Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the March 18 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
Matt Shanklin lived in Northwest Arkansas for 20 years before relocating to Louisiana in early 2011. When he returns to the area on occasion, his reaction to the region’s growth and development is topped only by the people he is traveling with.
“The astonishment that folks have when we get up to Rogers and they have a chance to move around … people outside that area have no idea how much money is there and how much is going on in Northwest Arkansas,” Shanklin said during a recent interview. “You can close your eyes and [imagine] you were sitting in a suburb of Dallas. I’m always amazed when I come back at all the changes.”
A St. Louis native, Shanklin was recognized as a member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class in 2005. Though he has changed employers, his job remains the same — promoting college athletics.
In February, Shanklin, 53, marked eight years as the general business manager for LSU Sports Properties, the multimedia rights holder for LSU’s athletics department. Up until about a year ago, he was also the associate athletic director of marketing and a member of the athletic department’s senior staff.
His primary job now is to oversee the business aspects of a group that helps secure financial support for the Tigers in a variety of ways, including corporate sponsorships, signage, at-event hospitality, radio and television programming, official athletic website advertising and game programs.
When possible, Shanklin makes the trip with LSU teams when they visit Fayetteville to face the Razorbacks. It gives him a chance to reconnect with friends and a few former colleagues from his tenure at the UA.
When he was hired by then-athletic director Frank Broyles in 1990 to lead the athletic department’s marketing efforts, he was the youngest person in America to fill that role at any major university. He eventually became associate athletic director of marketing and licensing before resigning in December 2010, three years after Broyles retired.
“I wouldn’t change much of what I experienced at Arkansas, especially the 17 years I worked for Coach Broyles,” Shanklin recalled. “I was fortunate to work for him and grow my career. The entire time I’ve been [at LSU] I’ve always told folks it’s very similar to the days when I worked for Coach Broyles. It’s a family atmosphere. We can be dysfunctional at times like any other family, but everybody has a passion for the program.”
While Shanklin did not disclose the amount of financial support generated by LSU Sports Properties, he said the group is easily among the top eight schools in the country in terms of revenue.
“We manage roughly 270 [corporate] partners throughout the year,” he said.
Shanklin said the job requires a lot of long hours, but a job working in college athletics still carries the same rush for him as it did almost 30 years ago.
“We get to do things a lot of other people wish they could do,” he said. “And it really cements the fact to not take for granted what you do, which is easy for us to do. We come to work every day and work in college athletics. The moment it turns into just a job, you’ve sort of lost the edge of what working in this business is all about.”
Besides thinking of ways to maximize revenue, Shanklin spends a lot of time focusing on ways to make the game experience for fans about more than just the game itself. Otherwise, rising ticket prices and the proliferation of televised sporting events could lead fans to stay at home.
“That’s a big change [in his career] because you are in competition with so many factors now,” he said.
Shanklin and his wife, Missy, have two daughters ages 14 and 12 who attend University Lab School (U-High) in Baton Rouge, and his 23-year-old stepdaughter is getting married in May. He said personally and professionally, life is good in Louisiana, but one thing he has learned in the college athletics business is that there are always new opportunities.
“At the same time, the girls are very happy at U-High, and the idea of moving them from their environment would not make me a hero,” he joked. “That would always weigh into any decision like that, but everything going on in the Shanklin world right now is going well.”