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UW-Eau Claire set path for alum’s career as ESPN executive

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire alumnus Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events, works with the division's senior manager of events, Stephanie Grant, during the 2018 Champions Classic early-season college basketball game in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

Clint Overby hadn’t figured out a clear career path in the mid-1990s when as a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire undergraduate he landed a part-time job in the school’s sports information office. Overby just figured it might be fun to sit courtside compiling statistics at Blugold basketball games.

Clint Overby

Clint Overby

One day Overby was in the office of then-sports information director Tim Petermann when Overby’s boss asked him to retrieve the National Directory of College Athletics from a shelf. Overby grabbed the hefty directory and paged through it, looking at the thousands of names in the publication.

“I thought, ‘All these people have jobs in college sports?’” Overby recalls. “This is a profession? Who knew? I said, ‘Shoot, that’s for me.’

“Working for Petermann kind of shaped my career choice. Just being in that enterprise and being around it put me in a position to do what I do today.”

More than a quarter-century later, the UW-Eau Claire alumnus is vice president of ESPN Events, a division of the iconic sports network that produces 35 collegiate sporting events nationwide, including early-season football games, bowl games, basketball events, award shows and a softball event. The events reach nearly 64 million viewers and attract more than 800,000 attendees each year.

Overby, who has worked for ESPN for 19 years, is involved in the creation and operation of the national and international events.

“I’m super fortunate to have a job that I love and enjoy doing,” says Overby, 48, who works at ESPN Events’ Charlotte, North Carolina, headquarters. “I also recognize that any job has its challenges, but I appreciate what I have been able to do. I’ve been able to go literally all over the world.

“Every day is different. I love the fact I may be working in different elements. I like the challenge and the diversity of it.”

Pete Derzis, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming and events, says company executives quickly recognized Overby’s leadership abilities when Overby worked for the company in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. He relocated to North Carolina to take on a larger role with ESPN Events.

“Clint has extraordinary capacity to deal with a myriad of issues in our complex business,” says Derzis, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming and events. “His leadership is focused on the business, and he articulates the goals of the business to his colleagues that manage our portfolio of events.”

Derzis praised Overby’s strong work ethic at ESPN, “probably a direct result of growing up in Wisconsin and living the Midwestern work-ethic model — and he still roots for the Packers!”

“He is well respected and liked by colleagues and clients, and definitely has room to continue to grow his career at ESPN,” Derzis says.

UW-Eau Claire left its mark

A career as a sports executive was not a goal of Overby’s growing up in Waupaca. As a high school student, he hadn’t even considered attending UW-Eau Claire until he saw the community for the first time on a football recruiting visit.

“I saw the campus and fell in love with it,” Overby says. “It felt like a good fit. I liked the people; it felt comfortable like I could get a lot out of it.”

Overby had an injury-plagued Blugold football career as a safety on former-coach Jim Lind’s teams before dropping the sport his junior year.

By then, Overby had found another type of love after meeting his future wife, Deanna Bork. He also had switched his major to kinesiology with a minor in business, expanded his interests to the sports information field and worked as a parliamentarian in the student government office.

All those activities helped him become a well-rounded student and person who was more prepared for life after graduation.

“It gave me the opportunity to be involved in as much as I wanted to be involved in, the opportunity to grow and expand myself,” Overby says of those diverse activities on the UW-Eau Claire campus. “It offered me, a small-town kid, the ability to see the larger world that I wasn’t seeing at the time.”

By the time he graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1996, Overby knew he wanted a career in the sports industry. He earned his master’s degree in sports management at the University of Kentucky, then worked at Host Communications in Dallas for four years before moving to ESPN in 2001.

Overby said his time as a marketing manager at Host Communications was invaluable, adding that company founder Jim Host is considered the creator of the college sports marketing business.

“I’ve had the good fortune to be around a lot of people in the college sports industry who were true pioneers in the business,” Overby says. “To be around them and see things firsthand has helped guide me personally and professionally.

“People like Pete that I work with at ESPN helped start the division and steer it to what it is today. That’s super rewarding and valuable.”

Meeting fellow Blugolds

Overby’s sports marketing work has introduced him to fellow Blugolds around the country.

Curt Krizan

Curt Krizan

Curt Krizan, chief financial officer for the Fiesta Bowl in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a 1993 UW-Eau Claire accounting graduate who met Overby about six years ago at a college football function.

“Clint is a successful business executive as evidenced by his VP role at ESPN,” Krizan says. “We’ve collaborated on a few projects and he’s always been a great partner.” 

While they didn’t know each at UW-Eau Claire, Krizan says he and Overby have shared stories about their college days and have a bond as Blugolds.

“There’s a certain sense of familiarity and trust with someone you know who attended UWEC,” Krizan says.

“As I’ve learned, Blugolds have taken the skills they learned in Eau Claire and branched out around the country and world. I’ve learned it’s really a small world as I bump into alumni at different events every year.”

Krizan and Overby may be back on the UW-Eau Claire campus in September 2021. Krizan developed an idea about two years ago and worked with Dr. Brewer Doran, dean of the College of Business, to put together a “Business of Sports” summit at the university featuring Blugolds who work in the sports industry.

“I’ve identified nearly 20 UWEC alumni who now work in collegiate or professional sports and nearly all were interested in making it back to campus to share their experiences with the students and professors,” Krizan says. “I’m excited for the opportunity and can’t wait to connect with the Blugold alumni and the students.”

Fond memories of UW-Eau Claire

Overby says he’s been at gatherings on the East Coast when the discussion inevitably turns to the universities that people attended. Overby says few people have heard of UW-Eau Claire, but he knows his experiences as a Blugold prepared him to be successful in the workplace.

“What I appreciate is that I got the same exact experience and outcome, and could immerse myself more, than if I had gone to a more name-brand-recognized school,” Overby says.

“I can’t emphasize enough the people at UW-Eau Claire — every administrator, every professor, every person associated with the school — they truly wanted you to be successful, to find your way.”

And he has some sound advice for current Blugolds to make the most of their college years.

“Get involved and foster your passions,” Overby says. “I think the thing I would tell people is just because it’s not a traditional route doesn’t make it not right. Just because your box doesn’t align with the boxes provided doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for you.”