Congratulations on the new position. What was your background prior to coming to the Oregon Sports Authority?
I have owned a brand experience and live event agency with my brother Tom for 24 years, based in Portland, Oregon. We have been very fortunate to work with some great properties and brands like ESPN, the College Football Playoff, Nike, Adidas, USA Today and Tracktown USA. I always have been around the brand and sports event space. We are the sons of a college athletic director that still today is the longest tenured AD in the history of college sports. He retired back in 2004 from the University of Portland and we always grew up going to events. My earliest memories are being at the ballfield or the gym with my dad coaching the teams. We were a small mid-major school where if you were the son of the baseball coach, that meant dragging the field, cutting the grass and working in the clubhouse or pressbox.
How did the Oregon Sports Authority opportunity come about?
With our agency most of our engagements take place somewhere else in the country, but we live and work in Portland. We care deeply about it and we’ve always been a supporter and a friend of my predecessor CEO Drew Mahalic and Meyer Freeman (current COO). When Drew announced his retirement, I was talking to a few other sports marketing and brand peers in the marketplace discussing who’s going to take this job because it was all in our best interests that we find the right person. We are in a great moment, and Drew had built a great base. So how do we build upon that? We were throwing names around and that went on for a couple of months. And then finally, someone said “You would be great at this because your passion for the city and state and your experiences are really relevant to the position and the opportunities ahead of us.” And I was going “no, no, I have a job already.” I just couldn’t get my head around stepping out of my agency because it’s our baby. However, I started thinking harder about it and I decided I don’t necessarily have to close that chapter. I can hand the keys over. We’ve got a great management team in our agency, we’ve been doing it for 24 years. With this is a new challenge and new chapter. I can take all those experiences I had as an entrepreneur in working with brands and events, and apply those to the benefit of the Oregon Sports Authority.
What are you striving to achieve organizationally?
There has been a great foundation to work from but it’s been bootstrapped until the last 5-10 years. We are a membership-driven organization from a funding model. I want to capitalize on continuing to grow our membership, but we need to look at building annuities where we can reinvest proceeds into our local communities to grow this bigger. I love building a consensus and working with groups to reach a common goal, whether it’s the commercial side, the property side, the media side or the community side.
What type of annuities are you speaking of?
Events right now. So, if we look at ourselves compared to some other successful commissions and authorities – I think that we’re in a unique position in that we are known as the epicenter for certain sports because of our states natural, intellectual and property assets. We are the de facto sportswear and footwear capital of the world. Virtually nothing happens in the sports industry that doesn’t connect back to Portland in some form or fashion because of the people that work at Nike, Adidas or Columbia Sportswear – we are a community that has global influence in sports because of their corporate presence in Oregon. It’s a huge industry that exists in our state, and it’s a major portion of our economy. I think there are 119,000 people in the state employed in the sports industry, so that’s huge for a state that has 2.4 million people. So, you look at that, and you say “how do we capitalize on that even more?”
What are you good at in Oregon?
The natural resource field. We have so many spots in Oregon, whether it’s action sports or active sports. We have a diverse natural landscape that creates a lot of opportunities for us from an action sports standpoint. We are great hosts – you might come here for a sporting event, but then suddenly you discover that we’re one of the greatest wine regions in the world and we’re the brewing capital of the world. There are more breweries in Portland than any other city in the world. Partially because of that, the farm to fork movement has exploded here with locally-grown organic foods and great restaurateurs. Combine these things and they all come together to form a unique opportunity for us to create great experiences for people and drive the economic side of this business in our communities.
What about from a grassroots level? The small destinations, facilities, colleges or universities. How important are they to your growth?
Very, very important. Since half the population lives in Portland Metro area, it would be easy to just kind of put blinders on and lock into Portland, but that wouldn’t serve our purpose and our constituents. So now we’re working with Travel Oregon to build a sports coalition with 7 destination market regions around the state. We are aggregating sports facility and hospitality assets and starting the process of branding that and creating a one-stop shop which will allow each of those targeted markets to hopefully realize their potential, but also open some eyes on how they might be able to strategically work alongside each other to leverage their assets.
What makes you most excited in your first few months on the job?
There is a lot going on and actually the pace of the days has been a little faster than I thought it would be – I’m excited by that. It’s my first job change in 24 years and I’m really excited about the enthusiasm and commitment from the stakeholders, how excited they are, and about what’s in front of us. We have a really compelling story now with a headquarters hotel coming on-line in a couple of years next to the Oregon Convention Center. In the last couple of years, we have grown our capacity of hotels in Portland by 40 percent downtown, and it will grow another 30-40 percent in the next three to four years. There are also numerous other exciting projects coming online over the next several years throughout the state.
I think that there are a lot of opportunities in the middle that aren’t as shiny as the mega-events but are real economic drivers. There are really exciting dynamics and baselines for us to operate off of and it creates a really amazing canvas that we can paint here. We’ve just touched the surface and I think if we can change our revenue model where we can more proactively and aggressively go after bids that are available without having to pass the hat around. There are a lot of events that are very interested in Oregon.
Our mission really is economic: drive prosperity for our communities and improve life and opportunity of people in our communities – whether that’s through job creation or how can we impact youth today, because they are the future of sports.
Jim Etzel | CEO of Oregon Sports Authority