The Ross School of Business hosted the Michigan Sport Business Conference last Friday. Established in 2012 when two Michigan students realized the potential for the sports business market in Ann Arbor, MSBC has become the largest undergraduate-run sports business conference in the nation.

With 800 students, industry professionals, professors and faculty in attendance, the conference was composed of panels, such as “The Business of eSports” and “Managing Your Career in Sports,” as well as networking breaks and individual speeches. It was this kind of opportunity to learn more about a diverse field in business that drew Kinesiology freshman Elizabeth Murphy to attend. 

“I want to work in the sports industry,” Murphy said. “This is an event where I can learn about the different opportunities within the industry as well as the different career paths and experiences people in the industry have had.” 

The Business of eSports was the first opening panel of the day, inviting Johanna Faries, former NFL vice president and current commissioner of Call of Duty eSports, Collette Gangemi, vice president of consumer products and merchandising eSports at Andbox, and Lovell Walker, head of eSports at MGM Resorts. The discussion centered around the relevance of the rising eSports movement and its future business potential. 

According to Gangemi, eSports (video game competition) has changed dynamically since its introduction in the early 1990s. It has transcended its initial purpose as a marketing tool and become its own platform, competing against the sports leagues themselves. 

“The positioning of eSports as the sports league of the future versus a marketing platform for the game is exciting and a massive paradigm shift,” Gangemi said. “How we think of eSports communities as fan bases and the next generation of where we believe revenue will be coming from creates that business value.” 

Though its rapid growth has been welcomed by the sports industry, Faries warns it is a slow and steady journey. 

“We have to be cautious that we don’t measure ourselves by the standards of our dreams too quickly,” Faries said. “The leagues have had 40 good years of optimization and learning around how to scale audiences and monetize those audiences. I think eSports is doing it at a speed that’s unreal — which is great, but it’s so easy to get impatient.” 

The conference also included “power talks,” similar to Ted Talks, which included Justin Toman, head of sports and marketing at PepsiCo, and ESPN MLB analyst  Jessica Mendoza as speakers. Toman talked about the high-profile Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime show while Mendoza talked about her career journey in a one-on-one interview. 

To Business sophomore Maddie Springer, public relations and communications manager for MSBC, including “power talks” was a strategic shift to make the conference more captivating for the attendees. 

“The power talks were a new format this year,” Springer said. “I don’t think they’ve done it in the past, but I thought it was so engaging. You’re watching someone really passionate about what they’re doing, standing up, walking across the stage, using their hands; it’s a really engaging way to present.”  

The conference was structured to be a learning experience, according to Springer. She said it was meant to be utilized as a networking opportunity for people with enough initiative to proactively make connections for themselves. 

“Networking is a great way to get your name out there,” Springer said. “I think the conference does a really interesting job because it’s informational but also provides a space where you can make things happen for yourself. But you have to make that initiative and keep pushing.” 

For Business freshman Sophia Cavalieri, the conference was a welcoming sight. The opportunity to network with industry professionals is especially useful for female students, who are not as widely represented within the industry as their male counterparts, Cavalieri said. 

“Women definitely need more representation in the industry, so it’s really empowering to see so many females here both in the audience and the stage as we all have a different perspective and voice that’s unique to us,” Cavalieri said.

According to Springer, in an industry where the professional path to a job may not be so clear cut, students need to have the hustle and the “initiative” that Springer mentioned. 

“With sports, it’s very untraditional,” Springer said. “There’s no one true path; the best way to do it is to develop the skills and apply for these jobs later on. It’s about finding your passion within the industry and developing the necessary tools first.”

For Springer, her involvement with MSBC aligned with her professional goals and has been a special part of her college experience. Having applied for the planning committee after last year’s conference during her freshman year, Springer reflected on her relationship with MSBC. 

“The end of the conference was surreal,” Springer said. “It’s a little bittersweet in the sense that, for the seniors, it was their last conference. In event planning, you spend the entire year working for that one day, and it’s amazing, but it’s over in the blink of an eye. When it was over, I immediately started thinking of next year’s conference.” 

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