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Blugolds in sports industry to discuss COVID’s effect on business

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Curt Krizan, the Fiesta Bowl’s chief financial and ticket revenue officer, says people working in the sports industry had to remain flexible, have an open mind and be creative during the past year dealing with COVID-19.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumni who work in the sports industry will discuss during an upcoming webinar how COVID-19 has radically affected their businesses.

The webinar, titled “COVID’s Effect on the Business of Sports,” is from noon-1:30 p.m. Friday, April 2. The event is sponsored by UW-Eau Claire’s College of Business.

“This is to give students from across the university, alumni and community members a chance to see what the business of sports is like,” says Dr. Brewer Doran, dean of the College of Business, who will moderate the panel discussion. “It will let people talk with insiders about what it was like the day sports stopped.”

Panelists will be:

  • Craig Gumz '04, graduate in public relations/image management, Minnesota Twins’ senior manager of season business retention and service.
  • Lindsay Kray '04, graduate in marketing and business communication, Arizona Coyotes’ vice president of client services and guest experience.
  • Curt Krizan ’93, graduate in accounting, the Fiesta Bowl’s chief financial and ticket revenue officer.
  • Jason Lewis '81, graduate in business administration/finance, Oklahoma State University Athletics’ executive senior associate athletic director for business and finance.
  • Stacy Sazama '99, graduate in public relations, Minnesota Golf Association’s membership services director.

Krizan understands the challenges the sports industry faced during the past year.

The Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl between Oregon and Iowa State allowed just 1,500 relatives of players into the 65,000-seat stadium because of pandemic protocols. In addition, the Guaranteed Rate Bowl that the Fiesta Bowl sponsors in Phoenix was canceled.

“The biggest thing is being flexible, having an open mind and being creative,” Krizan says.

Among the innovations undertaken by Fiesta Bowl staff during the pandemic, Krizan says, was an effort to call every season ticket holder to strengthen relationships with them.

The Fiesta Bowl also partnered with nonprofits on new events to help community organizations that also were financially suffering because of COVID-19.

Fall symposium

The April 2 webinar is a preview of a larger in-person fall semester symposium scheduled for Sept. 17 that will feature up to 15 alumni who have careers in the sports industry.

The alumni who will attend the September in-person event want to meet and assist Blugolds who would like to break into the sports industry.

“They loved sports, but the way to be in the sports industry was through the front office and not as an athlete,” Doran says of the alumni who want to give back to UW-Eau Claire.

Krizan came up with the idea for a gathering of alumni working in sports while socializing with another Blugold, 1996 graduate Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events, at a Fiesta Bowl spring summit a few years ago.

“I’ve got a passion for Eau Claire. I’m a Midwest guy,” Krizan says. “It’s all about relationships and being in contact with folks. Something I tell students and new employees is to always value and cultivate your relationships.

“I always try to reach out to other people in the industry. They have really great ideas.”

Doran would like to see seminars and symposiums on the sports industry continue in ensuing years and potentially lead to internships for Blugolds.

UW-Eau Claire has a sports management course in the College of Business, and Doran would like to see it expand to a more formal area of emphasis and eventually into a degree program because of an increased demand for professionals in the sports industry.