For this week’s “Teaching Thursday” q and a we go to the University of Arkansas, and Assistant Department Chair Steve Dittmore. Steve is another industry veteran who has worked with students at schools small (East Stroudsburg) and big, and has also spent a good amount of time in the Olympic world. We wanted to ask Steve about the differences and the opportunities, of being in Fayetteville and elsewhere, and what he is seeing in the space.
How is your work at Arkansas different from the programs you were part of back east?
“The biggest difference is pretty obvious – geography. We are three-plus hours from the nearest town (Kansas City or Oklahoma City) with an NBA, NFL or MLB franchise. So our program focus, particularly at the graduate level, is on intercollegiate athletics – 70% of our master’s students work in the Razorback athletic department in some capacity. We think that provides us an opportunity to create a niche for our students.”
The SEC schools have such a huge media following, how does a program like your take advantage of those such opportunities?
“Twice we have had Andy Staples deliver a public lecture on campus while he was in town covering the Razorbacks. Earlier this fall we did the same thing with Kristi Dosh when she was on campus. We have a great relationship with senior staff in athletics, and I am always looking for ways to piggy-back (get it?!) on their activities and media coverage. The Razorback brand lends legitimacy to requests as well. I was thrilled to have Kevin Blackistone appear in class via Google Hangout earlier this semester and I think our brand recognition helped.”
Is there an advantage from a student perspective being in a college town vs. a major media hub for a program like yours?
“Interesting question… I think for students who want to experience major intercollegiate athletics, our university is an excellent location to gain valuable insight on the “town-gown” relationship. College athletics has a unique ability to build community, and to do it year-round. At Arkansas, football, men’s basketball and baseball draw consistent crowds and attention. Increasingly, however, sports such as women’s soccer and track and field generate considerable community engagement.”
What were some of the good business lessons learned during that career never change?
“I still believe in the power of a hand-written thank you note. I am pleasantly surprised when I receive a note from a prospective student with whom I have met to discuss academics, careers, or whatever. Any time I ask someone to guest speak in a class, I will author a brief thank you note and drop it in the mail. It really only takes a few minutes more than typing an email, but I perceive its impact to be far higher than an email.”
What are some of the student success stories you have been a part of?
“Two interesting – at least to me – stories which come to mind are of undergraduate students who have been able to work amazing events. Nikki Schuttenhelm (who currently works for the Houston Astros) was texting me pictures from inside Citi Field during the 2015 World Series. After a full season as an intern for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (AA affiliate of the Royals), she was hired by the Royals as an inside sales representative. David Glass arranged for the whole front office to travel to New York to watch the Series. Today, Nikki has a World Series ring!
“The other story involved Jenny Higgs who moved to LA and went to graduate school at Long Beach. After working with the Tiger Woods Foundation, Galaxy and U.S. Soccer, Jenny was hired to supervise 500 volunteers at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in LA. She happened to be assigned to USC, where I was overseeing media operations at the aquatic venue. To be able to work side-by-side with a former student was a great experience.”
What trends are you following in the industry today?
“Like a lot of people, I am really interested in the current state of cord-cutting and the business of sports media. It isn’t as “sexy” as some topics perhaps, but I find the rhetoric around carriage and retransmission fees fascinating. I feel genuine empathy for Dodgers fans in Los Angeles who cannot watch games because of SportsNet LA carriage disputes. I probably watched 100-plus Dodgers games this year through MLB.tv. As the Cubs and other teams explore creating new RSNs, this will continue to be an important area to study.
With all the changes in media and sport in the last few years, which surprised you the most?
“The Players Tribune may not have surprised me, but its impact on media and sport certainly has. Kobe Bryant legitimized the platform with his retirement post. On the one hand, what a wonderful vehicle for athletes to be able to distribute their thoughts on anything from retirement to social issues. These posts occur independently of team websites giving them a feel of authenticity. I love Richard Sherman’s regular posts. On the other hand, it is blow to mainstream media who thrive for exclusive access to stories. No longer are athletes reliant on media to accurately represent their thoughts and viewpoints – athletes have an unfiltered forum to deliver their messages directly to audiences.”
Where do you get your news; who do you follow and why?
“I get my news from Twitter, which at times can be overwhelming. I curate lists on topics I am interested in following (sports media, local news, my lifelong obsession with the Dodgers) and check in on those lists. I try to consume as much as I can, but I find I never get through all of the articles I save in Pocket (which is one of my favorite apps!). The same is true with podcasts, which I love to listen to on my commute. Unfortunately, my commute is 18 minutes door-to-door so I don’t get through anywhere near the number of podcasts I would like to listen to. I understand folks in larger cities won’t have a lot of sympathy for me on that commute time!”
So much has been made of eSports, is it something that comes up as an opportunity on campus?
“Honestly, I have not heard any student mention it to me. That said, I only teach one graduate class per semester – so I may not have a finger on the pulse of that!”
Where do you see the biggest employment opportunities coming for those entering the field?
“The increasing convergence of media and sport organizations opens a myriad of opportunities for students who can add value through creative social media posts and content generation. In a lot of ways, sport organizations are now media companies competing for attention with traditional mainstream media. Students who can communicate and add value in this environment are highly valuable. I don’t see that trend changing any time soon.”