SAB: Michigan Sport Business Conference Delivers Excellent Product

Sports Agent Blog
By: Mark Burns
Published on October 27, 2014

For the third consecutive year, the University of Michigan held the Michigan Sport Business Conference last Friday on the Ann Arbor campus.

The conference — which was themed ‘Game Changers’ — featured John Collins (Chief Operating Officer, NHL) as the keynote speaker along with other panel discussions highlighting the intersection of sport and urban development, college athletics reform and how to engage the 21st century fan with new technology. Other breakout sessions included athlete representation (full recap here), getting your first job in sports, generating revenue in today’s business world and how the brand impacts the bottom line.

Under Armour capped off the day with an hour-long presentation documenting the brand’s history, emergence in the performance apparel space and plans for the future.

Below are some high-level notes from MSBC.

1) John Collins of the NHL discussed how the league’s Winter Classic events, which began in 2008, have really elevated the profile of the league over the past six-plus years. In addition, Collins said that it takes roughly a year to plan the Winter Classics. As the COO, Collins is responsible for league revenue, media rights, business development, international strategy and helping to secure top-tier league sponsors.

1A) Coming off the partial lockout during the 2012-13 season, Collins said the league needed to gain some momentum again and show the power of hockey in the United States. As a result, the league scheduled six outdoor games last season in big markets like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

1B) Collins commented on the Detroit Red Wings, saying that the franchise has built the gold standard from a corporate standpoint but also from a hockey operations standpoint. He suggested that the team as a ‘brand’ should be worth more than it currently is. According to Forbes, the Red Wings are the No. 9 most valuable team in the NHL at $470 million.

1C) He mentioned the NHL possibly showcasing a World Cup of Hockey sometime around September, 2016. Collins added that he believed regions like Asia and Europe were under leveraged by the league from a growth standpoint, and also, from targeting fans.

1D) Finally, Collins commented on NHL revenue. Ten years ago, it was around $2.1/2.2 billion between the 30 teams and the league, but now, it’s around $4 billion.

2) Tom Wilson, President/CEO of Olympia Entertainment, gave the audience some insights into the new home of the Detroit Red Wings. He said that it would be modeled a bit after the Bell Center (Montreal Canadiens). The new sports/entertainment district is essentially building a city within a city, according to Wilson. The Ilitch family, who owns the Red Wings, wanted to think bigger with the new venue.

2A) Wilson said that with the new arena, it’s imperative to keep in mind that the main tenant (Red Wings) will only make up a quarter of the events. He stressed that there needs to be a focus on not only what the team wants and needs, but also, what the general public needs — i.e., concerts, shows, other forms of entertainment.

3) Jim Delany, Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, sat on the ‘Economic Reforming of the NCAA’ panel. He discussed how the NCAA was still 8-10 years away from having a new, definitive, working collegiate model.

3A) Delany also suggested that there will be more room for programming in the future on ESPN/Big Ten Network for women’s volleyball, hockey and lacrosse.

4) Howard Handler, Chief Marketing Officer of Major League Soccer, addressed the audience on the ‘Technology and Sports’ panel. He constantly referenced data and analytics and how they will play a role in the short term. Currently, MLS teams utilize chip technology to document palyers’ heart rate, speed and other metrics. It’s a trend to closely watch, not only in the MLS but across all five major U.S. professional sports leagues.

5) Under Armour’s Henry Stafford, President of North America & Jason Larose, Senior Vice President of E-commerce, delivered a presentation, highlighting the brand’s evolution, vision, the company’s culture and plans for the future. Since its founding 1996, the company has grown from $17,000 a year in revenue to being a $3 billion brand. In early September, Under Armour surpassed adidas as the No. 2 sports brand.

As a final point — if you’re an undergraduate or graduate student and haven’t yet attended a sports business conference, I would highly suggest doing so. Not only do they serve as great opportunities to connect with other students and professionals, but they also allow you to become much more informed about the industry you want to work in some day.

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