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Jackson Donahue: From D1 Athlete to the Business Side of Sports

Written by Jackson Donahue, M.S. in Sports Management student

My background in sports consists mainly of the “on-court/field” perspective and how the sport industry functions from a player/team approach. However, I was able to get a glimpse early on in my college career of what the industry looks like beyond the game, and I was instantly fascinated. I knew that eventually “the ball would stop rolling” for me and my athletic career, but the love for the game and the environment of sports would never cease. I have plenty of close friends who have taken traditional business jobs right out of college and indicated that they desperately want to make the transition to a more sports related field ASAP, but experience obstacles making the switch. I didn’t want to lose out on those years, and knew I wanted to get right into the industry. But, I felt like I was under equipped in terms of my knowledge of all things sports business so I wanted to find a program that would set me up for a successful future in the industry.

My interest in Columbia stems from my undergrad. I was enrolled in a class during my Freshman year called Sports Business Management. The professor was our very own Scott Rosner and it was the most engaging class that I had ever been a part of, and was the inspiration for my desire to make this subject my focus for a Masters. Upon Senior year, I had discovered that Professor Rosner had become the CU Sports Management Director and knew that this was a program that I wanted and needed to be associated with!

What is most exciting for me is that this is the first step in my professional career and, so far, I’m beyond grateful to have this opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in the industry.

My graduate school experience has been exceptional thus far. During my undergrad, there would be many instances where I just wasn’t engaged with the material that was being delivered. So far, I haven’t experienced that once during my first full year with the program. I truly am enjoying every component of each class that I have taken thus far. Additionally, the diversity of experiences amongst the faculty is so vast that there isn’t a sports industry question or issue that I can think of, that can’t be solved or answered by a CU Sports Management Faculty member. I have been able to grow my knowledge of the industry immensely with the assistance of all the professors.

The biggest difference that comes to mind between grad school and undergrad would be relationship building and communication skills. With the abundance of guest lectures, panels, conferences, and other events that have been coordinated by our programs, I have been able to meet hundreds of industry professionals and connect with them personally. I have gotten a greater understanding of how to properly “pitch” myself when having introductory conversations as well as how to actively follow up with these new connections after the fact.

I have been able to meet hundreds of industry professionals and connect with them personally.

My path is a bit unique in this sense because I joined this program directly out of my undergrad. So, I hadn’t really established a professional career just yet, but leaned on my lifetime involvement in all things sports to pursue this degree specifically at this extraordinary institution.

One of the greatest advantages that this program provides is the career services faculty that makes it their priority to place you where you want to be. Barbara, Bess, and Tony have been pivotal in establishing connections for me early on and getting me on the right track to secure a dream position. Their ability to get to know each student individually and remember each person's interests while they coordinate with companies regarding openings is a HUGE advantage for the students of the sports management program.

There are a multitude of elements that make Columbia University distinct from other universities and colleges. One of the many valuable features of the University is the diversification of students. The vast array of students from all across the globe fosters engaging and thought provoking discussion in the classroom, and provides all students with a holistic experience rooted in different perspectives and insights. In addition to the students at Columbia, the professors at the University are world-class in that they truly understand the industry. Their knowledge and expertise are translated through the classes they teach. From my experience, Columbia really challenges me to think outside the box, and encourages me to dive into real-world opportunities. My courses and internships are not tied to the classroom, but instead they provide me with experiences that give me a first-hand look into my career passions, connect me to leaders in the field, and transform my thinking. Together, these features certainly make Columbia a world-class institution.

The program will introduce me to fields I have never studied before, such as sports analytics, sports law, and more. It will enhance my knowledge of fields I have some experience in, such as sports marketing, digital media, and leadership. Most importantly, it will give me a high level view into all of the moving parts that allow the sports industry to thrive. Outside of the classroom, this program has and will introduce me to so many new people who either currently hold positions in the industry or plan the break onto the scene like myself. Columbia Sports Management surrounds you with all the right people to get you excited, educated, and experienced in all things sports!


Editor's Note: Updates (January 24, 2024)

  • Donahue has been working at Spry since February 2020.
  • In October 2023 became a Senior Account Executive.