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Standing before a crowded auditorium in the new School of Kinesiology Building, the executive leadership team for the Michigan Sport Business Conference kicked off their annual event Friday morning. 

Founded in 2012 by University of Michigan undergraduates, the gathering aims to bring students and industry professionals together with the purpose of inspiring innovators in the world of sport business. For the first time on Friday, the conference was held in the School of Kinesiology Building. Traditionally located in the Ross School of Business, organizers said Friday marked the beginning of a new era for the conference. Last year, due to the pandemic, the conference was hosted on the online networking platform Brella.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the uniquely student-run conference, co-President Amelia Simonds, Kinesiology and Art & Design senior, encouraged attendees to consider this year’s theme: “What’s your next 10?” 

“Think about your next 10 seconds, 10 minutes, maybe even 10 years,” Simonds said. “What choices will you make to pursue your goals and passions? How will you challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and grow? What impact do you want to leave on others? How will today and MSBC 10 help you get there?” 

During the conference, discussion panels focused on the future of sports and sport business, touching on mental health, brand-building, social media, new name, image and likeness laws and the emergence of blockchain technology. The individual speeches and one-on-one conversations spotlighted personal success stories, future trajectories and advice for students. 

In a conversation with Kinesiology junior Aeron Latham, the creative content production manager for the conference, Ariel Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor, one of the largest holding companies in the sports and entertainment world, said he acquired mental toughness from wrestling in his youth and working long hours in a mailroom at age 26. He emphasized endurance and determination as drivers of success. 

“If you just wilt easily in difficult times, you’re not going to get anywhere,” Emanuel said. “I think one of the most important things that I learned is there are all the reasons ‘why not.’ And everybody will tell you ‘why this,’ ‘why that,’ ‘you can’t,’ ‘no.’ If you let that get in the way of your point of view, that’s a problem.”

Danita Johnson, D.C. United’s president of business operations and the first Black woman to hold such a role in Major League Soccer, was another keynote speaker at the event. Johnson detailed her start in ticket sales and her history working in women’s sports, notably as the president and chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA. 

“We all still get shy,” Johnson said. “We all still want to hide in the corner some days when you go into the big rooms. I still do it. Know that that’s okay. But push yourself. Push yourself to have that conversation.” 

Kinesiology sophomore Riley Day echoed this sentiment. 

“If you’re somewhat like me, you can be a little introverted at times,” Day said. “The biggest step is just going out and doing it. And once you’re there, you’re probably going to have a great experience. Everybody is really positive and really nice. Just getting yourself out there is what leads to jobs, internships and everything like that.” 

Getting themselves “out there” is something attendees were able to do in-person on Friday, in contrast to last year’s fully online conference. Utilizing Brella, attendance was offered both virtually and in person to maximize the advantages of both formats. Simonds explained that last year’s virtual format simplified networking for some students.

“You could just make appointments online, versus in-person. I think some people are sometimes a little nervous to go up to people and stuff like that,” Simonds said. “We’re now able to cater (the conference) to both needs.”

Overall, Simonds and Kinesiology junior Jack Moore, MSBC public relations manager, said they were glad to incorporate an in-person aspect this year. Kinesiology sophomore Dylan Steele agreed, saying the in-person event made networking much easier.

“Being able to reach out to (professionals in the sport business industry) on LinkedIn is great, but also being able to reach out to them face-to-face in person is an experience that’s invaluable,” Steele said.

To allow students to reach out, the conference included an hour-long networking session. Students and industry professionals were randomly assigned to tables in several classrooms. Every 10 minutes or so, students were directed to find a new table so they had the chance to meet and speak with a multitude of new people. LSA freshman Ava Peryam said this experience was overall positive.

“I’m really enjoying it,” Peryam said. “It’s very nice to hear all the advice that people who have made it in the industry have and about the different roles that they play.”

Peryam said she received helpful advice and hoped to keep in contact with the students and industry professionals she met during the conference.

According to Bo Han, the founder and CEO of Buzzer, a sports media company, and a speaker at the conference, the students can go as far as he’s gone. 

“If Bo can do it, I can do it,” Han said. “I want everyone to understand that you can do it. I was not in this industry six years ago.”

Han stressed the importance of a virtuous approach to business as opposed to one focused on money and success. 

“We all have this misconception that we’ll do good when we do well,” Han said. “But I’m willing to bet you that never happens. You do well because you do good first. Why? Because people want to be a part of it. Right? People naturally gravitate toward purpose. And if you can also empower other people, that’s a beautiful thing.”

Daily News Contributor Dominic Manzo can be reached at