Vicente Fernandez, Co-Founder and CEO of SportsManias, is a featured speaker at this year’s Michigan Sport Business Conference with a distinguishing characteristic. Fernandez is the first recipient of the MSBC’s BIG Initiative Award to speak at the conference.
A member of the inaugural BIG Initiative Award Class of 2013, Fernandez went on to found and lead SportsManias, a mobile app providing real-time, personalized sports updates and an animated sports emoji keyboard for users.
As a student-athlete at the University of Chicago, Fernandez founded a student organization called the University of Chicago Sport Business Team, meant to give UChicago students access to the sports industry.
“We were building from the ground up, providing connections to internships with the Bulls and Blackhawks,” Fernandez said.
Along the way, Fernandez was recognized in May 2013 as one of Sports Launch Magazine’s Thirty Under 30. Also in that class of award winners was MSBC Co-Founder Brandon Rhodes, who created the BIG Initiative Award.
Following the announcement, Fernandez and Rhodes connected and Rhodes recommended that Fernandez apply for the BIG Initiative Award.
“It was an incredible honor and I was incredibly grateful to be selected,” said Fernandez of his BIG Initiative experience. “It’s fantastic to see where the winners have gone and I’ve stayed in touch over the years with a lot of them. It’s a great opportunity to give self-validation, get yourself started and open up your network to other college students.”
Fernandez said he’s a big proponent of the BIG Initiative network.
“Some of my best relationships in the industry have come from the BIG Initiative Award and from the Michigan Sport Business Conference,” said Fernandez. “Just look at the list of attendees…it’s a great gathering of people doing impactful things.”
Shortly before he was recognized with the BIG Initiative Award, Fernandez co-founded SportsManias. The app was built from the ground up with an “artificial intelligence that could differentiate between valuable sports content and unrelated tweets on sportswriters’ [Twitter] feeds.”
This artificial intelligence was built, giving rise to the individualized app experience which performed like “an editorial for your specific fantasy roster.”
When Apple allowed third-party developers to create their own emojis, SportsManias watched as teams worked with the feature, learning from their mistakes and realizing the concepts could be better. The company developed and launched its own emoji keyboard in 2015, and the SportsManias audience expanded rapidly.
In 2015, SportsManias was approached by Major League Soccer with a proposition. The league had seen SportsManias’ partnership with the National Football League Players Association and wanted to craft an MLS release of animated emojis. The two companies combined seamlessly to the delight of players and fans alike.
Fernandez said the partnership was a “cool way for MLS fans to share their passion” as their audience is “young, digital and [using] products like ours.”
SportsManias has a bright future, as it makes an impact in the mobile messaging sphere and continues to develop content feeds for fantasy users.
According to Fernandez, it was a “no-brainer” to return to this year’s conference as a speaker, especially as a former BIG Initiative Award winner. He has been a fan of the conference since the beginning and is continually “impressed by the caliber of students and names [the MSBC] bring in.”
“I know how valuable [the conference experience] can be and I definitely recommend going,” said Fernandez. “I encourage [others] to partake and enjoy a great day and a great weekend. I know I’m going to have a great experience.”
Fernandez said he is most looking forward to sharing his insights on his panel, From Mailroom to Boardroom: Managing Your Career.
“[The panel is] about starting your career, and I remember being in those seats at different events and trying to grind my way into sports media and trying to build relationships,” said Fernandez. “There’s going to be a lot of amazing students in the room and I’m looking forward to meeting them and hearing what they have to say.”
Fernandez will speak on his breakout panel during the lunch hour of the MSBC in the Robertson Auditorium. For conference news and updates, follow the official MSBC accounts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.