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Each Wednesday, Lecturer David Cho flies from his home in Portland, Oregon to Ann Arbor to teach his Thursday sport management course in the School of Kinesiology. A little over 24 hours later, he flies back to Portland Friday morning.
“What inspires me is my connection to this place,” Cho said. “I am a law school and business school grad, I met my wife here and I have such strong ties to the University that the opportunity to teach my first class at Michigan far outweighs the time and travel to get here. For me, I always thought that if I did have the opportunity to teach it would start at a smaller university or a less prestigious university. I never thought I would get my first opportunity at a place like Michigan.”
Cho earned a J.D./M.B.A. at the University of Michigan in 2006 after graduating from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. Cho is currently the director of partnership activation and event retail at adidas America.
In this role, Cho manages a team that operates adidas retail programs outside of the approximately 200 traditional adidas retail stores. His team manages the NHL New York City store and partners with events including ComplexCon, the U.S. Open and the Boston Marathon. Cho felt teaching was a natural progression in his career and something he had always wanted to do. He even thought of a course and created a rough draft of a syllabus before he met with a University representative.
The course Sports Marketing, Sponsorship, and Branding: Leveraging Athletes, Teams and Leagues in Today’s Dynamic Sports Landscape is divided into two halves. The first half is an evaluation of sports marketing assets such as athletes, teams and leagues. The second half focuses on athletic footwear and apparel business and how the product is put into market and consumer communication.
The course culminates in a final project in which students identify a hypothetical issue faced by an athlete, team, brand or league and use their knowledge from the class to devise a way to address the issue. During his time at the University, Cho completed this same project and he said it was this project that propelled him into his sport management career, beginning with a position at Nike.
“I think it’s the ability to critically analyze what they see in the sports industry, what they see from the outside as an insider, and allows them to see beyond the messaging … and think about what the actual plan was, what was the problem, what the goal in the product (was),” Cho said. “The hope is that they can think at a level that would provide value to an actual company, see if they can get to that level of thought and analysis that would equal or add value to the actual people in the industry.”
While not a practicing lawyer, Cho is a member of the State Bar of California and said his legal background helps him in his position at the University.
“It has helped me more and more as my career has gone on, particularly in my last role at adidas, specifically in Basketball Sports Marketing. Our global partnership with the NBA involved a number of larger partnership legal agreements and smaller agreements,” Cho said. “It has always helped that I can approach those and review them and finalize them with our actual legal team. So not practicing law but being able to bring the business context with an agreement to a discussion with our legal team as we are finalizing amendments.”
Cho credits his mentors at and beyond the University for providing him with crucial knowledge and experience in his industry.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of terrific mentors at both brands who have shared all of their previous experience with me and allowed me to span a larger time frame than my actual time in the industry,” Cho said. “So I’ve had the fortunate ability to work with a number of 20-plus year veterans at Nike and adidas that have shared a lot of their experiences with me in addition to the direct first hand experiences that I’ve had and it’s a combination of those two that have allowed me to get this far.”
Cho’s dedication to the University and his newfound love of teaching inspires him to provide students the same wisdom he received as he worked in the sports industry.
“I love it,” Cho said. “I absolutely love teaching. It’s something I think I’ve been subconsciously preparing for my entire time in the sports industry that I have only consciously started to think about and now plan for but it's incredibly rewarding. For me, it’s giving back to the students that same experience and wisdom that my previous mentors and colleagues gave to me as I was going through the industry. I have no idea if I'll teach another class but even this one opportunity is more than I ever hoped or expected for.”
Kelli Donahue, associate program chair and senior lecturer at the Sport Management Program, first met with Cho to discuss the possibility of a lecture.
“It's very exciting to have David teaching for us this semester in Sport Management,” Donahue wrote in an email interview. “David's career working on NBA global partnerships and marketing for adidas is one that many of our students hope to emulate, and for them to learn from David first hand is immensely valuable.”
Kinesiology senior Cameron Dotson said in an email interview he has enjoyed being in Cho’s course this semester. Dotson was a former intern at Under Armour where he met one of Cho’s early mentors. He said he values Cho’s previous experience and the lessons he teaches in his course.
“I think the best thing I have learned from David is the value of being a good person and just looking to do the right thing when you can. Through our conversations, as well as personal examples that he's spoken on in lecture, it seems as though he really prioritizes ethical work, and being altruistic in a fast-paced, exciting industry,” Dotson wrote. “I think I speak for all of my classmates when I say that I hope we stay in touch in the future!”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article referred to the School of Kinesiology as a department