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Sports, soccer management GISPs bring industry experts to campus

Student-run courses explore topics in sports through case studies, guest speakers

<p>The GISP, created by Charlie Pliner ’26 and Nikolas Rohrmann ’26, recently heard from retired tennis player Todd Martin.</p><p>Courtesy of Charlie Pliner ’26.</p>

The GISP, created by Charlie Pliner ’26 and Nikolas Rohrmann ’26, recently heard from retired tennis player Todd Martin.

Courtesy of Charlie Pliner ’26.

This semester, the 48 students registered for two group independent study courses will have an opportunity that few other Brown students ever get: a chance to introduce themselves to current and former executives in the NBA, NFL, MLB, WMLS and Premier League in the classroom. 

GISP 0001: “The Global Sports Industry” and GISP 0002: “Global Football Management,” developed by Charlie Pliner ’26 and Nikolas Rohrmann ’26, explore “different aspects of (soccer and sports management) all over the world through case studies and guest speakers,” Pliner told The Herald. GISPs, which have risen in popularity in recent years, allow students to create a new credit-bearing course alongside a faculty sponsor.

In both courses, a typical class session features at least one guest speaker — often a Brown alum — who answers students’ questions about their experiences in the sports industry. In the first few weeks, students in “The Global Sports Industry” spoke to Brad Stevens, who serves as the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, and Celtics senior consultant Jeff Van Gundy.

In the next few weeks, students in Global Football Management will hear from sports executives including Julie Uhrman, co-founder and president of Angel City FC; Jesse Marsch, who is a former Major League Soccer player and most recently the manager of Leeds United; and Phil Lynch, the CEO of digital experiences at Manchester United.


Thano Chaltas ’87 P’24, a professor in the school of engineering and one of two faculty sponsors for the two sports-related GISPs, said the courses “are a great way for students to learn not only about sports, but also how all of these (business and entrepreneurship) concepts apply to sports and other industries,” he told The Herald. 

Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine is the other faculty sponsor for the courses. “Sports can be a vehicle for really understanding how people and organizations behave, both objectively and quantitatively,” Hazeltine said.

Rohrmann and Pliner, two international students from Europe, created the course because they felt that the field of sports management was missing from Brown’s current course offerings, they told The Herald.

“There is so much research and (so many) case studies about sports that it’s become such a big industry that people need to take it seriously” in academic settings, Pliner said. 

Pliner — who previously interned for Chelsea Football Club and currently works as a consultant for FIFA’s Professional Football Relations and Development — hopes that by bringing his hands-on industry experience to campus, he can help “lift the veil on what actually happens in sports,” he said.

In May, Pliner and Rohrmann approached Vice President for Athletics and Recreation M. Grace Calhoun ’92 PhD P’26 P’26 with their idea. Calhoun was “proud and excited to support Charlie and Niko” as they developed the GISPs last fall, she wrote in an email to The Herald. 

In December, Pliner and Rohrmann advertised their course to student athletes and students from ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations,” a popular entrepreneurship course co-taught by Chaltas and Hazeltine. Prospective students filled out an application indicating their desire to take either one of the two courses. 

When reviewing applications, Pliner and Rohrmann were looking for students “who had gone the extra mile and shown that they either played a sport at a high level, worked a job in sports somehow or had a unique story to do with sports,” Pliner said. 

The two received more than 130 applications but could only accept a total of 48 students across the two courses, according to Pliner. 

Now, enrolled students are learning about player development, club management and other contemporary issues related to the sports industry.


In the coming weeks, students in Global Football Management will discuss the agent business — how player and coach employment deals are negotiated and made — as well as societal and gender issues in soccer, stadium development and digital marketing.

Students in the sports management course recently heard from retired tennis player Todd Martin, who reached a career-high ranking of fourth in the world in men’s singles in 1999. 

Discussing his 14-year professional playing career and subsequent coaching career, Martin — who coached Olympic Silver Medalist Mardy Fish and current No. 1 men’s singles player Novak Djokovic — told the students that the highlight of his playing career was when he realized that it would become a career, not just a moment.

“Education is core, so having an opportunity to come and speak to the students here was an exciting opportunity for me,” Martin told The Herald.

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Martin appreciated that the course is “centered on the real-world experiences of a variety of relatively unique human beings,” he said. 

Over the next few weeks, students in The Global Sports Industry will hear from Karen Sturges, the CFO of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, and Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder and CEO of Rakuten, a Japanese technology company. 

Throughout the remainder of the semester, Pliner and Rohrmann also plan to host current and former executives of the Oakland Athletics, San Jose Earthquakes, San Diego Padres, New York Jets, Boston Celtics and Boston Red Sox, according to Rohrmann.

Justin Blake ’27, who is currently enrolled in the Global Football Management, has “never had the opportunity to really explore football beyond the sporting or fan aspects,” he said. 

Blake, an avid soccer fan and player since age six, said he believes that the GISP is “a chance to engage with material and people you wouldn’t normally engage with.” 

“It’s nice when people’s practical experience can be used in conjunction with what we’re learning,” Blake added.

Kelly Dolce ’26, a member of the women’s swimming and diving team, is currently enrolled in The Global Sports Industry. Dolce, who plans to pursue a career in sports, hopes that the class will help her gain a better understanding of the industry and make connections with like-minded peers and professionals.

Calhoun hopes that the courses “might inspire some of our students to follow a career path that I have personally found to be truly rewarding in so many ways,” she wrote.

These courses are “truly the best of the Open Curriculum,” Chaltas said. “It’s truly student-directed, student-driven, faculty-supported learning.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the titles of Julie Uhrman and Jesse Marsch. Julie Uhrman currently serves as president of Angel City FC and Jesse Marsch no longer manages Leeds United. The Herald regrets the errors.

Julianna Chang

Julianna Chang is a University News Editor who oversees the academics and advising and student government beats. A sophomore from the Bay Area, Julianna is studying Biology and Political Science on the pre-medical track. When she's not in class or in the office, she can be found eating some type of noodle soup and devouring bad books.

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