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Joe Ronovsky

A Few Minutes With Joe Ronosvky

Vince Lara at the University of Illinois speaks with Joe Ronovsky, an alum of the Recreation, Sport and Tourism program at Illinois and now Chief Business Officer at the Village of Bedford Park, about the RST program and the future of marketing during a pandemic.

Click here to see the full transcript.

VINCE LARA: Hi, and welcome to another edition of A Few Minutes With, the podcast that showcases Illinois' College of Applied Health Sciences. I'm Vince Lara, and today, I'm speaking with Joe Ronovsky, chief business officer, marketing economic development, and special projects for the village of Bedfork Park, about why he chose RST, and the marketing industry during a pandemic. All right. Joe Ronovsky is the latest guest on A Few Minutes With. So Joe, where are you from originally?

JOE RONOVSKY: So I grew up in La Grange Park, Illinois, went to Lyons Township High School, and obviously continued education at the University of Illinois, so a Western suburbs kid.


VINCE LARA: Is that why you picked Illinois, because of the proximity?

JOE RONOVSKY: Yeah, I think it was an easy option. I grew up playing sports in high school. Didn't really give much thought to what I wanted to do college wise when I was in high school. And my dad actually found the program online and said, hey, this is something that I think you should go after. I obviously took some direction from my dad of, hey, here's a good opportunity and I think it's something that you should pursue.

VINCE LARA: Recreation sport and tourism, you mean, because of your interest in sports?

JOE RONOVSKY: Yes, yes. So if you can't be the center fielder for the White Sox, the next best thing is obviously finding a way to stay involved in sports and make a career out of it.

VINCE LARA: Yeah. Yeah, I wanted to be the shortstop for the Yankees, so I get it.


VINCE LARA: So did RST-- did it kind of focus your career plans, or did it change them?

JOE RONOVSKY: I think it focuses, to be honest. Running into Dr. Raycraft when I got on campus, I was more so, hey, let me just watch SportsCenter every night and I love sports and how can I get a high profile job that keeps my interest, piques my interest, and challenges me? And I think I remember sitting in Dr. Raycraft's first class and just said, hey, as much as we're here to learn, what we want to do-- it's just as important that we need to figure out some of the things that we don't want to do. So I think having the recreation sport and tourism with the different arms in there, going back to my younger self, I would have said, hey, can I just focus primarily on sport and ignore the tourism and the recreation concentrations? But I think in the long run, having recreation sport and tourism dual degrees, it's just made my career a little bit easier in terms of what I'm currently working on now that has relation to sport-- but there's so much carryover between the three different concentrations in the degree that I'm glad it focused me. But at the same time, we continue to develop and, not just the first job out of college but the second third, it's provided me with different avenues to pursue.

VINCE LARA: Now, your previous answer might have answered this question, but who was your favorite instructor?

JOE RONOVSKY: Yeah, Dr. Raycraft I think is down there and I think just personally, professionally really changed the way that I think about things, that I address problems, not just in my academic or professional life but also my personal life and how-- talking about family and everything is important to him and important to us. So I think we need more Dr. Raycrafts around, that's for sure.

VINCE LARA: Now, COVID has changed a lot of things in our lives, everything from how we shop to how we work out, all these things. How has it changed the marketing industry for you that you've seen?

JOE RONOVSKY: Well, I think as we just look at all these programs and the previous life of doing sponsorships and marketing programs for the White Sox, all the partnerships that are built on-- it's an activation strategy. So there's, all right, we want to market and promote our product, but at the same time, we want to engage consumers, and we want to have those real life touch moments and those touch points to where-- COVID's kind of eliminated half of the touch points of a good marketing program. So now it's just eyeball focused, let's try to find the best rates.

You're seeing a lot of different groups consolidate, sell off different nonprofitable business lines. And I think from a marketing perspective, especially a brand that is spending money right now, you don't have those internal business struggles to keep lights on. I think as we look to move forward, brands have an opportunity to take advantage of lower historical pricing. And it's kind of resetting back. Especially in the sports landscape, you buy a sponsorship one year, it's not the same price the next year. There's built-in retainers that continue to go increasing 3%, 5%.

