By: Jeff Skarlin
Published on November 2, 2012
Imagine trying to host an event featuring some of the most influential people in professional sports, managing a team of roughly 30 students, balancing a $25,000 budget and getting a duel undergraduate degree in the Ross School of Business and the School of Sports Management at the University of Michigan. Sounds pretty crazy right? Well Brandon Rhodes, a senior at U-M, is the President of the Michigan Sport Business Conference and is doing just that with the help of his Co-President Dustin Cairo who graduated from U-M last spring.
Brandon and Dustin are both pioneers of the dual degree of Business and Sports Management at U-M, and wanted to see how they could combine the resources each school had to offer and turn it into a major event. The two came up for the idea of hosting a conference by looking around the nation and seeing what other schools were doing with sports and business. The two discovered that MIT was hosting an event, The Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, but it was targeted “More for industry professionals who are looking to get the latest on the latest analytics” said Rhodes. Additionally, Rhodes attended a conference last year at Northwestern, The Kellogg School of Management’s Sports Business Conference, but their event “is run by MBA’s, and theirs is much more slanted to the MBA crowd.”
The two students, not happy with the options available for undergraduates looking to hear from industry professionals on sports business decided that they would host an event of their own. The goal of their conference was to host an event targeted towards to “create a space where undergraduate students had an opportunity to hear leading sports executives speak, and talk to them as well, in a truly educational space” said Cairo. Additionally, he wanted to create an event that was affordable to students because many undergraduates could not afford the $100+ ticket prices at some of the other events around the country.
As founders of this new event, the two knew that they would have to think like businessmen if they wanted to make this event happen. Their first move was to secure the help of other students in the BBA and Sports Management programs to help them put on the event. Next, they wrote a 20-page business plan and made 5-10 year goals of what they wanted both for this years’ conference and for conferences in the future.
Rhodes and Cairo knew that if they wanted to achieve their goals, they were going to have to raise funds first to help make this conference a reality. They knew as a startup event that the Michigan brand was not going to be enough to get the event to happen. They were able to secure $4,000 of funding from the University, but that was nowhere near enough to cover their $25,000 budget. After hundreds of emails and phone calls the two were able to secure sponsorships from Coke Zero, 5 Hour Energy, and others because they were able to sell them on the idea that “360 of the kids in the audience are students looking sports and business related fields after graduation” said Cairo and that this was a good opportunity for them to build brand awareness amongst these groups.
To acquire speakers for the event the two held separate meetings with the deans of both the BBA program and the Sports Management program. With their aid, the two were eventually able to secure a meeting with Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon and Hunter Lockman, the CMO for Michigan Athletics. Through these meetings the two were put into contact with Michigan alum Stephen Master, VP, Head of Sports Practice at The Nielsen Company. Through his advice, the two decided that next step to acquire speakers for the event would be to create an advisory board to help acquire speakers. This advisory board would be a group of Michigan alums who would help put together the caliber of event they wanted to achieve.
With the help of the deans of each of the schools and Stephen Master, Rhodes and Cairo were able to put together quite the impressive advisory board. The board includes Master, Lockman, Ira Stahlberger, SVP at IMG-Worldwide, Dave Greely, Managing Director & Practice Leader-Frank N. Migid Associates, and Seth Ader, Senior Director of Marketing – ESPN. With the help of this all-star cast of advisors, Rhodes and Cairo were in business to start landing some marquee speakers for their event.
The most famous speaker to attend the event is none other than Michigan’s Stephen Ross, namesake of Ross School of Business. Ross is not only a major donor to the University, but he is also the owner of the Miami Dolphins. According to Rhodes, once they confirmed their all-star advisory board “we got so many inquiries to speak that we started to have to turn people away.” To make sure the connection was created, Rhodes and Cairo met with the dean at the school of Kinesiology and the Dean at the Business school to see what it would take to get Ross to attend. Fortunately, through the Kinesiology school the pair was connected with ESPN analyst Mike Tirico who is a close friend of Ross and was able to help secure Ross’ participation in the event. Fortunately though, through his connections at the University, Ross peripherally heard about the event and became interested in attending because he was already going to be in Ann Arbor for that weekend. Additionally, in a last second update, Rhodes is proud to announce that Ross and Tirico will be joined on the panel by Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB.com. These three men lead the title panel, “Digital and On-Line Sports Marketing: A conversation with Steve Ross and Bob Bowman, moderated by Mike Tirico.”
With the event less than a week away, Rhodes and Cairo have been through a lot to ensure the events success. According to Rhodes “This has been the one thing that has taught me more than classes or any internship. The greatest thing I have learned is how to manage people. I have been in leadership positions before, but I have never had 30 people working as passionate and working on a common goal with me.” Additionally he cites utilizing researches as one of the greatest lessons he has learned from this event. He feels that at Michigan “There are unlimited resources, but it is just how you use them to your advantage.”
Although Rhodes is a senior and Cairo a 2012 graduate, both of them are looking forward to how this conference can really evolve. Cairo asserts that he has aspirations “that in 5-10 years for this to be a national event and hopes students from around the country to want to travel to Ann Arbor to see this event.” While the event is currently located at Blau Auditorium, a 500 seat venue, eventually he wants to see the conference expand to a bigger auditorium. Additionally, he hopes “to ensure that the conference continues to capture our vision in more creative ways in order to allow students to continue to learn more about the sports world.” Cairo cited a number of ways in which the conference could expand, including holding a career fair concurrently with the event as well as holding more networking events.