Burke Magnus graduated from UMass’s MBA/MS in Sport Management in 1994 and joined ESPN in 2008, taking up his current role in 2015. In 2011, he was the recipient of UMass’ Distinguished Alumnus Award by the McCormack Department of Sport Management.
Why did you decide to pursue a postgraduate degree in sports management?
It was really kind of a means to an end, relative to my professional pursuit. I was a history major in college, which I absolutely loved, and it was a great combination for me because I enjoyed the material and so I did well in that as a major. But when I finished my undergrad, I was really looking for a way into the sports business, which at the time was even smaller than it is now.
It was a bit of a closed industry, I didn’t know anybody. And all I knew was I wanted to make that my initial career, and I had a history degree and not much else on my resume. And so when I found out that that sport management was a discipline which was emerging at the time, it was relatively small and only offered at a couple of universities, I investigated it immediately really as a way to round out my educational experience with some coursework that was specific to the industry, but primarily, frankly, to get connections and meet people who could help me get on my way from a career perspective.
What was it about UMass that attracted you?
UMass, in a lot of ways, was the founding institution in the US for this discipline, so I felt like it had the cachet. It had this incredible reputation for a very tight alumni network, particularly among grad students, just because the programme was so small, relatively speaking. Looking forward to starting a career, it was attractive to me that people really took pride in that.
As I’ve gone forward in my career I’ve come across other UMass grads. Two of my good friends are Jay Monahan at the PGA Tour and Howie Nuchow at CAA Sports, and there’s always that moment where you realise, ‘oh, you’re a Umass person too!’
How did the course prepare you for your time in the industry?
First of all, the coursework was really well-rounded. I knew I wanted to be in the industry, but I didn’t really have a preconceived notion of what that would be, other than a professional business pursuit. And so getting that wide view of the industry, across finance and accounting and law, and sport and society, and those kinds of experiences, everybody got a similar academic experience which I think was good.
But really the payoff was that the final thing you had to do was an internship, and it was on you to figure out where you wanted to concentrate your internship experiences as a launching pad for a job. And it just so happened that one at CBS Sports opened up for me and, one thing led to another, and I happened to guess right in terms of what would interest me professionally. The internship was an absolutely critical decision for me to get right, because that really was the opportunity to prove yourself professionally.
Does being a UMass alum continue to benefit you professionally?
They do a great job connecting the professional network of alums they have in the big cities, in New York, Chicago, LA: they fish where the fish are, so to speak, and create opportunities for us to connect with each other. The hallmark of the programme for me is the alumni network. People supported me and in turn I’ve supported other people. One of the great aspects of the programme is that you can help people directly and very individually, without being concerned about a tsunami of resumes coming in your direction because the programme is so tight and intimate.
What advice would you offer to grads starting the programme this year?
Too often I talk to people who have a very specific idea of what they want to do or where they see themselves. Opportunity comes in a variety of different ways to people in their lives and you have to be open to those opportunities, especially in this industry, which is relatively small, and you can go a long time without getting the opportunity you’re waiting for. So be open to opportunities outside the vision you have for yourself. Because you’d be surprised at what avenues it may open for you.