Portland State Magazine Fall 2022

ON FAMILIAR TURF Q&A with new PSU Athletics Director John Johnson JOHN JOHNSON took the helm of the Portland State Athletics Department on May 1. But as a graduate of Eastern Washington with a master’s degree in business administration, Johnson’s no stranger to the area. His experience in collegiate athletic administration stretches back to 1985 and includes 11 years as an athletics director in the Big Sky Conference. He spent time at Eastern Washington, Weber State, and Washington State. Most recently, he served as the senior deputy athletics director at the University of Nebraska. Portland State Magazine recently caught up with Johnson to discuss the new role, the ever-present pressure to bring in new revenue, and his plans to get more PSU fans in the seats. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity. What attracted you to PSU? Our roots run pretty deep in the Northwest and, in particular, the Big Sky Conference. So this is home for us. I spent a lot of time in Portland when I was in the Pac-12 conference. I worked at Washington State for former Athletics Director Jim Sterk, who was here at Portland State as well. So you know, it’s really comfortable. It’s funny how you’re away for three or four years, and you come back, and it just feels like home. I feel lucky and privileged and honored to have the opportunity to serve Portland State, and hopefully, I can help make it better. Your experience at Washington State included overseeing the Cougar Athletic Fund. What did the role teach you about revenue generation in college athletics, and what might you apply from that to PSU? When you’re in athletics and an athletics director, revenue generation is on your mind when you wake up in the morning and go to bed—and sometimes, quite frankly, in the middle of the night. New revenue comes from new ideas. It comes from initiatives that help people say, “I want to be part of that.” You need to tell the story. You also need to fundamentally be sound in your fundraising principles. And I’m using “fundraising” in very specific terms, but also raising funds in general terms with ticket sponsorship, etc. Not unlike being in a sport, you need to do well on the fundamentals or you won’t win any games—everything from how we answer the phone, how we treat our opponents, how we do business, how we integrate on campus, and then how we fundamentally put together a strategic plan from a fundraising standpoint. So, you know, it’s doing the little things. Everyone’s important; everyone helps us win games. We’re always fundraising in a variety of ways to support our scholarships. So all that’s part of it. athletics SO-MIN KANG 18 // PORTLAND STATE MAGAZINE