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SURVEYING THE MONEY SIDE OF SPORTS
Mike D'Orso
May 21, 1990
Steve McFarland hit .204 last spring as a catcher for the Fairfax (Va.) High School Rebels—hardly a stat to get him into pro ball. But the slim 17-year-old may have found something besides his bat that could carry him to the big leagues. He is enrolled in Fairfax High's Sports and Entertainment Marketing class—believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation.
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May 21, 1990

Surveying The Money Side Of Sports

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Steve McFarland hit .204 last spring as a catcher for the Fairfax (Va.) High School Rebels—hardly a stat to get him into pro ball. But the slim 17-year-old may have found something besides his bat that could carry him to the big leagues. He is enrolled in Fairfax High's Sports and Entertainment Marketing class—believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation.

Since September, 70 students at this school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., have been studying the fundamentals of producing, promoting and marketing events that range from Baltimore Oriole games to Bon Jovi concerts. They've learned not only how to read a contract but also how to negotiate one. They know that behind every Heisman Trophy winner stands a team of sports-information publicists. "Front-office work, promotions, the little stuff that's so important to sports events, those are things I never even thought about before I got into this class," says McFarland.

This is not your standard high school classroom. On the shelves are textbooks titled This Business of Music and Sport & Society. Posters of Tina Turner and Joe Montana share space on the walls with sign-ups for field trips to the Capital Centre in Landover, Md., and to Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Case studies of corporate-created sports prizes—such as Upjohn's Jim (Catfish) Hunter Diabetes Hall of Fame Award—are stacked on a table. And on a recent morning, the class was visited by former Washington Redskins defensive back Brig Owens, now a partner in a D.C.-based sports agency.

After he finished fielding questions about the heft of his 1972 NFC championship ring and what it was like to play for Vince Lombardi, Owens got down to business, describing what his clients—including NFL players Art Monk and Bruce Smith—look for in an agent and what he looks for in a client (even down to what percentage an agent typically receives on a client's contract). Owens also said, "So much attention is focused on the glamour and the money being made in sports that people fail to see that there are many other ways to be involved in the field and make a good living at it."

Program coordinator Mikki Bragg has been delivering that message since last September, when she began teaching the class. Bragg says 90% of her students, who "range from letter jackets to longhairs," will go on to college. Some, like senior Jason Johnson, hope to continue their studies in one of the more than 100 sports-management programs now offered at colleges and universities. "It's perfect for me, for what I'm doing," says Johnson, who placed sixth in the novice freestyle division at this year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and who plans to pursue international competition before beginning college. Eventually, he says, he may end up with a show like Ice Capades—but not necessarily on the ice.

"Before, all I ever thought I'd be able to do was skate or teach," says Johnson. "Now, instead of having one route, I've got many routes. If I don't make it as a skater, I can still stay in the business."

Elinor Burgess, a program specialist for the Fairfax County public schools' marketing education department, is one of the creators of the new class. Though the Sports and Entertainment Marketing class is billed in the school catalog as offering "career opportunities," she stresses that it is a survey, not a trade, course. "In no way do we want to give the impression that we're preparing our students to go directly into these fields," says Burgess. "We expect most of our students to go on to college. The big question in my mind as we were forming this idea was, Could we give high school kids worthwhile training in a field they wouldn't be entering for at least four years?"

The answer, judging by student and community responses, is yes. More than 90 students have applied for next fall's class, and Bragg has received letters from local colleges, universities, agencies and sports facilities interested in establishing internships for her students."

As for McFarland, he's not sure what he wants to do in the future. But he's counting on finding something that will keep him close to a diamond. "Without baseball, I don't know how I'd go on," he says. "It's, like, my life."

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