Athletics and academics unite in former Warrior’s career

Former UWaterloo Warrior Norm O’Reilly (BSc ’97) is Professor and Assistant Dean of Executive Programs in the College of Business & Economics at the University of Guelph. He was instrumental in the recent launch of the university’s International Institute for Sport Business and Leadership.

Prior to his roles at Guelph, Norm served as Professor of Business and Chair of the Department of Sports Administration at Ohio University’s College of Business. Under his leadership, the programs were ranked among the best in the world according to Sports Business International’s annual rankings.

Norm is a lifetime Research Fellow of the North American Society for Sport Management and a sought-out expert on the topic of sport business. Recently, he qualified for the Boston Marathon.

You have authored or co-authored eight books, 14 case studies in the Harvard/Stanford series and more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles all relating to the business of sport. What are some future trends in the sport business research space?

Sport is in a better spot than it has ever been. With many of the world’s entertainment options declining, sport – and live sport – is booming. Whether spectator or participant based, the business is strong with clubs valued in the billions of dollars, athletes making millions, and billions of people tuning into the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup. eSports, gambling, fantasy sport, CrossFit, Ironman, etc. are all points of growth. However, there are some ‘cracks,’ such as declining rates of youth participation in sport across the G20, doping, match-fixing and cable cutting.

What are you most excited about in your new position leading the University of Guelph’s executive programs?

Growth. The University of Guelph has always been a very strong research school but the focus on business is new. The College of Business and Economics is only 10 years old, and is poised for growth and a major role in the GTA’s biz school market. Our executive programs are home to our MBA and our MA Leadership, both very strong degrees, with leading faculty, very experienced students and flexible delivery models. Our MBA was recently ranked #9 in the Corporate Knights’ 2018 Better World MBA Ranking, a global ranking of MBA programs who integrate sustainable development in a meaningful way.

You work closely with the sport management industry, often being sought out for your expertise. What are some common intersections between academia and sport management that might surprise people?

What is nice, and perhaps surprising, about an applied field like sport management is that the work we do as scholars is very close to industry and often responds to what industry needs. Just myself, as a researcher, I have had more than a dozen major research projects funded by industry where there were both academic outputs and value to the industry partner. Now, what might be a surprise to many is that the relationship between millionaire professional players and their billionaire owners (like the NHL) is actually very similar to any union environment, where players get per diems on the road, they have very specific workplace rules to follow, and everything is highly formalized.

How did your undergraduate degree in kinesiology from the University of Waterloo impact your career trajectory?

I went to Waterloo to learn more about how to become a better athlete and how to help others become better athletes and healthier people. The program was ideal for me. In my third year, I worked at Triathlon Canada (a job offer eventually resulted from interviewing the President of the organization as part of a research project I did supervised by Dr. Nancy Theberge). I loved the job and my boss, Bill Hallett, who was a CA, opened my eyes to the business of sport and I have not looked back!

What is your fondest Waterloo memory?

I was a member of the Nordic ski team for years and winning the OUA Championship (team) in 1996 was an amazing moment in my life. Skiing on our relay team at the championship in Thunder Bay was a highlight!

What advice might you have for young alumni who are interested in the sport business field?

It is a very applied field. It is a field everyone wants to work in. Competitive. So, you need to get experience and skills. Lots of experience and good skills. Take quantitative courses, do co-op, volunteer, do internships and undertake projects with professors.