Sports Not a Serious Discipline? These University Conferences Beg to Differ
If you’re pursuing a side interest or career in sports business, data analytics, or media, maybe it’s time to go (back) to school. These fields are growing, and university-based conferences are providing the networking and innovation backbone of the entire industry.
Don’t believe me? As a graduate student at MIT’s business school (yes, MIT has a business school), I attended the 2008 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which was held on-campus with a whopping 350 attendees. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great conference, with notable speakers and panelists including Rick Carlisle, Bill Polian, Peter Gammons, and Bill James. Compare that to the 2018 conference that I attended ten years later — 3,500 attendees in Boston’s premier convention center, with speakers and panelists ranging from hall of famers (A-Rod and Steve Nash) to media personalities (Nick Wright and Nate Silver) to billionaire owners (Steve Ballmer and Ted Leonsis) to business moguls (Maverick Carter and Michael Rubin) to this other guy that happened to be the 44th President of the United States.
As the field continues to grow — did someone say gambling? — everyone from students to established professionals are becoming more interested in getting actively involved. So which active, quality university conference(s) should you consider attending for keeping up with the latest trends, networking with industry players, and staying ahead of the game?
1. MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference
Let’s start with today’s standard, the conference run by MIT Sloan. The business school has been putting on the industry’s leading academic conference since 2007. It is currently formatted as a two-day annual event held in Boston in late-February/early-March (snow!), and organized by students from the MIT Sloan Entertainment, Media & Sports Club.
The conference goal is to provide a forum for industry professionals (executives and leading researchers) and students to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the global sports industry. MIT Sloan is dedicated to fostering growth and innovation in this arena, and the conference enriches opportunities for learning about the sports business world. The conference is open to anyone interested in sports.
2. Stanford Sports Innovation Conference
Not to be outdone by its tech & innovation superior in Boston (EAST COAST BIAS!!), Stanford’s business school, the plainly named Graduate School of Business — as if they don’t have enough rich people in California to name this school after — has been holding its conference since 2014. As one would expect for a conference located in Silicon Valley, the focus here is heavily skewed towards innovation and entrepreneurship in sports.
The Stanford GSB Sports Innovation Conference brings together thought leaders, alumni, and current MBA students to have a conversation about the future of sports. For too long, the sports industry has failed to embrace innovation and entrepreneurship. That’s beginning to shift, and our goal is to showcase the people and organizations leading this change as inspiration for the next great innovation and the next generation of leaders.
3. Michigan Sport Business Conference
The only public university on our list, University of Michigan’s (Tom Brady. Nuff Said.) undergraduate-run October conference has been going strong since 2011. The conference certainly attracts top leaders from the midwest, including notable billionaire owners Stephen Ross and Dan Gilbert, but also has global representation.
The MSBC started from a simple saying: “The Michigan Difference;” the idea that we have the competitive resources and capabilities to push the limit on what is possible in any realm. This same idea is what drives the MSBC’s ability to continue developing invaluable experiences that inspire creativity and innovation in the sport industry and allow individuals to build the relationships necessary to achieve their professional aspirations. We achieve this by connecting current and future sport business professionals and organizations through thought-provoking educational platforms and effective relationship-building opportunities.
4. Wharton Sports Business Summit
Another leading business school, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has been organizing their own conference since 2017. A full-day, early-November event in Philadelphia (maybe snow!), the conference covers everything from data analytics to sports journalism to investing.
The Wharton Sports Business Summit consists of keynotes, panels, workshops, research presentations, a career fair and more. It is to be a full day of learning and networking designed to bring students from the University of Pennsylvania and other schools together with industry leaders.
5. Columbia Sports Management Conference
Once upon a time, there was the Ivy Sports Symposium, a conference that rotated between Ivy League schools, including a stop at Columbia in 2012. The now defunct (as of 2014) traveling sports business conference appears to have been the school’s last attempt until 2017, when the Columbia Sports Conference was born through a collaboration between Columbia Business School and the Sports Management program at the School of Professional Studies (SPS). Today, the on-campus day-long conference is fully run through the program at SPS.
Join sports industry leaders, thought-makers, and disruptors along with faculty from the Master of Science in Sports Management program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies as they discuss critical topics in the business of sports today and in the future. Panel themes include Sports Gambling, Entrepreneurship, Social Justice in Sports, Leadership and Business Operations, and more.
6. Carnegie Mellon Sports Analytics Conference
The CMU Sports Analytics Club, a student-run organization on campus, has been holding its annual late-October conference since 2017. As an engineering-focused university, it’s not surprising to see that this conference is heavily skewed towards hard-core analytics — not a lot of star power or big name speakers, but rather researchers and practitioners that are doing very interesting work.
While professional conferences can be a great resource, there’s something about the energy around student-run events at a top school — the quality of production, speakers, and content is often better than your standard industry trade conference. The opportunities to learn and network at these, and other conferences such as this, this and this, are available year-round and coast-to-coast, so go check them out and let us know what you learn!
I graduated from Cal Berkeley (Go Bears!) with a bachelor’s in engineering & computer science, Michigan (Go Blue!) with a master’s in engineering, and MIT (Go Beavers?) with an MBA in finance and economics. After working several years for a Wall Street investment bank, I decided to combine my love of sports, finance, statistics, and technology to develop the next generation media, analytics & gaming platform for sports predictive data. I write about anything and everything revolving around theses topics.
I’m also a current New Yorker and lifetime Knicks fan yearning for the semi-glory days of the 90s (having not been born for the actual glory days of the 70s).