Alums headline first University sports business conference

The Michigan Daily
By Zena Dave, Daily Staff Reporter
Published on November 11, 2012

Business senior Brandon Rhodes took the stage at the Ross School of Business’s Blau Auditorium on Friday to convey the message that “sport matters.”

Rhodes’s address kicked off a day dedicated to analyzing the sports industry from a variety of angles and perspectives at the Michigan Sport Business Conference, an eight-hour event with a star-studded list of 24 sporting industry speakers and four discussion panels Friday morning.

More than 500 students, faculty members, alumni and industry figures attended the event, which was created by Rhodes and University alum Dustin Cairo. Rhodes and Cario organized the event in conjunction with about 30 other undergraduate students, and the conference gained popularity through social media, partly because registration took place on Facebook.

The event featured four panels, each of which contained well-known leaders from different realms within the sports industry. Panel topics included revenue in college sports, branding, advertising and the media. Student attendees had the opportunity to hear from Business School namesake Stephen M. Ross, the chairman and founder of Related Companies real estate firm, and MLB.com CEO Bob Bowman, who discussed the current state of digital and online sports marketing. Students were also given time to network with speakers and fellow attendees.

Rohan Oza, the former chief marketing officer of Vitamin Water, delivered the conference’s keynote speech in a presentation titled “Creative Disruption,” in which he delved into how to create a brand using athletes as leverage.

Oza said creating an innovative brand is challenging, but testing the status quo is key.

“Have an original idea, be passionate about it, believe in yourself, create a culture, partner with the right people and breakthrough using creative disruption,” Oza said.

Cairo, the event co-founder, said Oza was the best speaker of the day, and instilled a sense of drive and inspiration among attendees.

“He had an extremely animated presentation on how to build brands,” Cairo said. “He shared some really innovative ideas that now other (chief marketing officers) are starting to use as they look to build brands.”

When Ross and Bowman addressed the crowd, they offered insight into how to enhance fan experiences at professional football and baseball games and how to make attending games more appealing over simply watching on television.

Rhodes said he was satisfied with the result of the conference and it exceeded his expectations.

“After a year and a half of planning, all of the speakers came through, they’re all dynamic, and the crowd was into it,” Rhodes said. “I got a lot of feedback from students saying this was the best conference they’ve been to at the Business School.”

Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman, a panelist, said keeping alumni connected to their universities upon graduation is a goal of Big Ten Network and is way of measuring success among media outlets that cover college sports, adding that fan loyalty is permanent, which is a key difference between college and professional sports.

“Your college days resonate with you,” Silverman said. “It’s a remarkable business because there are thousands and thousands of fans, and our market grows each year with each new graduating class.”

Panelist Stephen Master, the vice president and head of sports practice at the Nielsen Company — a worldwide marketing company — said building relationships in the industry is most important to finding success.

“Don’t burn any bridges, and continue to build great relationships,” Master said.

“Even if you change jobs in the business, you’ll still have the connections and the trust that you’ve established.”

Hunter Lochmann, the Michigan Athletic Department’s chief marketing officer, said the students did an impressive job, particularly considering this was the conference’s first year.

“I think it (the conference) has exceeded everyone’s expectations and I’ve heard from many respected people in the industry who were just overwhelmed with how well it’s gone, particularly with a first year program,” Lochmann said. “I think altruistically, alumni want to come back and help their school, but especially if it’s the students that they can relate to, it makes it that much better. I think it goes to show the power of the Michigan brand.”

Echoing the sentiments of many other attendees, LSA sophomore Andrew Murphy said he was inspired to continue gaining insight into the sports business industry.

“I hope to learn a little more about the different sides of the business of sports, especially on the marketing and management level,” Murphy said. “I’ve been involved in the lower level of management but not the higher level, and I hope to learn what I need to do to succeed in this business.”

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