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Getting a Kick Out of Sport Finance  

Photo of Kurt RotthoffStillman professor Kurt Rotthoff, Ph.D., (Department of Economics and Legal Studies) loves to teach, and he loves sports. The combination serves students well in Rotthoff's graduate class, Sport Finance (ECON 7220 and BSPM 7220). 

"The way that I view sport finance is that it's an economics and finance course where we take fundamental economics concepts and fundamental finance concepts and use them in sports examples," he says. "We talk about things like optimal ticket pricing – turns out optimization is a huge thing in economics and finance – because you're optimizing to get the highest profit based on demand," explains Rotthoff, while offering a closer glimpse into the course. "We do optimization problems and we use any type of example you want in a sports ticketing world, such as different strategies you can use for pricing, and how to set optimal ticket pricing."

The class also discusses current sports controversies, such as stadium financing and stadium relocating. "We also cover valuing risk and risky assets. For example," Rotthoff explains, "Take the athlete Johnny Manziel, who could be considered a "risky asset," because he [has the potential to be] very good, but he has off-field issues [such as partying and drinking]. Manziel could be considered a 'risky asset', as opposed to someone who engages in less of that behavior." Furthermore, Rotthoff's class takes the traditional finance concept of valuing risk, and then applies it to different scenarios in the sports world, such as player contracts.

The sports side of Rotthoff's interests started in his home town of Massillon, Ohio, situated 25 miles south of Akron, and 10 miles west of Canton. "I grew up near the Football Hall of Fame," he claims. As the middle child between two brothers, Kyle and Kreg, Rotthoff played a variety of sports, including tennis, track, soccer, football [one year in high school], and kickboxing. While a soccer player in high school, he also spent time on the football team as a kicker. "You can kick and play soccer," he shares, when asked about the overlap of the two fall sports. 

Another sport that requires a significant amount of kicking, his favorite, even to this day—is swimming. His parents, both physical education elementary school teachers and swim coaches, encouraged him to swim in the summers and winters. "I was trying to decide to play either soccer or swim in college," he says, "and I ended up with bone spurs in my feet which made it painful to run, so that made the decision for me." He was recruited to the swim team at Westminster College, in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, where he swam for four years and, in 2002, earned his Bachelor of Science in Economics and Business Administration.

"I did well in high school, but I did not do quite as well in college. I knew I had more in me than my transcript reflected, so I decided to prove myself by going to grad school," he admits. "One of my strategies was to hang out with the smart kids so I could pick up enough key words to be able to pass my classes."

Indeed, Rotthoff picked up enough key words to receive a combined M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics, in 2007, from Clemson University, in South Carolina, during which time he became a productive researcher, and ultimately a prolific author of dozens of scholarly papers throughout the past 11 years. "I consider myself a mediocre writer and a decent ideas person," he says, somewhat modestly.

"When I wrote my first paper at Clemson, 'Could Affirmative Action be Efficient in Higher Education?,' more than one faculty member called it 'a stupid idea.'" He continued his pursuit, and another professor said, "You can try it, but I don't think it will go anywhere." As predicted, Rotthoff's first submission was summarily rejected. 

The second submission, however, was accepted "as is" and published in one of the most prominent scholarly peer-reviewed economics journals, Economics Letters, in 2007. "That was a hard journal to get into," Rotthoff reflects. "I'm proud of my Economics Letters publication. The editor who accepted that paper ended up winning a Nobel Prize!"

Rotthoff has continued his passion for research. His articles have been published in a variety of notable publications, including Journal of Sports Economics, The Journal of Sport, International Journal of Sport Finance, Economic Affairs, and Applied Economics Letters, to name a few.

Originally, Rotthoff planned to become a professor and a coach at a small Division III college. "It turned out that I enjoyed the research so much," he relates, "that I found a place [Seton Hall University] where I could teach and continue doing research." The bonus, he adds, is that he helps the SHU swim team as a volunteer assistant swim coach. Ultimately, Rotthoff discovered his TrueBlue calling in both the classroom and the sports arena.

One of Rotthoff's goals in the classroom is to teach students how to read and understand academic articles relating to the economics and finance concepts of sports. "New information is going to continue to come out, and if they know how to read those academic articles they can use the information in their respective fields."

Current M.B.A. student, Kristen Rothe '18, thinks Rotthoff offers a practical and passionate approach to the subject. "He makes the class interesting and fun with his experience in research regarding the economics of sport," she says. "For example, when we covered ticket optimization, we used math to determine the best price per seat based on the demand of the event, and what the stadium can accommodate. That was interesting for me because I assumed that it's always best to charge the highest possible price, but in actuality, it can turn people away." Rothe emphasizes that Rotthoff's "real-world setting with real-world data" helps students to understand the concepts that govern the topics they cover in class.

Not coincidentally, "real-world data" is, in fact, a part of Rotthoff's background. During the summers of 2008 through 2012, through a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., called The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), he taught economics to lecture halls filled with 100-140 students from more than 20 different countries. According to the TFAS website, the mission of TFAS is "to change the world by developing leaders for a free society…by offering programs that teach the principles of limited government, free-market economics and honorable leaderships…around the world." Rotthoff has taught in both Prague, Czech Republic, and Crete, Greece.

"We have a very small fraction of the world population," elaborates Rotthoff. "We have about 350 million Americans, and the world population hits about 7 billion. We [the United States] produce about 25 percent of the world's production. With a very small relative population, we have a very large production capability. How do we do that?" Rotthoff answers his own question. "It has a lot to do with the American economics structure which has incentivized people to create and produce more than other systems, such as a communist-style system. The communist system does not have the ability to produce much, and if a system can't produce much, it can't consume much, which is why they had trouble with extreme poverty and feeding people during the cold war.

"We produce enough food," he says. "We can debate whether the distribution is set up correctly or not, but we certainly have the production system down. The capitalist system, a system of market economies that allows for private property and prosperity, has brought more people out of poverty than any other system in world history. And that," states Rotthoff, "is powerful."

While Rotthoff has more to say about the subject of world economies and world systems, he has a busy life outside of the classroom. In addition to volunteering as an assistant swim coach for SHU's team, Rotthoff swims on the Berkeley Aquatics Masters swim team, in New Providence, New Jersey. 

That is, when he has "spare time." When it comes to kicking back and relaxing, his family, including wife, Hillary, who obtained her Ph.D. in Higher Educational Leadership, Management and Policy from Seton Hall, in 2016, and three young boys under the age of seven, comes first. Rotthoff indeed gets a kick out of his role as a teacher, a researcher, a swimmer, a sports enthusiast – and most of all, a devoted family man.

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