Emilio Collins graduated Ohio University with a Masters in Sports Administration in 1996, and this year was named as the recipient of the department’s Charles R. Higgins Distinguished Alumni Award for 2020. He is currently chief business officer at Excel Sports Management, joining the agency in 2017 after spending 16 years with the National Basketball Association, latterly as its executive vice-president of global marketing partnerships.
Why did you choose to pursue a sports management degree at Ohio?
I was an athlete at undergraduate level at Michigan State and, going to a Big 10 university, I started to get a lot of exposure to career opportunities in sports. I did a couple of internships in the athletic department at Michigan State, and just really fell in love with the idea of having a career in sports. There were actually two administrators the athletic department there who had both gone to the Ohio University programme, and they turned me on to it. And so at the time, I felt a clear interest in a career in sports, but didn’t know exactly what it was I wanted to do specifically, which track I wanted to take in sports business. I felt going into the graduate programme would give me a lot more hands-on experience and exposure to the various tracks in the business.
What were the main ways that you feel the programme at Ohio prepared you for a career in the sports industry?
I would say three things primarily. One was the coursework and giving me a really good sense of the entire landscape of the industry and determining the appropriate paths, looking both at the different sectors of the industry, from media companies to brands to properties to agencies in the various sectors across the industry and potential paths you can take, but also the types of work that you can do within each of those sectors and what will be most suited for your individual capabilities and interests. So academically, there was really great exposure there and much learning about all sides of the business.
Second was the strong hands-on experience we had. The programme was always known for conducting a class project that was incredibly intensive. It was an interesting time for me going into the programme because the class project had been taking place for about 20 years, it was a student Fight Night, and there was a desire to make a change that year, so my class actually had the opportunity to come up with the next programme. I pitched our class on the idea that we ultimately carried through, which was a wild, crazy idea called Friday Night Mud Slam which was kind of building on the competitive nature of the student Fight Night but in a different format. That experience of ideating, conceiving a new platform, pulling it together operationally, building all the different committees that you need to make an event like that be successful – those kind of experiences are really helpful in giving students a true hands-on experience of what the sports business world is like.
Third – big bucket, no surprises – is absolutely the network. Being the oldest and longest standing programme in the country, the network is phenomenal. The network is what led to my first internship, my first job, and it has been a network that I have relied on throughout the entirety of my career.
Is that the biggest way that the programme continues to define your career?
Yeah, absolutely. I still get my directory every year, I still keep tabs on everyone in the network. When I look at the networking that I always ask people to prioritise in their careers, for me, it always starts first with Ohio. Thinking about how so many people in that network are related to the world that I operate in right now, whether it’s clients that we work with, what the teams that we sell them represent, whether it’s what other brands that are looking to do work with the athletes represent, whether it’s clients that we can advise and build strategies for…there’s so many connections across the network. I’d say probably a week doesn’t go by where I’m not interacting with one of the alumni in some form or capacity, whether it’s a personal or business relationship.
What advice would you offer to someone just starting the course?
My advice would be to leverage the network early on. Really think about it, study the connections in the marketplace, learn very quickly what it is that you want to do and be very purposeful and intentional about building a network of connections oriented around where you want to go in your career. Secondly, make sure you’re going above and beyond academically to get the most out of the programme. It’s evolved so much since my time there, I think it really is cutting edge in terms of the curriculum and where the state of sports is today, so the more you dive into that, the more prepared you’re going to be for the other side, and sports business today is more dynamic than it’s ever been. I think students are fortunate to be able to experience a programme like Ohio’s to fully prepare them for that world.