In 2008, after years of building relationships with the sports properties at America's leading colleges and universities, former FOX Sports President Randy Freer saw an opportunity for the company to deepen its relationships with university partners and provide students with valuable work experience. Freer, who is now President and COO of FOX Networks Group, put forward plans to launch FOX Sports University, an academic initiative giving college students hands-on training in the sports business. The program has expanded rapidly in the years since, growing from two schools in 2008 to nearly 40 in 2017. With more than 5,000 participants to date, FOX Sports University continues to allow students across the country to develop their sports industry skills in an applied professional setting.
FOX Sports University consists of a semester-long course in which students at top business and journalism schools work directly with FOX Sports executives to address a real challenge facing the business. At the beginning of the course, the executives outline a marketing, research, technology, or business challenge, and the students spend the semester working in groups to craft their solution. After a semester of working collaboratively, the groups pitch their proposals to their professor and the FOX Sports executives, with one group coming away as the winner. This process has resulted in a number of innovative projects that FOX Sports has incorporated into its business, from dynamic social media strategies to bold regional ad campaigns.
FOX Sports piloted the program during the 2008-2009 academic year at the University of Florida and the University of Southern California, and all parties, including the students, professors, and FOX Sports representatives, responded enthusiastically. "We had such success with the first two schools, Florida and USC, that we knew we were on to something," Chris Hannan, EVP of Communications at FOX Sports, later told Forbes in November 2014. The inaugural projects at the two universities resulted in two ad campaigns used on-air in regional networks, one for Sunday morning coverage of the Florida Gators football season and another for local coverage of the Los Angeles Angels.
Word of mouth spread quickly, and professors at other universities began reaching out to FOX Sports to bring the program to their students. FOX Sports University has generated student-led projects for the FOX Sports regional networks, team partners such as the St. Louis Rams, and league partners such as the MLB, NASCAR, and the USGA. Many of these partners have also hired students out of the program.
Hannan has said that FOX Sports University provides value not only to students looking to gain experience and build their resumes but also to FOX Sports itself. "For the students, [FOX Sports University] is a way for them to get real world experience and an opportunity for them to expand what they're doing at the school," he said while promoting the program on The Willis Report. "And for us, we've now got some of the youngest, brightest minds working on our properties in all different facets."
With FOX Sports University now operating nearly 40 schools across the country, students and professors have embraced the program as a powerful educational tool. Anna Folwell, a graduate of the FOX Sports University program at the University of North Carolina who now works for FOX Sports, cited the comprehensive nature of the program as its defining characteristic. "Seeing an idea that started in the library come to life and actually be executed and broadcast on air was an experience you can't really get in any other classroom," she said. "We have top-level executives come in and help you craft a campaign that comes from your original idea, and then you get to follow it all the way through."
Professors at participating universities have spoken highly of the program, as well. "There is a significant demonstrated growth in confidence from the time my students walk in the classroom in January to the time they walk out in May," said Judy Foxman, Senior Lecturer of Marketing at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business. "Their confidence has grown exponentially in their communication ability and their professionalism. You can just sense it... It's a rigorous, hands on dress rehearsal of what you will be doing once you're out in the real world."
Nearly 100 FOX Sports University participants have gone on to work for FOX Sports, either through internships or full-time employment. Even more students have been referred to FOX Sports partners for employment opportunities as they approach graduation.
"When they talk to their peers or talk in their interviews for jobs, they can discuss the real-world project they did with FOX Sports and what they learned from it," said Marty Kohr, Senior Associate Director of Career Services for Employer Engagement at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. "That's very powerful. To me, that's one of the key objectives of the program."