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Curriculum should continue to evolve alongside industry

By Bill Sutton

Two years into my “retirement” I have had time to think about the type of curriculum I would implement if I was leading an undergrad or graduate program. Societal events combined with a liberalization of attitudes and policies in the sport industry toward gambling and the continued global growth of esports affected my choices. While Sport Marketing, Sport Law (with perhaps more of an emphasis on intellectual property and, of course, the challenges posed by the evolving issue of name, image and likeness) and Sport Ethics should remain mainstays, the following topics need to be addressed with formal coursework to better prepare our students for the challenges awaiting them. Some programs may elect to have various tracks and address these suggestions in that format, but if not, these courses should be considered core courses. Some could be taught by existing faculty while others might be better taught by industry professionals functioning as adjunct faculty.

PEOPLE RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

There is a definitive need for students to understand the approach to creating a positive work culture. Diversity and inclusion, mental health in the workplace, appropriate workplace conduct, recruiting strategies, effective onboarding, managing a hybrid workforce, creating a meaningful benefits program and developing personal development plans for employees are all topics that should be addressed in this course.  

SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT

Given the importance of social media as a communication form that is easily accessed and embraced, it is essential to learn how to develop effective strategies to share information and disseminate content that can be understood and amplified. As sport content becomes more and more global, it is essential to continue using social media to reach and connect with these audiences.

SPORT BUSINESS ANALYTICS

This was the first course we added to my curriculum when we started what is now the Vinik Program at the University of South Florida in 2012. During the past 10 years, I have seen analytics teams at pro sports organizations grow from two to three staffers to more than 10, and have seen collegiate athletic programs begin investing in business analytics for their ticket sales and other revenue programs. I prefer the term business intelligence — but whatever you call it, it is essential that every graduate entering the workforce understands data and how to use it. Topics should include pricing, evaluating new concepts, measuring value and developing and considering alternatives in the decision-making process.

GAMING & GAMBLING IN SPORT

This course will examine the growth and popularity of fantasy sports and how that growth played a role in the acceptance of legal sports gambling. Lots of topics to cover including gambling analytics, hospitality management, governmental and tribal considerations versus gaming and resort companies. Case studies should include on-site gambling versus mobile gambling, the Super Bowl and March Madness in terms of sportsbooks and mobile apps versus office pools and other options.

THE ESPORTS INDUSTRY

Having a son playing a leadership role in this space has opened my eyes to the importance of understanding this space, which has the benefits of being globally organic. Understanding League of Legends might be more important than understanding traditional sports offerings such as NBA2K. Another critical factor is the need to be authentic to work in the space. In other words, you must understand the game and its players much more so when compared to working in more traditional sports. To sell esports to potential sponsors you must understand both how to sell and the game and its players.

CREATING, DELIVERING CONTENT

Simply stated, content is king. Understanding how content is created and shared will influence how it is sold. This is a class that will probably be best taught by an industry expert serving as an adjunct. While content always needs to be timely, the Miami Dolphins have created variable forms of content that “live” at various times of the year — in season, postseason, out of season and so forth. This also provides cyclical opportunities for partnerships and advertisers to participate.

GLOBAL SPORT BUSINESS

This is an essential course because it illustrates that culturally, and not just in terms of language, there are variances to how sport is marketed, managed and consumed outside of the U.S. If possible, this could be a summer course involving travel abroad or could be part of the curriculum for a semester abroad. There are huge differences in sport facilities that affect the fan experience and what can be offered and provided in addition to the “game.” Historical rivalries within and between countries are also a factor that most U.S. students have little appreciation of. Perhaps several programs working together can create a course cross-listed at several universities to provide economy of scale and ensure that the students have an exceptional experience.

SALES

Selling continues to evolve due in large part to the application of technology in the sales process. Technology, such as that provided by Conversica, which uses artificial intelligence to identify and communicate with prospects, is becoming more commonplace in the industry. I have also advocated that every student needs to understand how to sell, if for no other reason than to “sell themselves.”

Sport business curriculum should continue to evolve as the industry evolves — and faculty (even an old dog like me) need to adapt and retool as well.

Bill Sutton (billsuttonandassociates@gmail.com) is director emeritus of the Vinik Graduate Sport Business Program at USF and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at jkyler@sportsbusinessjournal.com

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