Inside one of the nation’s foremost pro-sports front-office incubators
Enter the office of Sports Management Worldwide (SMWW), and you might think you’ve stumbled onto the set of the next hit bromance movie. In fact, this NW Glisan Street space is the headquarters of an online sports-management school that educates thousands of students annually.
On a typical day, “there are six televisions powered on, each showing different games or ESPN,” describes Lynn Lashbrook, founder and president. “We have a pool table, corn hole, mini-golf.” For the five on-site employees, the vibe is “a mix between an office and a sports bar.” Does that include the adult refreshments too? “There’s a fridge in the back with beer in it,” says Liz Lashbrook, SMWW executive director, and Lynn’s wife. “Does that count?”
The couple established their joint enterprise, which bills itself the first ever online sports management school, in 2003. SMWW counts the entire scouting staff of the Portland Timbers among its alumni. Lynn, who holds a doctorate in education, started his career in brick-and-mortar academia, eventually becoming athletic director at University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The Alaska job brought him regularly to the Pacific Northwest, and Lynn was quickly drawn to Portland—“it’s the epicenter of the sports business,” he says, pointing to the corporate presence of Nike, Adidas, and others. He moved to Oregon in the late 1990s, teaching sports management at Oregon State University and Western Oregon University. Along the way, leveraging his collegiate sports contacts, he launched his second career as an agent for NFL football players. (He currently represents Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore, among others.)
Meanwhile, Liz Lashbrook worked in the fitness industry as director of sales and marketing of Cascade Athletic Club. When the movie Jerry Maguire came out in 1996, spurring popular interest in sports management, the couple spotted an opportunity. SMWW launched with what’s still its most popular course, on becoming a sports agent. They promoted the class with a single ad on ESPN radio. “I took a one-month sabbatical to help Lynn start the business,” recalls Liz. “I never went back.” The school grew from there, adding courses in sports analytics, sports technology, and sports marketing, as well as classes in specific sports, from motorsports to rugby and cricket.
SMWW employs more than 35 faculty to teach its eight-week courses, drawing students from more than 140 countries. According to Liz, some 125 to 200 students register each month for classes, which are conducted via online audio conferences. Why audio instead of video? For one thing, there are bandwidth limitations, and audio is less taxing on those connections. Additionally, Lynn thinks it’s an advantage to be heard but not seen. “You’re not thinking about what you look like, you’re thinking about learning,” he says. (Plus, he jokes, “students can drink in my classes. I can’t force them, but I can’t stop them.”)
In addition to the courses—which run between $995 and $1,450 a pop—this dynamic Portland company produces eight sports career conferences throughout the year, some coinciding with major sporting events, like the NHL and MLS drafts.
“We feel blessed to be in the Pearl,” says Lynn, noting that he logs at least 20,000 steps a day walking around the neighborhood, handling business on his cell phone. Although their company is mostly run virtually, the Lashbrooks often host in-person meetings with sports industry notables. “The Pearl is an unbelievable setting for entertaining,” he says. Their regular spots include Deschutes Brewery, BridgePort Brew Pub, and Portland Timbers games. Although the couple resides in Gresham, they own a condo in Tanner Place, which they use to host out-of-town guests.
“We feel blessed to be in the Pearl. The Pearl is an unbelievable setting for entertaining,”
One entity that Lynn has been hoping to entice to Portland (on a permanent basis) has proven quite challenging. In the late ‘90s, Lynn began a campaign to bring a big-league baseball team to town. His case, he says, is crystal clear: “I know Major League Baseball needs more West Coast teams. Either there will be an expansion team, or a team will have to move. We’re the largest [metro area] without a team besides Las Vegas, and Vegas isn’t getting a baseball team anytime soon. Our summers are better than anyone else’s summers,” he lists. “What’s missing is an owner, and an owner is out there. I’ve been saying this for 20 years—I don’t want to be the owner, I’m not capable of being the owner, but I am capable of keeping this thing alive.”
To this end, he launched a website to promote the cause, MustLoveBaseball.com, and he serves as a “dot connector,” asking his contacts in politics and sports to write letters, make phone calls, and keep the door open to the notion.
Lynn says he’s encouraged by recent developments—especially the “Baseball’s Magna Carta” exhibit running at the Oregon Historical Society through October 9, displaying historic documents establishing the rules of the game. “The gods of baseball are looking out for this campaign,” he says. “I professionally, personally, and emotionally believe it will happen someday.” – Alison Stein | Photos by Isaac Lane Koval