The Art of Science and Brand Management

“The biggest ‘aha!’ moment for me came in the first class—we are talking about a three hour class—the deep engagement by the students,” said Greg Hoffman, one of the latest industry experts to join the ranks of teaching faculty at the UO Sports Product Management Program in Portland.

Following a trailblazing career at Nike, Hoffman is teaching the program’s Sports Branding course.

“In this program, your business cases as an instructor are informed by your actual lived-in experience,” said Hoffman. “You didn’t read about it—you lived it—and therefore you’re able to deliver that message in a way that’s honest and real and meaningful. We, the faculty, through our professional networks, are able to bring an entire world of expertise in a given field into the classroom and that’s what this program does.”

The course covers everything from defining what a brand is, to building brand equity, creating brand positioning, defining a brand’s personality, all the way to creating a brand name, and brand identity, Hoffman said.

“It’s really the art and science of brand management and marketing,” he explained. “Our students live and engage with brands every day of their life—food and beverage brands, car brands, even the University of Oregon is a brand, so there’s a lot of passion for conversation around this.”

He said the three-hour class meetings allow for a more comprehensive discussion with students pursuing their master of science in sports product management.

“One of the advantages I want them to leave this course with is the confidence to talk about brands and why they are effective—what makes a strong brand and what takes a good brand to a great one,” he said. “These students have that capacity, and they’ve been showing it.”

Pivoting from c-level leadership at one of the world’s largest brands to teaching sports branding at the university where the athletic shoe giant was born represents the continuation of Hoffman’s two life passions—design and sport.

Hoffman was aware of the program before he was approached to teach and had noticed its commitment to diversity.

“To bring more diverse representation into the professions of branding, marketing and innovation, it has to start at the school level, with a commitment at the top,” he said. “One of the reasons I’ve come on board is because I have seen that commitment come to life within the classrooms of the Sports Product Management program. “When I showed up, I saw we were walking the talk and that was really inspiring.”

Although teaching the course this fall was a first for Hoffman as an instructor, his connections to the program’s leadership run back 30 years to 1992.

Before Hoffman was a global brand leader, he was a freshly minted graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design looking for an opportunity. That came in the form of a design internship with Nike that summer. During the internship, he was tasked with creating a poster announcing a contest where you could win a lunch with the design legend, Tinker Hatfield, as well as Shelly Gourlay, now director of UO Sports Product Management, who at the time served in research, design, and development and human resources at Nike. Of course, Shelly and Tinker would be paying for the lunch!

In a move that would define his future, Hoffman loaded up his parents’ Ford Econoline van and headed west.

“I drove it the 27 hours to Beaverton because all I had was the address of the internship. I got there on a Thursday, but the internship didn’t start till Monday, and I didn’t yet have a place to live so I just slept in the van for three days, in the parking lot of the Murray II building at Nike,” Hoffman recalled.

The sacrifice was worth it, and a spectacular career unfolded for Hoffman, including roles as chief marketing officer, vice president of global brand creative, and vice president of global brand innovation, among other titles.

Hoffman retired from Nike in 2020 and will continue to share his real-world experience first-hand with our master of science in Sports Product Management students in upcoming courses in winter and next fall.

“I never intended to stay there 27 years, but it’s a full circle moment coming all the way back around,” he said. “I’m teaching branding at the UO where the cofounders of Nike were both coach and student. So to go from intern all the way to chief marketing officer over that time was a journey that I could have never predicted, but I’m thankful for every day.”

—AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom ’05

Maria Flores

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