Sports management programs growing

Sports management programs growing (May 6, 2010)

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  • Kellogg's first sports business conference draws attention to growing career path

    Even before completing his MBA at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management Eddie Shin was able to put his passion for sports and his new business know-how to work.

    Shin, along with student Janet Kang came up with an idea in late 2008 for a conference related to sports management MBAs.

    The duo worked on a proposal to the university's administration and after getting approval developed a leadership team and did everything to organize the event from sponsorship and marketing to advertising and securing talent.

    "It was like running a small business," Shin says.

    While Kellogg is host to more than a dozen conferences each year, Blazing New Trails, the Sports Business Conference held in February, was a first of its kind.

    Shin recognizes the sports and entertainment industry is a multibillion dollar business and says there are increasing needs for MBAs in the field. He says the topic of sports hits on an easy to relate to interest and, married with the business end, brings together a lot of passions for people.

    The success of the conference, Shin says, was measurable by the interest. More than 185 attended including students, faculty and alum from Kellogg as well as other schools. Feedback was a further validation.

    "People said we were fulfilling an unmet need," Shin says.

    He credits many of his MBA classes and recently learned knowledge for his part in the event.

    "It was a mixture of hard and soft skills," Shin says.

    The students worked within a budget, had to secure financing, set ticket and sponsorship prices and market the event, which included branding and the right choice of speakers.

    "I think we used our organizational and leadership styles to create a vision," Shin says. As a leader Shin had to keep the team of students motivated and moving toward the end result while making lots of important decisions.

    A key to the event's success was bringing in speakers of interest everyone such as keynote speakers Chris Granger, senior vice-president of team marketing and business operations for the National Basketball Association, and Kevin Plank, chairman and CEO of Under Armour Inc. Relying on faculty assistance and guidance helped make the professional connections, Shin says.

    "Ultimately, not to be cliché, but it was our ability to network," Shin says of the success attracting speakers.

    Once word got out, Shin says, they had people contacting them wanting to be a speaker or expressing interest in future conference participation.

    Shin, who graduates with an MBA this month, says procedurally they will pass the conference on to a first year student going into their second year, but he intends to be supportive and available to help in any way possible.

    Like most team players, in addition to benefiting from the experience, Shin hopes he had a positive impact on others.

    "I would love to be able to say I motivated others to find a career that they are passionate about on a personal level."

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The front office of sports teams are still made up of former athletes and members of long-standing family owners but increasingly MBAs are finding their way into the industry.

Leaders in the multibillion dollar industry once focused more on entertainment value are looking more for a good business head to go along with the knowledge and passion for the sport. As a result, sports management from undergraduate and master's-level courses to MBAs with a sports management concentration are continuing to gain ground in colleges and universities.

Coming off the bench

Keith Lambrecht, director of the sports management program at Loyola University's Watertower campus, says in 1980 there were 20 sports management programs across the country but none with a business focus. Most degrees focused in areas of leisure studies, education and kinesiology. Now there are about 300 of these type programs in the U.S. alone but only about 25 to 35 are available at a master's level and only a few schools focus on the business end of sports.

Loyola added its undergraduate program in sports management in 2005 and its MBA in the Graduate School of Business in 2006.

"I'm proud of Loyola because ours is part of the MBA program," Lambrecht says adding he wishes these programs existed when he was a student. "I feel very fortunate in a school of business to have this opportunity."

Eddie Shin, who expects to graduate Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management this month, says he has found that MBAs with a sports focus are "still a very low penetration and immature market," but he believes it isn't the degree that is so important but the skills that come from the experiences. Shin, along with a classmate, created and ran Kellogg's first sports business conference in February.

Scott Young, chairman of the Department of Management at DePaul University's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, says its sports management program was inspired by a boostore visit he made a year ago. Young was in the business section and saw all kinds of books written by coaches, such as retired men's college basketball coaches John Wooden and Dean Smith and professional baseball manager Joe Torre. These are among the type of books Young enjoys reading.

"There were so many I thought 'I bet we can put a course together,'" he says.

Along with other faculty Young developed a course called Leadership in Sports assembling information from the likes of Torre, Smith and Chicago Bears' George Halas and put the course out there to await the response.

"It filled up," Young says. "We knew we were on to something here. There was a tremendous interest in sports management."

So this fall Kellstadt will add an Introduction to Sports Management course. "A lot of students thus far are taking courses because they are sports fans and enjoy watching the industry through the business," Young says.

Not all fun and games

Instead of a course on traditional leadership, Young says, students are finding fun in the sports aspect saying 'I like sports, I can relate to this.'

While student may choose sports-related courses because it is an enjoyable topic, they are still working on major degrees including a master's or MBA.

At Loyola, MBA students include sports management as a concentration and take three courses focused on sports choosing from sports management, marketing sports and sponsorship, sports law, global or internationals sports classes and current trends and issues in the sports industry.

Seeing the future need for MBAs in sports, Lambrecht came up with the tagline: "Learn the business behind the game."

While Lambrecht says they may still be working for respect in academics since some have the mindset that sports is all about games, MBA students take the same core courses as other MBA students including accounting, finance and marketing.

Students not only need to know sports and business but also have good communication and writing skills, Lambrecht says.