Well, COVID, we're going to call it the great reset for everything. Especially in sports sponsorships and marketing, we've kind of gotten those premium investment levels down. And I think as people go forward, it's not just going to be my CEO told us to go do a sports marketing deal. But you're going to have to have a game plan of not just in the next 12 months but in the next 36 and 48 months of, how are people engaging with us? And I think it's just creating a lot more opportunity coming away from higher premiums to now where there's an opportunity for some brands to take advantage of the pricing structures.

VINCE LARA: Yeah, even with a long term plan like you're talking about, 36 to 48 months, at some point, we're going to get past this, we're going to be immunized enough to go back out. But are things in place now that you see staying past the pandemic?

JOE RONOVSKY: Yeah. I think it's just the-- when I look at the biggest thing that is going to stay consistent in going past the pandemic, I think is just comfortability of sitting in a stadium with 40,000 people. I don't think that's the first thing that I personally would sign up to do even in the next 24 months out.


JOE RONOVSKY: But I think creating that environment to where there's a comfort level going to a stadium that has maybe a reduced capacity but a more premium on the amenities in terms of having in seat wait service. You're not waiting at a concession stand line with other people jammed in the concourse level. So I think the staying power of the digital movement into ordering concessions from my phone to have it delivered to my seat is going to stay here.

And with the teams, a lot of the current set up-- go back 18 months ago, my biggest pet peeve in working with sports was, hey, this is the way we do things, this is the way we've always done things, to where now you have the opportunity to where there are no rules. So I think you're going to see a lot more innovation coming from people, especially brands, that are going to want to push the envelope and maybe try something that historically they wouldn't have done in the past. So as much as the negative public health crisis that we're dealing with, from a marketing perspective, I think we're going to see a lot of good people take the chains off and to be able to innovate and do things differently that's going to draw attention to themselves.

VINCE LARA: Hm. Is there a different metric going forward for measuring success? Because of COVID, I should add.

JOE RONOVSKY: Out of a COVID landscape--


JOE RONOVSKY: --marketing perspective, you're saying?

VINCE LARA: Correct.

JOE RONOVSKY: Yeah, I think brands are going have to be honest with themselves and not just throw money at a problem, so to speak. I think you're going to try to have to solve the problem and then pursue the avenues to which you're not taking a risk. I think the funniest joke is, out of a marketing budget, 50% of the budget is working, 50% of the budget's not working. And as a marketing person, I don't know which one is actually correct, which one's working and which one's not. And I think you're going to have a lot more-- total joke there.

I think just as we look-- as we continue to evolve and what's going to be the measurement of success, it's not just going to be, hey, impressions and eyeball that's delivered but how can you actually prove that this is actually a return on my investment and actually pushing some of these sports teams and properties to work backwards. Give me the solution before you ask for any money from a marketing partnership. How are you going to solve my business problems before you even ask for a single dollar from us? So I think we're going to see that staying power change as we evolve and get back to a new normal.

VINCE LARA: I want to pivot back to Illinois. Why would you recommend RST for a prospective student?

JOE RONOVSKY: I recommended my brother-in-law to do the program, too. He's seven years younger than I am. I think within that program-- you do have some athletes that go through and sign up for recreation sport and tourism as a concentration for that. I think you get a pretty well rounded model of the university. So you're classmates with basketball players and football players and the volleyball players, which gives that competitive edge that, hey, they're not just going to school, but they're also going to practice afterwards.

And I think to recommend the program and how it's prepared me, it gives you flexibility. You're going to learn a different skill. But at the same time, they're going to show you the realities of what working in sports is like. It's not just 40 hours a week. It's 80 hours a week. And I think there's an accurate representation of what the career field and aspirations are in the long term. And I think the professors understand how to deliver that to the student body. So I think just having that program, especially with the master's program associated with the undergrad, there's some consistency there from the leadership in the school.

But the way that Dr. Raycraft, especially with me being up in Chicago, has tapped into my network to expose the students to the different professional sports teams in town, to the marketing agencies, the brands, and then specifically to what I'm doing in Bedford Park, I think having the growth and maturity of the program there and having the connections that have been built from a professional sports setting specific to Chicago, just that's where I live, I think the best years of the program are coming ahead. And there's been a lot of ground work done by the professors that have been there to get us to that point.

VINCE LARA: My thanks to Joe Ronovsky. For more podcasts on Illinois' College of Applied Health Sciences, search A Few Minutes With on iTunes, Spotify, iHeart Radio,, other places you get your podcast fix. Thanks for listening, and see you next time.

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