With Colorado Springs branded as Olympic City USA and 59 professional sports organizations across the city, Ian Ratz, assistant director of the sport management program at UCCS, networks with sports professionals every chance he can get to connect university students to sports business opportunities.
In addition to developing community relationships to establish new internships, Ratz also advises sport management students in the College of Business, teaches the sports science course and is focused on elevating the program’s resources to enhance student success.
The 35-year-old took time to talk to the Business Journal about his background, his role in helping shape students’ goals and the Olympic movement.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Juneau, Alaska, and raised in Fairbanks. The first half of my childhood was in Alaska and the second half was in Minneapolis. I grew up swimming, playing baseball, basketball and began skiing at age 3.
What brought you to Colorado Springs?
I was offered a job with USA Swimming. My wife and I came from Michigan and were itching to get away. I’d done an internship with USA Swimming five years before I accepted the job. I started the role in 2009, right after the Olympic Games of 2008. I worked at USA Swimming for a year and a half until the national team got [reorganized] in 2010. I had my dream job — working with national teams and helping swimmers with their performance and technique. When I got laid off, I was devastated and thought, ‘How could I find anything better?’ After being laid off, I worked at the YMCA and oversaw the healthy living department. I worked on personal training and development programs for our members, and also handled the budget, finance and the management side of things.
How did you get connected with UCCS?
A colleague of mine at USA Swimming was in this position before me.
When she left, she suggested to the director to consider me for the position. Working with students is where the rubber hits the road. Students are the No. 1 joy in my job and the reason I’m at UCCS. Their careers are shaping, they’re maturing and figuring out who they are as adults. I get to teach and I’m still involved in sports, so I love those aspects. I love it when students call us a family, because that’s the culture we’re trying to create: safety, support and advocacy.
I’m also in the MBA program at UCCS to improve my formal business training.
How popular is the soccer track?
We’re progressing with the number of students we’re sending to Europe each year. Last March, we formalized a partnership with the Colorado Rapids to create a specific track. The program has been around since 2008, started by Eric Olson, the director of the sport management program at UCCS. He’s currently in Europe securing internships for students with a soccer passion. Soccer is the globe’s biggest sport and is soon to be the U.S.’s most popular sport, according to some studies, and is second to the NFL in the male 18- to 25-year-old demographic. Where confusion comes in is people thinking, “You’ve got a soccer degree, how cool. You’re just a soccer program now and don’t have access to other sports, right?” That’s not it at all. We are a part of the College of Business so our students earn a bachelor’s in business. The goal is for them to become a business executive. They could be coaches, but not athletic trainers or physical therapists. The soccer track is in the sport management program; it’s not a soccer management degree.
How do you connect students with industry?
I serve on the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance Sport Economy team with about 15 to 20 people from different sports, in different positions. We meet monthly and discuss how to keep sport [in] and bring sport to Colorado Springs. It’s a great networking opportunity. I’ve built relationships and stayed connected in Colorado Springs because I enjoy it and see the value for their organizations and our students, to create that cross-[pollination].
The Colorado Springs Sports Corporation hosts quite a few events in the community we attend. We support them and a lot of networking takes place.
What’s been one of your biggest challenges?
Trying to set our students’ expectations realistic to the industry.
About 75 percent of incoming students say they want to be the general manager of ‘fill in the blank.’ I think the majority of them know they won’t graduate and become a general manager, because there is a ladder to climb.
But I still think there is a level of expectation that just can’t be met and you have to be flexible. I got laid off two years into my professional career. How do you deal with adversity, the curve balls life throws at you? In the program we want to help shape students’ goals without deflating them.
How can the city retain young professionals?
The retention piece is one of the city’s biggest struggles, with Denver close by.
I think the dating scene is hard in Colorado Springs, that is one thing I hear quite a bit. The dating scene is a challenge to begin with and then when you find your partner and that person is either living in Denver or moves there as soon as the relationship takes off — it pulls the other person there too.
Even if you’re commuting to the Springs, you’re still not living in the city, so the economic impact isn’t the same such as with rentals and dining.
Colorado Springs has access to the mountains and a high amount of quality people. I also think the Olympic movement is a good draw. It’s a good career starter because it allows you to see so many aspects of the industry. Colorado Springs has the big city convenience and small town feel.