Michigan Sports Business Conference connects students, business professionals

By Adam Glanzman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 18, 2013

About 550 students, faculty and sports business professionals gathered in the Ross School of Business Friday morning to attend the second annual Michigan Sports Business Conference.

The day-long conference included speeches from CBS Sports Anchor Dana Jacobson, ESPN president John Skipper and Tom Garfinkel, the president and CEO of the Miami Dolphins football team, among many others.

Kinesiology junior David Herman and Kinesiology senior Michael Freedman, co-presidents of the MSBC, led a 32-member student planning committee that worked for the past year to organize and successfully execute the event.

The MSBC Advisory Board, composed entirely of Michigan alumni, helped facilitate interactions between students and business professionals, making speeches by the high-profile speakers at the event possible.

“Our board of advisors usually make that initial connection and we take it over from there,” Herman said. “It’s only with their help, their Michigan connections, their professional connections, that we can really gain legitimate access to such big names.”

The conference kicked off with a presentation by Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon and other representatives from the Athletic Department, who outlined the University’s plan to construct 16 new athletic facilities within the next five to seven years.

The keynote conversation between ESPN President John Skipper and ESPN Commentator Mike Trico discussed the evolving industry of sports coverage and sports culture.

“There are a lot harder ways to make a living that working in sports. Almost all of them … you just kind of feel lucky,” Skipper said.

During Skipper’s 14 years at ESPN, he has been involved in television, digital and print initiatives. He emphasized during his speech the importance that alternative forms of media play in the growing media industry.

In addition to the keynote conversation, there were breakout sessions, networking opportunities and panel discussions held throughout the day.

Tom Lewand, president of the Detroit Lions football team, participated in a panel discussion regarding the importance of cultivating a loyal fan base in the growing sports world.

Lewand said in an interview that a key factor for students pursuing a business career in the sports industry is to make sure they don’t limit themselves. He said University students are competitive because of a “high level of intelligence” combined with a “Midwest sensibility.”

“Keep working at it,” Lewand said. “Look at all the different ways that you could possibly get engaged in any business that has to do with the business of sports — on the brand side, agency side, the service side — there are just so many different ways.”

Ten non-University students were honored through MSBC’s inaugural BIG Initiative — an acronym for Build, Inspire, Grow — which looks to honor students from around the country who excel in academics and athletic endeavors.

This year, organizers put a bigger focus on social media and technology. MSBC was also able to attract more high-profile speakers and connect them to students in a “one-on-one” environment, with plenty of networking opportunities.

Many students in the Kinesiology and Business school were in attendance Friday. Kinesiology graduate student Xiaochen Zhou said she came to the event to learn from professionals and gain knowledge of what the sports business industry is like.

“Because we are international students it gave us some insight into the job market in America, especially the American sport industry,” Zhou said. “It’s very different from what business is like in China. I think it will be very helpful.”

The event was capped off with a surprise Skype interview with University alum Adam Schefter, an NFL analyst for ESPN and former sports writer at The Michigan Daily. Students tweeted questions to Schefter about his days at the University and his start in the sports industry.

“I don’t have any skills — I just work hard,” Schefter said. “Everyone that I deal with knows that they can trust me.”

MSBC will start planning next year’s conference in the coming months. Business junior Alex Lieberman, a MSBC committee member, said the committee members are looking to expand the conference next year and bring in more representation from outside of the University community.