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Michael Rubin Talks 76ers, Entrepreneurship With Penn State Students

For any aspiring sports business student, Michael Rubin might be the quintessential role model.

Rubin appeared in a webinar filled with 200 Penn State students and alumni Tuesday night as a part of a Boardroom University conversation series. He fielded questions for about an hour about the Philadelphia 76ers, his life as an entrepreneur, and his role in social justice movements.

Rubin is worth $3.5 billion and is the executive chairman of sports merchandising company Fanatics. His role as a minority owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils gives him a wide scope of insight into the sports business world, which he’s been forced to pivot in during the pandemic.

“So many people think that right now is kinda a crazy time to enter the business world — I think it’s a great opportunity,” Rubin said. “I think sports is something that brings communities together, it brings cities together…it was incredible to see sports rally and come back together and, by the way, innovate and just have a will to make this difficult environment work.”

Rubin said he told his board that Fanatics would be down 50 or 75% when sports paused, but it actually went up 30% during the pandemic. He advised young business students to always look for opportunities, especially when crises hit.

Rubin didn’t just pivot from a business perspective during the pandemic, he also made lots of moves philanthropically.

“It was maybe March 15…I woke up in the middle of the night and said, ‘Wait a minute, I own a baseball jersey manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania,'” Rubin said. “Sure enough, six days later we converted an entire Major League Baseball jersey manufacturing facility to make a million masks that we gave away to front-line workers.”

Rubin has always focused on philanthropy and giving back. Although he was worried at first that taking resources away from his core businesses would hurt him financially, he was delighted to find out the opposite was true.

“Every time I’ve spent time trying to make the country a better place, our business has done better,” Rubin said. “I really think karma matters. If you do the right thing, I feel like it actually works out for you — and I never know that before. I would always give money away but I never spent my energy.”

Rubin’s philanthropic nature has led him to spark change in social justice as well. One of his proudest moments was helping free his friend Meek Mill from prison in 2018, which led him to start the Reform Alliance, an organization focused on “reforming the criminal justice system by changing laws and policies while changing hearts and minds.”

“When you’re involved in a sports organization, you kind of have a responsibility to use it to help make the world a better place,” Rubin said. “A lot of people will say ‘keep sports to sports and that’s it,’ they don’t want any politics, they don’t want any social issues. I don’t agree with that.”

Mill “rung the bell” during game five of the Sixers-Heat series just hours after being released from prison. And don’t worry, Sixers fans. Rubin, an owner of the team, is still just as focused on winning a championship as he is on his other business ventures.

“Your job is to win championships — and if anyone tells you anything other than that, they’re confused,” Robin said. “You want to be a perennial winner…the Patriots have been the most successful sports team to win in modern sports history and certainly that’s what we aspire to do.”

Rubin also fielded some questions from aspiring and active Penn State entrepreneurs that were seeking advice from their own business. He stressed that young businesspeople should not be afraid to take risks and make mistakes, as they’ll learn from these mistakes and become stronger

“We see people all the time come to Fanatics that went out and tried something on their own and it didn’t work,” Rubin said. “It makes better businesspeople because it shows they’re willing to take risks, they’re willing to be builders.”

Rubin’s entrepreneurial nature came naturally to him, as he was starting and selling businesses as young as 12 years old. Professionally, he just started doing what he loved and had no fear of failing. This obviously snowballed and led him down an incredibly successful career path.

“I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about work all the time,” Rubin said. “Go after what you love doing.”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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