Grow your career in the slap-shot industry
Gain business insight and meet the pros in the MBA business of hockey program
When Patrick Garland watches hockey games, he views them through a different lens. That’s not only because Garland is the manager of team services for the Edmonton Oilers but also because he is currently a student in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) for the business of hockey program—the only offering of its kind in the world. “I was considering an MBA before so when this program launched, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to combine my hockey knowledge with solid business insight,” says Garland of the program, a joint offering between the fully online Athabasca University (AU) and the Business of Hockey Institute (BHI), which began operations in 2014 with the goal of improving the economic viability of professional and amateur hockey through education, research, consulting and advocacy. “I’m finding that I’m more open to learning new things and I’m looking more closely at how each team operates.”
Launched in 2015, the MBA for the business of hockey program is designed for those working in a managerial capacity within the hockey industry and related industries. Broken up into two phases, the program begins with core MBA courses that integrate theory and practice by focusing on real business problems and connecting the program to experiences in students’ own organizations. The second phase, meanwhile, delves deeply into hockey related issues, opportunities and operating environments with four courses that are identical to those taken by all AU MBA students but tailored to the needs of hockey professionals through the incorporation of hockey-related cases, readings and discussion questions. The second phase concludes with six elective courses that cover topics unique to hockey and were developed in collaboration with members of BHI’s board of directors, which includes some of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) biggest names.
Among them are: Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames; Scott Smith, president of Hockey Canada; Fred Steer, executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Montreal Canadiens; and Craig MacTavish, senior vice president of hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers.
Completing the six hockey specific courses is part of the eligibility process to receive a Certified Hockey Professional (CHP) designation from BHI. “The overall goal of the program is to help students who have never worked in hockey get into their first job and also to ensure that ex-players, for example, who are currently in the industry gain the business skills to be able to speak the language of business execs,” says Michael Mauws, BHI’s executive director and a professor at AU. “The CHP designation, on top of the MBA credential, will further help to open that door for those who want to get into the game of hockey. And for those already in hockey, it will open the door from hockey operations to the executive suite.”
It is the business acumen gained from AU’s MBA courses that, says Garland, he is finding most beneficial, as he previously lacked knowledge in areas such as finance. And despite the rigours of completing an MBA while juggling a full-time career and his personal life, Garland says the structure of the offering and AU’s expertise in facilitating online degrees makes it easier. “Athabasca is really flexible,” says Garland, who is part of the program’s first cohort and set to graduate next May. “We have lots of interaction with our professors and fellow students through discussion boards and group projects.” Adds Mauws, “The program fits the schedule of a hockey executive. Students can spread the work out as they see fit and complete it at whatever time of the day works best for them while swapping best practices with their peers.”
Through their courses, students gain significant management experience in important functions within the business of hockey including: ticketing, marketing, communications, fan development, customer service, social media, sales, events, building operations, legal, merchandising, finance, media, game day management, analytics and hockey operations.
There are also two optional in-person components that give students the opportunity to meet their fellow peers and rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in hockey. The first is a trip to take in the NHL Entry Draft and the second is the opportunity to travel to the PrimeTime Sports Management conference, during which industry leaders meet to discuss the latest challenges facing the business of sports.
“At the Draft, for example, students get to meet players who are about to be drafted and we arrange group sessions for students with executives. At PrimeTime, meanwhile, there are many executives from various leagues so it allows for a cross-pollination of ideas,” says Mauws. “These type of events can be real eye openers for students and give them a taste of the industry. Students really are fully prepared to elevate the business side of the game once they graduate.”