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Brian Gordon: KU Sport's Visionary Program Director

May 17
KU's online sport management Program Director Brian Gordon

Dr. Brian Gordon's journey to becoming associate professor and program director of the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences’ online master’s in sport management is a perfect example of how one's career path may change direction in the pursuit of personal fulfillment and work-life balance.

Gordon’s career journey has been filled with twists and turns that ultimately led him to discover his true passion for teaching, researching, and working with students in the field of sport management.

Brian Gordon discussed his passion for the sports industry, his journey to leadership, and KU's 100% online sport management program in a recent interview.

Read on to learn about Brian Gordon, his background in sport and education, and how he became KU’s online master’s in sport management program director with a new vision for the master’s program. You can catch his full exclusive interview here.

From sport enthusiast to KU program director: Brian Gordon’s journey to leadership

Gordon started his undergraduate studies at Eastern Illinois University as a history major and pre-law minor with a keen interest in sports, business, and law. He aspired to become a sport agent, but after gaining some experience through job shadowing and internships, he realized that the field was too competitive and did not align with his values and life goals.

Following a year working at a Fortune 500 company, Gordon enrolled at Southern Illinois University as a master's student in sport management. During his first year, he worked extensively on campus and athletic events but struggled to find his niche. Still, he managed to develop a close relationship with his mentor, Dr. Tejo Yo, who inspired him to pursue a career in teaching, research, and sport management.

Gordon's mentorship experience and involvement in research sparked his interest in becoming a professor. He earned his Ph.D. in sport management at Florida State University, where he gained practical experience by managing a large fitness and sport program while teaching classes and conducting research.

Following his graduation, Gordon became a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. There, he started a fully online sport administration program and served as the faculty athletic representative.

Ultimately, in 2015, Gordon landed the position of Program Director of KU Online Sports Management Masters. He has been acting in this role, happily, ever since.

His journey highlights the importance of pursuing mentorship, self-discovery, and one's passion and values to achieve a fulfilling career.

Creating opportunities and fostering growth for students

Gordon’s work within the KU Sport program has helped it develop in many exciting ways, allowing it to better meet the needs of more students.

He shares that KU’s online program has opened up the market to a wide range of students who he is thrilled to watch grow and make important connections during their studies. “Seeing all of their hard work pay off, getting their degree, and becoming a Jayhawk Alum for the rest of their lives is really, really exciting.”

For Gordon, the program benefits students in several key ways:

Open to a variety of backgrounds

He explains the program attracts students who come straight from undergrad and go right into their master's, as well as those who are already working in the field and want to pursue further education to move into different positions. Some students come from a completely different field and are trying to break into the sport industry.

Provides flexibility with balance

Gordon loves the flexibility that the online program provides, allowing students to pursue their educational goals while balancing their work and personal lives. Referring to the variety of walks of life he sees in his students, he notes, "Some have families and a lot of them have full­time jobs.”

Fosters true connection and development

Another aspect of his position that is rewarding is seeing his students grow and develop throughout their studies. He elaborated, "One of the most rewarding things is seeing the students come in and develop throughout the program. They leave with a whole different skill set."

He added that he takes pride in playing a role in their growth and development and enjoys keeping in contact with students after they graduate. "We're creating these connections and networks and helping students move forward in their careers and that to me is just an incredibly rewarding aspect of my job."

Joining KU: Gordon’s “best career decision”

When asked why he chose to become a Jayhawk, Gordon explains, "My first faculty position was at the University of Wisconsin­-La Crosse (UW-La). I was there for five years. I loved it. I loved the community, I loved the program."

However, Gordon was looking for more opportunities to work with graduate and doctoral students, something that wouldn't have been possible at UW-La. He also wanted more balance in his workload, as he was teaching a lot of classes and starting a fully online master's program at UW-La. The dual commitment made it hard to conduct research and keep up with service obligations.

Fortunately, a position at KU became available. He had a close friend who worked in sport management at the university. This gave him the additional information he needed to be confident that the role would be a fit.

Gordon felt familiar with the KU community, campus, and program, which made the decision easier. "When this job opened up, I knew it was one that I wanted to pursue."

Today, he considers his move to KU as the “best decision” he made for himself and his family.

