Geoff Smith is a self described sports junkie. He lives and breathes sports. If he is not on a ski slope, you will most likely find him at a NASCAR track. He is fueled by competition, and has made a career out of his personal passion.
Today, Smith is the president of Roush Fenway Racing. The Wake Forest University Schools of Business Sports Management Club welcomed him to campus to share his personal story and offer advice to students interested in pursuing sports management careers.
Smith earned his law degree from Wayne State University and worked in private practice in Detroit, eventually crossing paths with up- and-coming NASCAR race team owner, Jack Roush. In 1990, Smith accepted an offer to manage the business operations of Roush Racing and serve as general counsel to the engineering service conglomerate, Roush Industries. By 1997, he was promoted to the position of president and transferred from Michigan to North Carolina. Smith was instrumental in expanding Roush Racing to operate multiple teams. He negotiated the sale of half of Roush Racing to New England Sports Ventures, owners of the Boston Red Sox. The business was renamed Roush Fenway Racing in 2007.
“It’s one of these businesses you need to leap into. It’s an event marketing business. You need to be at the events and travel 29 to 38 weeks a year,” he said. But Smith doesn’t mind the schedule. “I do it because I love the competition. There aren’t many places where you can plan and get graded every week on how you do.”
Smith said unlike other professional sports, NASCAR is a sanctioning body owned by a family and teams need to pay to compete and use mandated products and services. The price to compete is high, and Smith said the economy has made it more difficult to keep a team going. “We are a microcosm of what is going on in America. Our sport has been devastated by the recession. We don’t have new sponsors coming on board and the ones we have our staying, but cutting back.” He said 70% of the Roush Fenway Racing revenue comes from sponsors. Auto manufacturers and prize money make up the additional revenue sources.
Ben Ralston (MBA ’11), president of the WFUSB Sports Management Club, asked how NASCAR teams translate value of what is given to a sponsor. Smith said, “Your value is strictly what one person would pay for. They do not care what our costs are.”
Sponsorships have also been impacted by political pressure, according to Smith. He pointed to how banks are getting chastised for spending money on marketing through sports sponsorships and said that corporate hospitality events are getting scaled back or eliminated.
Despite tough times, there are a variety of sports management career opportunities. Smith pointed to financial management, business development, operations, and communications. He said activities can include everything from selecting players and deciding pay to licensing merchandise and selling sponsorship packages.
However, Smith acknowledged that getting a foot in the door is not easy. He said being a player or former player, coach, or team owner are common avenues and “nepotism is big in pro sports everywhere, much more pervasively in corporate America.” Smith recommended doing business with a sports team while working in an outside agency or firm as a good way to open doors. “You can get noticed at an account services level just by your enthusiasm and attention to detail.”
The newly formed WFUSB Sports Management Club works closely with the University Athletics Department to expose business students to the skills needed to build a career in modern day sports management and sports marketing. For more information, contact student president Ben Ralston at firstname.lastname@example.org or associate athletic director Barry Faircloth at email@example.com.