Dave Cowan first put on a pair of skates and grabbed a hockey stick when he was three years old.
He’s played for minor pro hockey leagues, including the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League, for a decade. Except for a two-year stint in the oil and gas industry, his entire career has been focused on hockey.
So it’s no wonder he turned to Athabasca University’s MBA in Hockey Management and Business of Hockey Institute’s Certified Hockey Professional designation to continue developing a career in the sport that he loves.
“The program was recommended to me as a great way to build my knowledge and understanding of the business side of hockey,” he says.
The Certified Hockey Professional (CHP) program was created by the Business of Hockey Institute (BHI), and is delivered through Athabasca University (AU), who in 1994 pioneered a successful model to deliver the world’s first fully interactive online MBA.
“This program was designed as a specialized hockey program from the ground up,” says Manav Deol, managing director of BHI, a non-profit organization that collaborated with AU to provide course content designed to elevate the business side of Canada’s game.
“From our perspective, hockey organizations would benefit greatly from investing in the education and professional development of their employees working on the business side of operations, similar to teams investing in player development,” he says.
BHI was conceived by prominent NHLPA player agent Ritch Winter, and Brian Burke, president of hockey operations with the Calgary Flames. Its board of directors includes some of the biggest names in the hockey industry, including Scott Smith, COO of Hockey Canada; Craig Button, hockey analyst at TSN; Craig MacTavish, senior vice-president of hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers; and Ron Robison, commissioner of the Western Hockey League.
They worked closely with AU, leading hockey executives, and sports academics to create the CHP designation and an MBA with a focus on the business of hockey.
Deol notes the program was developed to meet increased demands for solid business skills in the hockey industry.
“Specialized education is important in an environment where hockey has to constantly try and keep up with other major North American sports,” he says.
The six courses that make up the Certified Hockey Professional – Professional Education Program (CHP-PrEP) reflect that: The Business of Hockey; Marketing Hockey Strategically; Integrated Marketing Communications for Hockey; Game Day Management and Marketing; Hockey Operations; and Managing Franchises Strategically.
Students who complete these six courses, and obtain the requisite management experience in the hockey industry, are eligible to earn the CHP designation from BHI.
Working inside hockey you sometimes take it for granted that it’s a very exciting industry, and working with students from other industries also helps to hit that home.
Cowan works with Bauer Hockey in the elite athlete service in Western Canada, where he serves professional hockey players one-on-one to provide customized sports equipment and help manage endorsement deals. His responsibilities include working with players from four NHL hockey teams—the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks—the entire Western Hockey League, and the Canadian men’s and women’s national teams, better known as Team Canada.
“All told I look after the equipment needs of about 500 athletes,” he says. “There’s a lot going on in terms of scheduling, planning, travelling, and working with the various teams.”
He started the MBA in Hockey Management program in August 2017. Despite an already hectic work schedule, he’s completed three of the required courses and has started a fourth.
“The flexibility of the program is a definite asset,” Cowan says. “But with the independence to manage your own schedule comes a lot of responsibility. You need to maintain your motivation and commitment to move ahead.”
Cowan says he appreciates the targeted hockey content, but is equally inspired by interactions with his peers on group projects. Students keep in touch through a virtual environment, conference calls, and text messaging to complete group assignments.
“There are a lot of smart students enrolled in each course and you can always rely on them to reach into their backgrounds to help everyone get the most out of the program,” he says. “Working on a hockey promotion project we got some excellent input from a student in the oil and gas industry on how they would handle a similar promotion. Life experience and cross-industry insights count for a lot.
“Working inside hockey you sometimes take it for granted that it’s a very exciting industry and working with students from other industries also helps to hit that home.”
Cowan is aiming to complete his CHP and MBA in Hockey Management in the summer of 2019 and says he intends to use the knowledge he’s gained to advance his hockey career.
That’s what the program was designed for, says Deol.
“Our program equips graduates with a skillset that allows them to elevate their performance in hockey-related roles and implement innovative business strategies to improve the economic viability of the sport.”