it growing? Is it decreasing? Or is it just changing? As you said, it’s just changing, right? It may be more digital opportunities available, something of that nature, but we know sports aren’t going to go away, right? They’re just not going to go away. That’s not going to happen as much as some may want it to go away. It’s not going to go away. And so, I guess just those opportunities are changing. You’ve used that word a couple times. And I think that’s the theme of this is you got to adapt with change in any business, but sports business especially.

Jason Williams: Yeah, you know, Ryan , I kind of think about things from a perspective of, okay, at the end of the day, sports is not going to go away, like you said, but we think about why is it not going to go away? It’s not going to go away because if you have a good service or product, right? And you need to get that in front of people so that people can buy that good service or product. What’s one of the best ways for you to do that? Is someone going to have a science experiment and show up 30,000 people? What are they going to watch that on? Is someone going to stream that live? And 30,000 people show up to that live streaming? No, it’s going to be sports. So again, it’s the sports is the way that a lot of organizations sell. Think about what Pepsi does, think about what Coca Cola does, think about the internet business and think about all those different areas of products that are not specifically in sports, but need to do advertising in sports so that they can generate the revenue and get the eyeballs that they need to get on their good service or product. They do it through sports. What else what else is there out there?

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, 100%.

Jason Williams: Your shows, radio shows that are out there, other podcasts and things of that nature. You’ve got a captive audience that has a positive emotion, and are positively charged, that’s what product co

mpanies want to get in front of their good service or product, and it’s charged in a positive way. And so, it’s not going to be through other mediums, sports is still going to be king just because of the way our society is. And then, you also think about other aspects of sports, like you’re talking about with the esports, and the igaming, and all these different things as relates to betting, it’s just going to multiply. It’s just going to be different. And you have to think about it from a different way, it’s not going away, it’s just going to be different.

Ryan Knuppel: Wow, some great insight here from Jason Williams, sports business leader. Jason, I’m going to ask you one last thing. And this is a personal to more what I do in this space. We do tons and tons and tons of sports content, and content is one of those things that just never ends, right? I mean, it is so important, especially in the sport space. Media companies are launching every day, and they’re growing and getting bigger and bigger. And people love to consume sports content. You know, we’re always adapting and creating. You mentioned creating curriculum, we’re creating curriculum internally for our writers to help them become better writers and better journalists, I guess. My question to you is, what are you guys teaching in the digital media content space focused on sports? I mean, are there courses around sports journalism that you guys are doing? Or is that a space that you guys are still looking to grow into?

Jason Williams: Well, it’s sports journalism. What we do is, we don’t call it sports journalism. But that aspect of it, we have that in different courses throughout our program. So like, there are sports marketing class, we have our students writing press releases. That, to me, that’s sports journalism, because you need to know the angle at which you need your article to write in a certain way so that makes sense for the viewer, it makes sense for the target market. You do the same thing, you do similar pieces in our promotions course, in our corporate sponsorship class, the writing that you’re doing is based upon what you would do out in the industry. And so, we don’t call it journalism, we just call it the writing that you need for that area that’s specific to the industry.

Ryan Knuppel: Very cool. Very cool. Thank you for answering that. I was curious, personally. Hey, any last words, anything you need from our audience? Maybe something you’re looking to get an answer for, or looking to connect to anything you’d like to say here to kind of close this interview to my audience?

Jason Williams: Sure. First of all, thanks again for having me on. I really appreciate it. As we continue to develop, one of the things that we do as a program is we’re constantly developing, and we’re constantly getting input from those who are out in the industry. So, as we build this business of eSports certificate, we’d love to get the input of others. So, you can drop things on my Twitter account, which is @MUSportBiz. And then we’d love to hear from you on what people think about that, and what their thoughts are on that. Because what we’ve done is, we’ve put together an advisory board of folks in eSports who are going to help us develop it. But I also want to hear from some of those other people who aren’t on our advisory board, so that we can develop a really good product. If anybody out there would like to give us some feedback on that we’d love to. But also, if I can ever help you all in any way, make sure you reach out to me. Whether it be something that you need help with as relates to your program, or you need more really qualified young people to work as interns, let me know. But also, if there’s some research that you guys would like to get done, and you say, we just don’t have the time to do, we do that for a lot of organizations now like Rawlings, Blues, Cardinals, and others. Just let me know we’ll make it happen for you.

Ryan Knuppel: Amazing. We’ll put all those links to get a hold of Jason. We’ll put all those in the show notes so you don’t have to scramble to write them down. But hey, Jason, really appreciate you being here. Again, thank you so much. I can tell one of the advocates of this area and thank you for everything you’re doing for our youth of America and in this space, so thank you for being here again.

Jason Williams: No problem. I appreciate it. I love working with young people. I love helping them reach their dreams of wanting to be in the industry. So, when they walk across that stage and they graduate and they’ve got a job out in the industry, life is good. Thanks for having me.

Ryan Knuppel: No problem. Hey, that was Jason Williams of Maryville University. Thank you guys for tuning in. I hope you enjoyed that interview and got a little something out of it. That’s what we try to do with each and every show is just give you a little bit of information about what’s out there in this world. Thank you all for tuning in. Stay safe. Until next time, have a great day!

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