The 2014 Warsaw Bay Area Adventure

The incredibly rich experiential learning opportunities provided by the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center (and the Oregon MBA) are unrivaled in the sports marketing space. Along with the rest of the first-year MBA class, I recently returned from a whirlwind week of information and education in the Bay Area. In six short days we met with both Oregon alumni and influential sports industry members at the San Francisco Giants, the Golden State Warriors, Visa, EA Sports, Google, and a number of other companies. Read on for some of the highlights of the 2014 Warsaw Bay Area trip.

The Warsaw crew split into two vans and departed to the Bay Area from Eugene on Monday morning. After a long day of driving (including a stop at the northernmost In-N-Out burger, obviously), we went out for a bite to eat before hitting the hay early.

Day 1

Our first day of meetings started at the world headquarters for Marmot. We have a number of MBAs with an interest in the outdoors and product, and even those with other interests were still able to leave Marmot with useful information. We toured their facilities with Tom Fritz, the VP of Marketing. We heard from Greg Houser (VP of Product Design) and Andy Meyer (Marketing Manager). We also got another chance to meet and listen to Marmot President (and Oregon alum) Mark Martin.

I am not specifically interested in the outdoors as a career, but it was very interesting to hear from Marmot executives with regards to overall strategy, product positioning, how they generated awareness, and how they conduct business from a global perspective. Marmot has had some luck recently with unsolicited celebrity endorsements from the likes of Josh Brolin and Jimmy Fallon, and it was cool to hear about how the company works hard to capture that awareness and turn it into customers and product demand.

Mark finished our day at Marmot with some career advice, particularly focusing on five key attributes he looks for in employees: reliability, dedication, productivity, cooperation, and character.

We then made the quick trip into the city for an afternoon meeting with global public relations firm FleishmanHillard. Our meeting there was set up with Oregon alum and Senior VP Fletcher Cook. We also heard from Managing Supervisor Matt Faust. As someone who enjoys writing and understands its importance in business, it was really interesting to see some of the work that Fleishman has done with top clients such as BMW, the Olympics, and EA Sports.

Day 2 20140402_100043

Our second day started with a visit to the San Francisco Giants, which took place at the nicest sporting venue in North America, AT&T Park. The Warsaw group has been visiting the Giants for over a decade now, set up each year by Oregon alum and Senior VP for Consumer Marketing Tom McDonald. Before Tom spoke with us we talked to Jeff Tucker (VP of Sales) and Bryan Srabian (Director of Digital Media). I have a few friends who work in the sports industry and I often hear that the Giants are the measuring stick in terms of fan/community engagement and how they utilize technology/digital. The fact that the team has won the World Series twice over the past four seasons obviously helps in terms of organizational success, but the Giants have created a strong relationship with the Bay Area sports fans that goes far beyond wins and losses. As Tom said, one of the keys for the Giants is “to be an integral part of the community.”

Warsaw then headed over to GMR Marketing for the afternoon and evening. We were told that the view was pretty nice… and that ended up being a significant understatement. First we heard from Keith Bruce, the CEO and President of the San Francisco Super Bowl L (50) Host Committee. Keith also invited Patrick Gallagher, who runs the marketing and communications for the Host Committee, along. They told us all about the plans to make this Super Bowl the most innovative and most “giving” in history (in terms of creating a sustainable positive community impact long after the game is over).

The GMR view:

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After the Super Bowl Committee wrapped up, Warsaw alum (and fellow Canadian) Kelsey Philpott took the stage. Kelsey has been with GMR for about three years now, and he took us through the experience of working there and showed us a few case studies of their recent work. The day concluded with a great reception with Warsaw alumni from around the Bay Area.

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Day 3

Day 3 started off with a trip to Oakland to meet with Rick Welts, the President and COO of the Golden State Warriors. Rick’s sports business career speaks for itself – he started as a ball boy with the Seattle Supersonics many years ago, and he has worked on both the team side (Supersonics, Warriors and Phoenix Suns) as well as the league side. Rick is also the first sports executive to come out as gay, something he did back in 2009 before starting with the Warriors.

We then drove across the bay for afternoon meetings at EA Sports and Sony Playstation. Both trips featured speakers from a variety of departments within each company. I was particularly impressed with the EA Sports campus – lots of open space and trees – reminded me of the University of Oregon campus a bit.

A few of us took the train out to the San Jose Sharks/Los Angeles Kings game to cap off another busy and productive day.

Day 4

Our last day of company visits included Visa and Google. The Visa panels were the highlight of the trip for me – storytelling was a very common theme among every VISA employee we spoke to, and they get to do some really meaningful work with some pretty incredible global platforms (the World Cup, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics).

Visa’s ever-changing tagline (it currently is “everywhere you want to be”) is rooted in story, and it was interesting to hear about the hard work that goes into crafting it. We see so many sports properties changing and updating their taglines for the sake of it (along the lines of “this is our year”), as a great tagline can be just as impactful in a good way as a poor tagline in a negative way.

The Warsaw crew at the Sharks/Kings game.

The Warsaw crew at the Sharks/Kings game.

I am sure if you asked each Warsaw student you would get very different responses, but here are some of the key takeaways for me:

The importance of storytelling

As someone who is very interested in storytelling, it was awesome to hear it come up as a common theme at most of the companies we spoke with. Brands that engage with their audience through storytelling create more compelling and meaningful relationships (at a fraction of the cost of typical advertising or marketing as well).

Love what you do

Another common theme among our company visits – people who had cool jobs were really interested in and passionate about what they did. Don’t do something for the sake of it or because it may make you a lot of money. Find a company or industry that you are drawn to and work hard to learn more and to provide value in that area. I think most of us in the Warsaw program share this belief, but seeing it reinforced by those working in the sports business space is always a good thing.

The power of sport

Sport is a facilitator for social change, and the companies, teams, and people that never forget this tend to create really meaningful and powerful work.

All in all, the 2014 Warsaw Sports Marketing Center’s Bay Area trip was a lot of fun. When we had some time to come up for air, we were able to experience the great food and amenities offered in one of the best cities in the world. I’m not sure if there are any other MBA programs that give students the access to companies like the San Francisco Giants, GMR Marketing, VISA, Google, the Golden State Warriors, EA Sports, Marmot, Fleishman Hillard, and Sony Playstation all in the span of four days. There really was something for everyone.

Written by Jeff Angus

Jeff is a 2015 MBA Candidate at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. He was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada and obtained a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of Victoria (BC) in 2009.He frequently shares his thoughts on Twitter @anguscertified and is passionate about writing, storytelling, fitness, health, and everything and anything sports-related.