Syracuse University Magazine

Rick Burton


He's Got Game

A passion for sports helped lead Rick Burton ’80 to Syracuse University—twice. “As a student, I was interested in journalism, and the combination of a Newhouse education and sports teams competing at the national level made Syracuse irresistible,” says Burton, an internationally renowned expert on the sports industry who served as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief marketing officer during the 2008 Beijing games. “It was the right choice. I did radio work for WAER and WJPZ, wrote for The Daily Orange, and was sports editor of the yearbook.” This fall, Burton’s knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of the multibillion-dollar sports business prompted his return to campus as the first David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management. As a faculty member of the College of Human Ecology’s sport management program, he looks forward to preparing new generations of students for careers in the industry and to developing interdisciplinary teaching and research synergies with students and faculty in management, communications, law, history, hospitality, and other fields. “The connections are endless,” he says.

Burton brings extraordinary credentials to the job. Joining the Miller Brewing Company just months after graduating from SU, he built a reputation during the 1980s as a savvy marketing executive, known for his effective use of sports advertising and product tie-ins. As vice president of Clarion Performance Properties, he had such powerhouse clients as the NFL, Gillette, and Reebok. Demonstrating an ability to keep his eye on the ball from anywhere in the field, Burton, who holds an M.B.A. degree from Marquette, joined the faculty of the University of Oregon in 1995. As first executive director of the James H. Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business, he oversaw establishment of the first master’s degree program to feature a concentration in sports marketing, and published a series of monographs in Sports Marketing Quarterly,Marketing Management, and other peer-reviewed journals. Not stopping to call a time-out, Burton took on a new set of challenges in 2003 when he became commissioner of the Australia-based National Basketball League (NBL). During the first two years of his four-year term, league sponsorship and broadcast revenues rose by more than $5 million. His leadership experiences with the NBL and the U.S. Olympic Committee are likely to open doors for SU students. “I believe that students must be globally versed,” Burton says. “I hope to use my relationships to create internship and networking opportunities in Australia, Singapore, China, and other places where I’ve developed ties, at home and abroad.”

With successful records as both “player” and “coach” in the sports business, Burton is uniquely qualified to comment on its spectacular growth into a $350 billion industry. He associates the rise of sports as an advertising and branding tool with the spread of television during the 1950s, citing such examples as the impressive expansion of the pro football fan base after the NFL’s embrace of the medium and the emergence of golfer Arnold Palmer and others as Madison Avenue superstars. “The sports industry that has grown up since then—broadcasting, licensed products, player endorsements, memorabilia, you name it—it is one of America’s largest industries,” he says. “Yet there are very few academic programs in the country that offer students the comprehensive training they need for leadership positions, or engage in research on how the industry operates. I think that will change, and we plan to lead by example.”

—David Marc

David B. Falk Professorship in Sport Management


Rick Burton '80, Department of Sport Management, College of Human Ecology


The professorship was created with funds from a multimillion-dollar 2008 gift from David '72 and Rhonda Falk '74, establishing the David B. Falk Center for Sport Management at Syracuse University. A pioneer in the representation of professional athletes, David Falk has gone to the table for more than 100 NBA stars, including such all-time greats as Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. The endorsement opportunities and Hollywood crossover packages created by Falk for his clients—including Jordan's legendary Air Jordan shoe campaign for Nike—have repeatedly set industry standards. "David's vision for this field is far ahead of the curve," Burton says.