Postgraduate diary: 'I was out of my comfort zone'


Ask around undergraduate bars and common rooms and one major complaint about doing a postgraduate course is that it'll increase the size of your overdraft. But with a little bit of ingenuity, it doesn't have to.

Ben Pollard is midway through a Masters in sports marketing at Coventry University. He's adopted a formula that doesn't send him deeper into the red. "I looked at universities in London which had similar courses, but some were charging around £12,000 fees – and then I'd have to pay for accommodation and food," he explains. "The Coventry fees are £4,800. I can live at home and continue with the part-time weekend job I had when I was an undergraduate." He commutes on a daily basis between his home in Leicestershire and Coventry, keeping his finances on an even keel.

That Pollard is doing this course at all highlights another current phenomenon: the difficulties that many graduates experience in landing that first job.

"I got my results – a 2.1 in sports marketing from the University of Lincoln – in mid-June and for about two to three months I was applying for jobs and going to interviews," he explains. "But I got rather frustrated with the job market – you had to have experience as well as a degree. I decided to do a Masters, hoping that the extra qualification would help me get a job in 12 months' time."

Since September, he's been one of two Brits among a multinational dozen on the Coventry sports marketing course, which runs alongside a sports management Masters that's about 20-strong, but equally international. "They're from all over the world: Germany, France, Bulgaria, India, Taiwan, China and Japan," he explains. "This gives an international feel when we are doing case studies. It takes you out of your comfort zone, compared with when I was an undergraduate, largely surrounded by English students with English experiences."

The course content tries to keep pace with the ever-increasing role of sponsorship and marketing in sport. "It's about understanding the decision-making processes of consumers when they decide to involve themselves in sport in any way, whether it's participating or watching as a spectator or on television," he says.

To this end, there are modules on branding, naming rights of grounds and facilities, advertising, PR and market research, each with reference to current case studies from the world of sport. Lessons are three hours long, with the first half usually filled with a traditional lecture, followed by group discussions and teamwork based on a case study.

"When we did naming rights, we looked at how the O2 arena wasn't allowed to be called the O2 during the London 2012 Olympic Games," he says. "The Olympics doesn't allow venues to have sponsors' names attached, so it had to be known as the North Greenwich arena."

After exams in May, Pollard and his colleagues will spend three months either as interns in sports marketing roles – after which a full "company report" has to be written – or engaged on a more traditional research-based dissertation. "In that case, I'd look towards something to do with the Lance Armstrong scandal, and how the television interview he did with Oprah Winfrey will affect his sponsorship deals," he predicts.

Come September, Polard knows he'll be back where he was last August. "At the end of the day it's about finding that first job," he says. "That's when you can start to build experience, and I'm hoping that getting a Masters will help me take that step."

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