Off the PitchMar 22, 2019

Crossover Into Business: Ethan Finlay


In April of 2018, Ethan Finlay faced what all players fear: he had been placed on the season-ending injury list. At the start of his second season with Minnesota United, the midfielder tore his ACL and began a long rehab process. In the midst of recovering and training, Finlay decided to make the most of his newfound free time and applied to Crossover Into Business at Harvard Business School. Launched in 2017, Crossover Into Business focuses on helping athletes develop their business acumen and prepare for life after sports. The program is led by Professor Anita Elberse, who first started the course in partnership with the NBA. Since 2017, she has expanded the course and has taught athletes from the NFL, MLS, NWSL, WNBA and beyond. 

Now back in action for Minnesota in his 9th MLS season, Finlay recapped his CIB experience and shared how the program has impacted his view of the business side of the game. 

Q: What made you want to be a part of the Crossover into Business Program?

It was a couple of different things. I tore my ACL last April and was put on season ending IR. Obviously there's intense training in rehab, but I still had more time on my hands than I expected and was looking for an outlet. When I heard about the program from the PA I jumped at the idea of filling my time while I had it. If I had been in season or in a playoff race I wouldn't have had the time. That was the first thing that pushed me to do it.

I’ve always tried to continue to learn and extend my education beyond the four years I had at Creighton. Whether that’s reading books or articles, or pursuing things like these Harvard Business School (HBS) classes. These are all things I’ve strived to do. This was probably the most intense and engaging thing I’ve been a part of and I had no idea what to expect which made it fun. The idea of having athletes from all different sports and backgrounds study and discuss the same issues was really interesting to me, because for instance a soccer player might think about things differently than a basketball player or a ballet dancer. 

Q: What was your experience in the program like?

Your first day of class is actually at Harvard, and we started with sitting in on one of Anita's classes. It was fascinating. We weren't contributing but we were able to watch how these students who had come from all over engaged with one another. People came from the east coast, west coast, from finance and startup backgrounds. It was really a melting pot of cultures and experiences and we got to see how they interacted with the case. 

I hadn’t been in a college class in a long time so it went by pretty quickly! Afterwards we got in our groups and then had an actual class with all of the athletes. My group included Martellus Bennet and Kyrie Irving and it was really interesting to hear what we all thought about the cases. The class was a lot of fun and very engaging. The HBS way of teaching is based on you contributing and really having an understanding of each case and building your position on them. 

Another important part of the program is the MBA mentors you get to choose. I chose Lindsey and Caroline who came from the energy and marketing fields. They had totally different backgrounds which I loved and one of them played soccer previously so we had a connection right away. 

As the semester went on we got more and more cases on different topics and then you could start to pick what you were interested in. I found the leadership ones fascinating so I started picking more of those. I really started to learn the HBS case study model, which is about reading something and analyzing it. You're not just understanding things on a surface level, but really getting into it and using the facts of the case to back up your opinion. 

Q: Were there any cases that surprised you or were your favorite?

My favorite one was an FC Barcelona case, and it ended up being something that I didn’t even know about within my own sport.  The case was about their academy accepting funds to have a jersey sponsor.  It was conflicting because they were missing out on money, but there were differing opinions on how the money would be used. There was a lot of layers, and the club was facing these questions all while being run by a large, very passionate membership group. I had no idea that this had gone on, and now I've been talking to other players about it because we didn't even realize how that team was set up. 

You just have to find the time and make it a priority, because it’s going to be worth it."

Q: How do you feel like this program helped prepare you for life after soccer?

I think it reinforced that I’d love to get into the business side of sports once I retire. I already had a desire to do that and seeing how it works and how the knowledge of the game is intertwined with helping you make good business decisions confirmed that for me. 

There are plenty of times where as a player you feel like the business side should be doing more for us. But we also understand that at the end of the day it is a business with opportunity costs, whether it's marketing, ticket sales, or even buying tickets. 

Q: How did you balance it? What advice would you give to a player who wants to continue their education while playing?

You just have to find the time and make it a priority, because it’s going to be worth it. It was worth it right away, even though I was facing going there and spending the money and what not. I already have seen the return from being there and forming the relationships that I was able to, whether it's from just picking up a phone number or an email. Martellus from my group has just been a class guy, and brings a unique view because he chose to step away from the game and now has found a different outlet. 

Seeing a guy like that who has walked away helped me see that you do something because you find value in it; he validated, in a way, doing something outside of the sport. It was really cool to hear him say that we should go out and do these things, because when you do step away, having these experiences is great. Even though I didn’t play in 2018 I found a lot of value in who I was and what I was able to do. 

I continue to encourage players to do these things, whether it's HBS or SNHU. They are great resources and you need to use them now. I’ve always said it, but anybody is willing to pick up the phone and help a current professional soccer player. You are much less likely to get that phone call or email returned when it says former player. So take advantage of that and these opportunities now so that you can develop those relationships and use them in the future. 

Follow Ethan on Twitter and Instagram.