OSCPA member follows sports dreams to the NFL

Written on Sep 21, 2017

By Gary Hunt, senior content editor

An intentional effort to build a career in sports and a passion for business that stretches beyond traditional accounting skills have helped OSCPA member Chris Clements, CPA, reach the National Football League.

Clements is the senior VP and CFO with the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium. We first introduced you to him in August as part of our CPAs of Ohio series.

The native of Petoskey, Mich., knew he wanted to work in the sports business after he earned his accounting degree from Northwood University. After gaining experience at both accounting- and sports-related businesses in college, he targeted Cleveland-based International Management Group. Later known simply as IMG, the company founded by renowned businessman Mark McCormack managed sporting events and served celebrities in sports and entertainment.

Chris Clements“Believe it or not, I searched long and hard sending resumes out to sports companies, but IMG was my number-one choice,” Clements said. “I sent my resume blind – not for any specific job to IMG in Cleveland.”

He was hired by IMG, but the catch was that his position was in New York City, not Cleveland.

“I graduated (college) in May in 1996, and 10 days later I started in New York,” Clements said. “I literally packed all my stuff up in a U-Haul and moved across the country. I’d only been to New York one time in my life.”

His job, which he held for three years, was with a television production company focusing mostly on sports.

“I loved it,” Clements said. “It was all about working in the sports business. It was media, but I basically learned how to work on project accounting.”

IMG then moved him to Cleveland to be their North American event controller, where he got to work on major professional golf events.

“I would handle the whole event budget for the year, but we were also in charge of sponsorship, parking, ticket sales, merchandise, cashing the players’ checks… the whole implementation of all those events,” he said. “So, I learned from the ground up how to work on and operate sporting events and handle all the accounting.”

He later worked in IMG’s client representation business, serving as the “finance guy” for agents. After McCormack died in 2003, IMG was purchased by a private equity group, and that portion of the business was moved to California.

“They offered me a job to go out and be the CFO for that,” Clements said. “I loved Cleveland, I loved Ohio and I loved IMG, and I chose to stay put.”

IMG’s headquarters was moved to New York, however, and Clements, now married with three children, found himself traveling frequently.

“I had been called many times over the years as far as team jobs,” he said. “I loved the Midwest. But I got to a point I was traveling so much to New York that I was looking for more balance in my life.”

The Dolphins called in 2014, and the lifelong Lion fan suddenly found himself with a new favorite team and the opportunity of a lifetime. The Dolphins are one of the few teams in the NFL that own their stadium, and Clements would be brought in to help with the project. (The $550 million renovation concluded this year and is a dramatic transformation.) Now he oversees eight different entities related to the Dolphins, including the stadium, parking, a foundation, the team itself and a cancer charity that last year raised $6 million.

“It’s been too good to be true, really… it’s been a really fun ride,” he said.

Clements also has hired another OSCPA member, Michael Geraci, CPA, as senior director of finance operations.

“I hired him as an intern at IMG in Cleveland. He worked for me for seven years at IMG, and a year after I was here I recruited him to come down and work.”

During the football season, Clements attends home games as well as a few on the road, but he has learned he is busier during the offseason.

“March 31 is the financial year end for most teams,” he said. “We’ve got a players association audit and NFL audits that are due June 30 every year. July is the quiet month, if there is such a thing.”

As with many CPAs, he said his biggest challenge is balancing his duties.

“You just have a thousand decisions you need to make throughout the year – managing a team and managing all the other things you’re involved with operationally.”

In addition to identifying a career path and cultivating relevant experience, Clements said young accountants should master soft skills to excel in business.

“Today you can’t just be technically strong,” he said. “You need to be strong at communication. You need to have conviction and have an opinion on things, you need to be able to work well with others. Those are some of the things that I think are most important.”

He said he treasures the time he spent in the Buckeye State, as well as the connections he still has here.

“I think Ohio in general is a great place to live,” Clement said. “All three of my kids were born in Ohio. I love the time I spent there, and people were really good to me.”

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