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Alumni Highlight - Steve Fink
Courtesy: Brad Taylor
Running His Way to the Top: A WIU Grad’s Rise in the Sports Industry
From Iowa to South Carolina, Steve Fink Stayed True to His Core Values
An avid runner, 1984 Western Illinois sport management graduate Steve Fink appreciates the benefits of a life on the go. Now at the helm of the University of South Carolina's Athletic Media Relations, Fink has traveled his way all over the country to one of the most prestigious positions in the field.
The 49-year old from Aplington, Iowa has held prominent positions at a number of well-respected universities and sports organizations in the country all while developing valuable relationships along the way. According to Fink, he created and maintained those connections by staying true to his core values.
“Networking in sports is crucial,” said Fink. “I have always believed in working hard and being true to your core values. At the end of the day, people do things for other people. The more people who know you and your values, the better chance you have at finding success in this field.”
Originally an accounting major at University of Northern Iowa (UNI), Fink decided he wanted to turn his passion of sports into a career after finding an article in the local newspaper about working in sports administration. The thought of working with sports information excited Fink, who was a sports statistics enthusiast throughout his youth.
“I loved sports statistics and was a little bit of a geek when it came to sports,” said Fink. “I loved that side of sports and that passion pushed me towards getting involved in media relations.”
Although he graduated from UNI with a marketing degree in 1982, Fink got his foot in the door of the sports industry by assisting inside the university’s athletic offices for two years. Fink knew that he wanted to pursue a career in sports after graduation and chose to attend Western Illinois University, which was one of only a handful of schools at that time to offer a master’s degree in sports administration.
While at Western, Fink taught classes as part of a teaching assistantship and helped out the WIU media relations' staff at football games. According to Fink, attaining his sports administration degree from Western Illinois made him attractive to potential employers.
“Graduating from Western separated me from the rest of the field and definitely helped me get my first job,” said Fink. “My master’s degree showed employers that I was serious about making sports a career instead of just a hobby.”
Fink got his start in media relations by traveling to the 1983 Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville in search of an internship to complete his master’s degree. While there, Fink interviewed with a minor league baseball team, the Denver Bears (now New Orleans Zephyrs), and was offered a media relations internship.
Fink’s time with the Bears was short, however, a former Bears' public relations director hired him at the University of Colorado, where he served as assistant sports information director from 1984 to 1986. Then after two years as the Denver Zephyrs’ director of public relations, Fink moved into an assistant public relations position with the Kansas City Royals in December 1987. He was later promoted to manager of media relations and subsequently to director of media relations.
As the media director for the Royals for 12 seasons, Fink was privileged to many once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including a trip to Cooperstown when George Brett was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999. However, the busy Major League lifestyle took a toll on the father of two young children and Fink pursued other opportunities.
Fortunately for Fink, a once-forgotten acquaintance helped him find his next job in the media relations field. Fink received a call from a former Royals’ intern, now a women’s basketball coach at Texas Christian University (TCU), who was looking to fill a position at the private school based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Fink, eager for a change, was hired in 2000 as the media relations director for TCU’s 19 intercollegiate athletic teams. During Fink’s tenure, TCU captured 25 conference titles in five years and LaDainian Tomlinson was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate football player.
Fink’s stellar work did not go unnoticed and ultimately led to his current position at South Carolina. TCU Athletic Director Eric Hyman took over the same position at South Carolina in 2005 and brought Fink along to Columbia to fill an opening at the top of the athletic media relations department.
Fink’s journey to South Carolina has taught him many lessons, including how to create a successful and healthy working environment.
“Hire good people with the same values as you,” said Fink when asked about the biggest lesson he has learned. “If you surround yourself with good people who work hard, it makes everything else go much smoother.”
“There is no bigger challenge as an administrator than having people not pulling their weight,” added Fink. “A lot of effort and time is put into sports and you have to surround yourself with people you can trust. People make mistakes, but as long as they have their heart and mind in the right place, then the whole operation runs better.”
Fink likes to run in his free time as it helps him relieve stress from long hours on the job. Fink also cherishes the time he spends with his wife, Charlene, and his two children, Lauren, a sophomore at South Carolina, and Ryan, a junior at Spring Valley High School in Columbia.
Fink says he has received resumes and applications from several of WIU sport management graduates over the years, and has one piece of helpful advice for all current Leathernecks. When searching for new employees, Fink seeks students with hands on experience who are not afraid to try different occupations.
“Experience different career fields when you are young,” said Fink. “If you do not like your job then it is not the end of the world. Not every job is going to be your last job. All those experiences and lessons you learn from different aspects of sports will pay off in the long run.”