When Mark Francis watched college football while growing up in New Brunswick, Canada, he rooted for the Bruins. Now, UCLA is far more than just a team Francis watches on television.
It’s part of his identity.
“The pageantry around the athletics programs here is something that I’ve always admired,” Francis said. “My dual roles here teaching and coaching have allowed me to be a part of it.”
The UCLA sports management lecturer played hockey and baseball as a child. Although he knew a professional athletic career wasn’t likely, he still wanted to dedicate his career to sports.
Francis has spent the past seven years teaching sports marketing and management at UCLA Anderson’s Center for Managing Enterprise in Media, Entertainment and Sports. Open to both undergraduates and recent college graduates, MEMES is a six-week summer institute that teaches students how to apply the principles of business management to media, entertainment and sports.
But teaching isn’t the only thing Francis has done at UCLA.
He also served as the head coach of the UCLA men’s club hockey team between 2010 and 2014. Francis was selected as one of two finalists for the PAC-8 Coach of the Year Award in 2012, and also served a two-year term as the associate executive director of the PAC-8 Intercollegiate Hockey Conference.
Getting to Westwood wasn’t easy, though.
The Canadian previously coached Division I men’s hockey at the University of New Brunswick and simultaneously taught a high school business education class.
Francis said he felt burnt out by both jobs and decided to get an MBA in sports management at the University of New Brunswick so he could eventually teach the subject at a university.
“I was scared to death because I hadn’t been in classes for 15 years,” Francis said. “But I always wanted to teach at the university level. I always wanted to be an influencer in the sports industry.”
Francis had a few friends working for the Los Angeles Kings. When the time came for his capstone thesis project, Francis asked if they would let him study the organization.
It didn’t take him long to fall in love with Los Angeles.
Francis decided to leave the cold weather behind and move to Southern California. He completed a social media marketing certificate program through UCLA Extension and soon found out through a coach and friend back in Canada that the Bruins had a men’s club hockey team.
And they were in need of a coach.
Francis assumed the coaching role just a few weeks after arriving in LA. Although multiple knee surgeries have prevented him from spending much time on the ice, Francis still maintains strong relationships with his former players.
One of these is Mark Yost, who arrived at UCLA at the same time Francis began his coaching stint and eventually became one of Francis’ first captains.
“We loved playing for him,” Yost said. “He was one of those guys who gave you more responsibility than you thought you’d be able to deal with. As a freshman, you’re 18, 19 years old … but he’d treat you like a man, like a professional.”
Yost has since graduated and moved east to attend Harvard Medical School. When he was faced with the decision to go to medical school, Francis was one of three people Yost turned to for advice.
“I always valued his opinion in that respect,” Yost said. “Playing hockey was awesome, winning games was awesome – but I think the things I learned from him in terms of life skills … that’s what stays with me today.”
In the classroom, Francis provides students with internship opportunities at various sports companies, brings in knowledgable speakers and gives the class a behind-the-scenes look at Dodger Stadium.
Third-year psychology and communications studies student Carlie Heuple said she took Francis’ course because she hopes to pursue a career in the sports industry someday and now feels a lot more excited about the future.
“(Francis) was super knowledgeable about any topic pertaining to sports,” Heuple said. “He moved here from Canada not knowing anyone … the connections he has made for himself just blow my mind.”
Francis said some of his students have been hired right out of the program by organizations such as Creative Artists Agency, Wasserman, the Los Angeles Kings, the Los Angeles Galaxy, ESPN and FOX Sports.
“I absolutely love being able to, not from an egotistical perspective, help shape what the industry could look like,” Francis said. “To be able to do that kind of thing, the intrinsic value of doing that is worth much more than the financial gain.”
Francis encourages students interested in someday working in the sports industry to earn a sports-oriented graduate degree. He added, however, that it was even more important to learn how to develop relationships, because that’s how he captured opportunities of his own.
“Once you have your education, it’s a piece of paper and it’s going to get you in the door,” Francis said. “But the ability to network and create genuine relationships with people is probably the No. 1 skill in the industry.”
Francis has served as a consultant and speaker for various sports events and organizations and works as the vice president of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships for Steinberg Sports and Entertainment.
Despite the other commitments on his plate, he said the UCLA course is his largest source of pride.
“Even though it’s not a full-time position, it’s probably the position I’m most proud of because I just never thought it would happen,” Francis said. “I was living and teaching in frozen tundra New Brunswick, and never ever in a million years did I think I’d be here … I recognize the value of it everyday.”