Keeping current with cutting-edge insights

To stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the sport industry, Gordon uses various methods to keep himself informed. "There's a number of different avenues that I take to do this," he says. Gordon says he leverages:

  • Trade publications
  • Social media
  • Research journals
  • Teaching
  • Alumni connections

"I read the Sport Business Journal, which is a trade publication weekly." As a marketing professional, he finds the publication to be a valuable resource for keeping up with marketing and sponsorship developments in the field.

He also uses social media to stay informed. "While the experience has changed over time, I do use Twitter quite a bit," he says. "Specifically, I have a number of different sport industry professionals that I follow. A lot of people that I trust give really important insights, whether it be college athletics or pro athletics. I get a lot of my news from there."

In addition to reading trade publications and using social media, Gordon also stays current by reading research journals. "I read a lot of our research journals as well to keep up-to-date with what's going on in research and specifically in sport marketing," he says.

Teaching is another way he stays current with industry developments. "I teach a sport marketing course. My students send me articles about what's going on and what they're seeing from a marketing perspective," he says. "We'll talk about it in class, and then the students become interested."

Finally, Gordon stays up-to-date by talking with alums in the field. "I love when they come back to visit or I hop on a Zoom or a phone call and just talk about what's going on in their organization and some of the challenges that they're dealing with," he says.

"The area of sport marketing is constantly changing and it is evolving quickly. You need to stay on top of what's going on in the field."

Sport marketing research and fandom findings

A sport marketing expert, Gordon has also grown as a faculty member and program director from his research into fan loyalty and consumerism. As Gordon explains, his research is focused on three main areas:

Fan engagement

Gordon has examined how sports teams can connect with their fans through various touchpoints. "We've done a lot of work about what engagement is, what are the different facets of it, and how organizations can engage their fans," Gordon explains. "Ultimately, it comes back to how does this engagement positively impact the organization from a marketing and revenue generation standpoint?"

Gordon's research on fan engagement extends beyond the United States. He has been working on a global fan engagement project with researchers from Portugal, Germany, and Japan. "It's been really interesting to carry out that line of research," he says.

Fan identification

Gordon has delved into the concept of fan identification. "We've worked with a lot of really, really rabid fans. I think a large part of their identity is wrapped up in being a fan of their favorite team," he says. This research has examined the positive effects of fan identification for organizations and how they can capitalize on it. Gordon has also explored the negative outcomes that can arise when a fan's identity becomes too closely tied to a team, which can lead to instances of fan violence.

Retro marketing

Gordon has been studying the use of retro marketing in sports, or when an organization incorporates its team history into its current marketing strategy through methods such as rebranding, bringing back old logos and colors, and holding retro-themed game day promotions.

"We were trying to figure out how and why that works and how to do it most effectively," Gordon says. While this concept is widely used in the sport industry, it had not been extensively studied until Gordon's team began their research.

Important discoveries and developments in sport marketing and research are reflected in KU’s online sport management master’s curriculum.

Why the KU Sport Management Program wins at the buzzer

When all its benefits are stacked up, KU’s online master’s program is a clear winner that delivers an excellent educational experience to those who want to make their mark within the growing and evolving sport industry.

Gordon is quick to offer that the KU online sport management program provides:

  • Online learning flexibility and work-life balance
  • A competitive curriculum taught by expert faculty
  • A strong Jayhawk alumni base
  • An exclusive mentorship experience, industry exposure before graduation

According to Gordon, "Our program resonates with people at a certain life stage due to its flexibility.” He emphasizes KU offers a balance for students at a certain life stage who need to work a full-time job and pursue education.

Another of the program's key differentiators is the quality of faculty, including nationally and internationally acclaimed faculty members and practitioners who work in the field. Many of the practitioners are also Jayhawk alums, which adds a layer of value to the program. Gordon explains, "We have people who have come through our program and are in very interesting and big positions in sport. They bring this expertise to the classroom."

Moreover, the instructors are aware their students are working professionals and do their best to accommodate the needs of their graduate students. "Our instructors are in tune with the fact that these are working professionals that are in our program. And we're always trying to meet the students where we're at."

It's also worth noting that many of the faculty members are working professionals themselves, and, as Gordon notes, "they just get it."

The program's online platform, coupled with the understanding of the instructors, makes it highly appealing to working professionals looking to pursue a master's degree in sport management.

