Conference allows students to engage in real-world sports-business

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By Lindsey Scullen, Daily Staff Reporter

Since 2011, University students have been vaulting into the sports industry via the Michigan Sport Business Conference, an event planned, organized and run entirely by University students. The goal? Innovation.

Last year’s conference, which took place on Oct. 24, was entitled “Game Changers: Innovating Today. Defining Tomorrow.” The conference focused on how students can break into the sports industry — “How do get your first job in sports” was just one of the topics covered — and how future leaders can help the industry evolve, with panel discussions like the “Intersection of Sport and Urban Development.”

Innovation, however, was not only the theme of last year’s conference. It’s part of the organization’s refrain.

MSBC’s mission is “to inspire creativity and innovation in the sport industry and allow individuals to build the relationships necessary to achieve their personal aspirations,” said Business junior Max Himelhoch, one of the MSBC’s newly elected co-presidents.

Last year the conference brought in approximately 400 Michigan students and 70 students from other colleges around the country as attendees, according to fellow co-president and Kinesiology junior Alyssa Duguay.

MSBC’s newly chosen organizing student team — which is technically a Ross School of Business club — has 31 members in total and is sectioned into five divisions: marketing, planning, team relationships, partners and speakers.

While the conference won’t happen again until sometime in late October or early November, the teams have already begun the extensive preparation process.

Himelhoch said that MSBC had its highest number ever of applicants for the organizing student team this year. Out of the 150 who applied, 75 were accepted for interviews before the final team was cut down to 31 people in total. Even last year’s team members had to re-interview.

The team looked for a set of diverse and passionate students throughout its application process. Accepted members range from Sport Management and Business students to Communications majors, Art majors, and, of course, athletes.

This year they’re even trying a new “hybrid” program for study-abroad students.

Kinesiology junior Morgan Bartelstein is currently in Prague. She’s also a communications coordinator working to keep a dialogue going with potential speakers.

“I think one of the things that allowed us to try this is that when we look for our new team, we’re looking for people that really want to be a part of it, who are passionate about working with us and will be dedicated to it,” Himelhoch said.

Himelhoch went on to say that being a part of MSBC’s organizing student team is invaluable to students hoping to enter the sport industry upon graduation.

“It gives anyone who’s interested in potentially going into those fields a chance to get some hands-on experience here,” he said. “You leave at the end of the year, or at the end of however many years you spend with the conference, having really accomplished real, tangible things.”

It’s the skills developed, he says, that help students create a future in the industry.

“I use them in interviews all the time, whether it’s the marketing plan that we made or just the experiences that we’ve had,” he said. “It’s been extremely valuable to everybody.”

Prior to becoming the upcoming conference’s co-president, Himelhoch was the vice president of marketing. As such, he helped develop a marketing plan that increased conference revenues by 65 percent and increased the number of student tickets sold by 15 percent.

Likewise, Duguay added significantly to the conference last year as former vice president of team relations. Kinesiology senior Josh Kadden, former brand director and vice president of partnerships, said that improvements in the internal organization could be accredited to Duguay.

Duguay is notably also the first woman co-president that MSBC has had. She says that MSBC is “very progressive,” and that more women attend the conference each year.

“It is scary for women in the sport industry. Sometimes you feel like it’s a more masculine industry to enter,” Duguay said, “but more and more women are attending.”

She further noted that the number female speakers attending the conference each year is rising as well.

As for Kadden, he’s been a part of the organizing student team since the conference’s first year.

His division’s job has been to grow the MSBC “brand,” to legitimize it and make it more recognizable. Duguay said that he and his team were instrumental to last year’s conference.

“He raised $60,000 in partnerships,” she said. “He was fundamental and we continue to push these new goals.”

Business senior David Carlson likewise has worked to push the organization’s goals and will continue to do so for the upcoming 2015 conference. Last year he was a “cross-functional committee member” on the brand team, which operates under the marketing division’s umbrella.

The project he focused on was called the “BIG” project, an acronym for “Build, Inspire and Grow.” At the conference each year, this BIG initiative presents 10 of the country’s best Sports Management or Sports Business students an award, honoring them for their extracurricular and in-classroom work.

“It gives them an opportunity to be recognized for their outstanding achievement,” Carlson said.

While members of the student group organize and run the conference, they also seek advice from two advisory groups — the Board of Directors, made up of five executives from the sport industry, and the Advisory Council, composed of recent graduates of the program.

It’s in this way that members think about the MSBC organization like a business instead of a club, with tiers of factions and divisions.

Kinesiology senior David Herman, one of last year’s co-presidents, will soon sit on the Advisory Council.

As to the future of the conference, he spoke about self-innovation.

“What we really want for the conference is for it to not actually be thought of as a conference,” Herman said. “We want the MSBC to be a brand that is providing, creating, spreading the knowledge of the sport industry to students.”

He said soon the MSBC brand will be one that tells students where and how to find information about the sport industry, one that will help students network year-round.

“While the conference is our focus, ultimately we want to expand,” Herman said.

University alum Dustin Cairo, one of the co-founders of MSBC and a current Advisory Council member, said the conference is looking to transition from what he calls “MSBC 1.0” to “MSBC 2.0.”

MSBC 1.0, he said, involved creating a foundation for the conference — one made up of strong relationships with people in the sport industry, the School of Kinesiology, the Ross School of Business and the Athletic Department. He says the student team has done an “incredible job” with that first phase of MSBC.

The step that will launch the organization into MSBC 2.0 is a strategy summit slated for the end of February, he said. Ten to 15 individuals — including alumni members and four to five current organizing students — will meet in New York City for a two-day strategy session. He hopes the session will lead to plans for innovation in five main areas of the MSBC organization.

From the student organizing team, the Advisory Board and the conference attendees, everyone in connection with the MSBC is looking to innovate.

They’re looking to innovate the sport industry itself, the MSBC as a business and their professional selves. They’re looking to learn what it means to be a part of the sports industry and how to become successful within it.

Carlson emphasized this in speaking to why he attended the MSBC for the first time his freshman year.

“I’m interested in the industry and these people who are powerful in the industry, who have a lot of influence within the industry, are going to provide me with a learning experience,” he said.

“I’m going to learn the market, I’m going to learn what it took to bring a team or a brand or a sector of the industry to life. We were watching — firsthand — people talk about it, talk about their experience in that industry. That, to me, was the invaluable part. That’s why I think people show up.”

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