University of Hawai’i Director of Marketing & Fan Experience Eric Mathews Joins ‘Wake Up in the Den with Ku’ulei Agbayani’ 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED AUG 22, 2023

HONOLULU — Unlike many other guests who join ‘Wake Up in the Den, coming into the studio was a homecoming of sorts for Eric Mathews, the Director of Marketing and Fan Experience for the University of Hawai’i athletics department. 

Originally from Kentucky, Mathews worked in sports media on the mainland after earning a degree in Broadcast Operations from Western Kentucky University, specializing in Radio & TV Operations and minoring in sales. He wore many hats, working as a studio producer, high school play-by-play announcer and in those dreaded sales, but the burn out from that side of the job began to sink in and caused him to look for a different path in sports.

He would go on to intern for four different colleges at once, stretching himself thin but enjoying the journey as he attempted to jump into sports administration and a future goal. 

“When I first got into [sports administration], I was volunteering and interning at Wright State, Northern Kentucky University, University of Cincinnati, and Eastern Kentucky University and I was basically living out of my car,” recalled Mathews. “Most people second guessed me because they’re like ‘You’re from Kentucky, why is Hawai’i your dream job?’… because at the time, the two places I could see myself living were Cincinnati and Hawai’i.” 

Working many long nights and finding his sleep schedule going awry, he fell in love with the “golden age” of ‘Bows football that treated him and many other fans as the last game of the night. 

“I was such a huge Hawai’i football fan, [I thought] that place is absolutely cool, that’s where I want to be at, that’s the lifestyle, that’s the culture… My motivation was I wanted to be somewhere that I could be happy, where I could be at home,” he remembered of his then-budding love affair with the islands. 

With a goal in mind, both for his career and his home, Mathews went to work to make both become reality. He enrolled in Morehead State’s master’s program for sports administration and was assigned a networking project for one of his courses, a skill that he had worked on already in great lengths. With that in mind, he got the ball rolling by “pestering” Derek Inouchi, Director of Media Relations at UH, for a month to talk on the phone for an interview for the class. 

Inouchi agreed to the phone call and the process for Mathews truly started. 

The then-master’s student learned that the department at Hawai’i had been going through a transitional period, seemingly cracking the door for Mathews to break down eventually. Six weeks later, the two met in person and Inouchi would offer an internship to Mathews with an odd follow-up. 

“He offered me the internship, but he said don’t take it,” Mathews shared.

After some initial confusion, Inouchi provided an explanation, and his advice made more sense. Financially, the move wasn’t viable, and the offer wasn’t worth it to a broke student trying to get by and with prospects as good as Mathews’. The internship offer was more to represent to the young sports administration student that he was going about things “the right way.”

Mathews understood and appreciated the gesture, following the advice of Inouchi and returning to the mainland to finish his studies. He would go on to work as the director at a Division II institution, getting an offer to pay for the rest of his schooling to go along with a salary and benefits. The position had far more positives to it at that point in time than the internship with the ‘Bows athletics department. 

Despite that, he continued hearing the islands calling to him, and a desire to go and learn and help be a part of the state and university still consumed part of him. During his year and a half at Kentucky State, he remained in contact with Inouchi, who would mentor him. 

A position opened at UH and Inouchi e-mailed Mathews about it. 

“[Inouchi said] ‘Hey, I got an opportunity if you’re interested. I know that you’ve got a good thing going [as a director of operations] at a DII, but I know how much you love Hawai’i,” Mathews smiled. “I e-mailed him within two minutes, and I said ‘let’s talk right now’… He told me it was a casual-hire position; it wasn’t a full-time job, but it was a foot in.” 

That was all Mathews needed to hear. He was ready to sign on, then and there, with a chance to be where he had always dreamt. 

On his 30th birthday, he made the move official by resigning his post at Kentucky State and told Inouchi that he would be to the islands within a month. He hasn’t looked back since. 

Mathews discussed his five years working for the ‘Bows media relations office, the growth he made, how the move to his new position came about, some of the behind-the-scenes of what the ‘Bows will be doing for game day for fans this season and much more. 

Eric Mathews has always wanted to do this job, in this place, and yet it somehow seems to keep getting better.  

Just like Hawai’i game day experiences will be under his watch.

You can catch ‘Wake Up in The Den with Ku’ulei Agbayani’ live every weekday morning from 8-9 a.m. HT on 95.1 FM, AM 760 and streaming on hawaiisportsradio.com. The show is available after recording where most podcasts are, along with past OIA and HPU broadcasts and older interviews. 

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