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Volume 20 No. 42
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Plugged In: Jim Kahler, Ohio University

Sitting at the helm of the oldest and best-connected sports administration graduate program in the country, Ohio University’s Jim Kahler keeps a close tab on who is hiring and which skills they value most. Kahler, an Ohio grad who rose to chief marketing officer of the Cleveland Cavaliers before crossing over into academia, shared his take on the current job market and the ever-evolving education landscape.

Most of the kids we get want to be college athletic directors. We have somewhat of a bias in training them on the development side of the house and a pretty good feeder system in doing that. College athletics is looking for the same thing the pros are looking for: revenue generation.

The job market: Stronger than a year ago and much stronger than two years ago. I base that on placements of where kids are going and also demand. A couple of years ago the phone wasn’t ringing and we were calling out. Now the phone is ringing.

What’s hot: The growth areas continue to be analytics and CRM, because it’s new and you’re seeing more jobs coming across the desk that way. And sports marketing agencies. I don’t know why, but there are more jobs coming through. Maybe that’s a sign the sponsorship market is picking up. I think we had people doing two jobs for a couple of years there.

The value of an MBA in sports: I think the recognition is getting a little stronger but the paying your dues hasn’t gone away. It pays greater dividends five or 10 years down the road. It can help you get a job, probably because of the analytics, where the MBA is more understood and appreciated. And understanding social and digital. People making hires are all looking for that. The experts are 24 and 25 years old — if that. The real experts are probably 18 and 19 and haven’t worked their way through the system. Everybody seems to want it. And no one seems to have it.

The paid internship debate: I’m happy to say the percentage of paid internships is on the rise. That’s been a crusade of mine for years because when I got out of graduate school in 1981, Dr. [Charles] Higgins would not let us leave unless we got an internship. But 40 years later there were too many programs and some of those programs said, “Hey, you don’t have to pay our kids.” I think with the lawsuits and legislation, you’re seeing more paid internships. Everybody is trying to figure it out.

Dot degrees: I view online education much differently today than when we first started our professional MSA program. We just graduated our third class. When we started it, I had never taken an online course. And now I was co-teaching an online sponsorship course. It was a steep learning curve, but now that I’ve been through it I think it’s a sign of things to come. And in some cases it provides a deeper peer-to-peer learning environment.

Rainmakers: I get accused sometimes of recruiting too many people like that. If the industry tells us tomorrow that they want more PR directors, we’ll start looking for PR people. But everybody is looking for revenue generation. The call that has changed really is on analytics, CRM, database marketing. We’ll look for two to three kids who are really analytical because there are people looking for those.

— Bill King