Our industry is made up of passionate, hardworking professionals, and there is perhaps none more passionate than Paul Swangard.
Paul is the President of Bowerman Curve Collective Inc., a strategic consulting and media services firm based in Eugene. His clients include Nike, USA Track and Field, the IAAF, NBC, ESPN and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. He also serves as Chief Strategist for RunnerSpace, a digital media hub for coverage of track and field, cross-country, and road racing in the US and Canada. He is also the long-time “voice” of Oregon’s Historic Hayward Field and regularly provides in-stadium and television commentary for athletics events around the world. In 2016, he served as the English-speaking announcer for athletics at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Pail spent the early part of his professional career as an award-winning sports broadcaster in both radio and television. After more than a decade of leadership of the highly acclaimed Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, Swangard remains connected to the University of Oregon as an adjunct instructor teaching sport brand strategy and advertising in the School of Journalism and Communications. We caught up with Paul to talk about track, sports business, and the best places to call races.
The Warsaw School was one of the pioneers in sports business education, what did you people see that others didn’t at the time?
I give all the credit to the late Jim Warsaw who believed strongly that a business-based education would serve the industry well. There were a number of key industry people including former NBA Commissioner David Stern who bought into the idea externally. Internally, we were able to convince the business school faculty it was a legitimate area of research and study. I cannot overstate how hard that political battle was.
What was the biggest change in education from when you started to when you left?
Certainly the proliferation of specialized programs. At the end of my tenure, I had simply lost count of the number of sports-themed offerings. In a competitive market for students, it was all about new and different. I wasn’t ever convinced new and different meant better.
You have always had the passion for track, how did the opportunities you have today broadcasting and calling the sport come about?
I was a walk-on sprinter at Oregon in the mid-80’s. After starting my career in radio and TV, I took the leap into higher ed but stayed connected to the sport through public address announcing. As “the voice” of arguably the best known facility in the sport (Hayward Field), it led to more in stadium opportunities and even took me to Rio this year to announce the Summer Olympics. I’ve complemented those gigs with television and web work to create a nice little niche.
Many will say track has lost its luster as a sport for millennials, are there ways to better convey its value proposition?
I do believe the sport starts from a position of strength in that it remains the highest participatory sport at the High School level. Converting those participants into fans is the challenge. I think building a consistent schedule of events, marketing the stars and finding new ways to present the sport will help. We also hope to see an Olympics come to LA in 2024 to provide a runway for the sport to focus its efforts.
What are two or three of your favorite venues for the sport and why?
Hayward Field – Simply the Carnegie Hall of the sport. Knowledgeable fans, rich history, athletes make it a goal to compete there at least once in their career.
Franklin Field and Drake Stadium – Home to the Penn Relays and Drake Relays on the same weekend in April. These are events more than track and field meets. Great annual showcases for the sport.
London Olympic Stadium – Site for next year’s World Championships. The atmosphere in 2012 was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
You will be in NY soon for the marathon, as a property how has that sport changed the business of event marketing?
I think New York Road Runners should be a case study taught in every sport program. A mission driven organization that delivers value to consumers and partners by supporting all levels of the sport. There is a consistency and creativity in how they execute their events that would serve as a model for sport organizations worldwide.
You have taken many trips abroad, as you look ahead what are the properties and the countries, people should be watching out for from a sports business perspective?
I’ve invested a lot of time and air miles visiting China and it remains for me the most fascinating international sport market. Now that the government has adopted new policies to promote the development of the sports industry there is an exciting “gold rush” taking place. The challenge is that relationships and market traction takes time. That will frustrate a lot of people who want in...but they should have been there developing those relationships a decade ago.
Lastly, you have helped launch a great deal of careers. What is the one element of success in sports business that seems to never change?
I’d always default to work ethic. Building and leveraging relationships are great, especially in this industry, but nothing replaces effort. Be a career student, listen and learn and be ready to put in the time to add value to an organization. Skating is a sport not a career skill.