The program's wide-ranging alumni base is another differentiator. The program has an engaged alumni base that is eager to connect and give back to students. The school has made a conscious effort to connect with its alumni and bring them back to the program as mentors.

Gordon says, "We have a mentorship program for every student that gets admitted into our program. Each grad student gets assigned an industry mentor which has been especially helpful in connecting Jayhawks with other Jayhawks." He explains the program's alumni network is a particularly valuable resource for graduates as they begin their careers in the sport industry.

The curriculum is also a strength of the program, as it delivers a well-rounded education in a multitude of important sport marketing areas. It also provides students with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. "When you look at the marketing and the finance, the law, the organizational behavior, sponsorship, and fundraising topics we cover, it’s a very well-rounded curriculum that prepares students for a variety of different careers."

Overall, Gordon's description highlights the program's commitment to delivering a comprehensive and high-quality education that prepares them for success in the field of sport management.

The future of sport management education: specialized tracks and certifications

According to Gordon, while the program covers all the major competencies needed to work in the industry, in the future, the program may change to meet the student demand to “customize their educational experience and where they want to go."

Gordon envisions a new curriculum structure with "concentrations or tracks" that specialize in different areas of sport management. For example, a student interested in working in the front office of a team or as an athletic director could take a general administration track within the overall master's program.

Similarly, a student interested in sport marketing could pursue a specialized track in marketing that offers courses designed to meet the needs of the 21st-century sport marketer. Likewise, students interested in event management, facility management, and operations could take a track or concentration in those areas, with specialized courses that meet the needs of those professions.

Gordon sees the potential for students to earn certifications in their chosen sub-disciplines, including administration, marketing, and event management, in addition to a master's degree. He believes that this customized experience will help meet the professional goals of the students and better prepare them for success in the sport management industry.

Gordon believes that this new curriculum structure will offer a more personalized and tailored educational experience for students, distinguishing it from other programs that offer a more generalized curriculum.

The success of the program's graduates

KU sport program director is extremely proud of the program's graduates and where they've gone since completing the program. He noted specific examples, saying, "One student was looking to broaden his horizons and break into some other areas of sport. As an alum, he is now working with the Kansas City Chiefs. He really took full advantage of his time in our program, to get experience, to get an education. Now he is living his dream."

Gordon also mentioned Maggie Bowen, the current director of operations at KU Volleyball, who was able to continue her work with KU Volleyball while pursuing her master's degree which allowed her to ascend into that role. “She knew that getting a master's and working in college athletics made a lot of sense."

Gordon also cites several other success stories, explaining, “You can come into this program from a lot of different life spaces and be successful."

Advice to prospective students

When asked for advice for students considering the sport management program, Brian Gordon emphasized the importance of considering the time commitment, completing thorough research on the program and its offerings, and meeting with faculty and alumni as part of their application process.

Do your research

When speaking with prospective students, he always advises interested students to "do your research not just on our program, but any program you're considering." Gordon says this is key to understanding if the program will be able to meet career and academic goals.

Meet with faculty

Gordon recommends setting up meetings with faculty members to discuss the program and to convey and assess your background and professional goals. It's crucial to research the curriculum and faculty to see if the program's faculty expertise and specialization align with what the student is looking for. Additionally, it's important to consider the area where the program exists and whether it offers opportunities for relocation.

Assess the alumni

Gordon stresses the importance of researching the program's alums to see where they are working and what they are doing post-graduation. He also advises students to see if their professional goals match up with the experiences of the program's alumni. "Find out as much as you can about their alumni and what they're doing with their degree. If you can, talk to alumni and see what their experience was in the program," he says.

By taking these steps, students can make informed decisions about which program is the best fit for them.

Don’t wait to jumpstart your sport career

Ready to learn from sport management experts including Program Director Brian Gordon?

You can build the skills, network, and industry experience you need to propel your sport career while you continue to work.

With the KU online master’s degree in sport management*, you’ll have plenty of achievements to include in your winning resume. Explore the curriculum, including our internship opportunity, and schedule a call with an admissions advisor today.

*This program is a Master of Science in Education (M.S.E.) degree in health, sport management, and exercise science with an emphasis in sport management.

**This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.