Numbers, not “gut feelings,” are the key to successful sports management, says one Florida university.
A Florida business school is teaching students to minimize the use of “gut feel” in sports management and operations with a new numbers-based sports business program.
Jacksonville University, a private college in Jacksonville, Fla., evolved its sports management program into a sports economics programs, making it one of only a handful of sports degrees housed in accredited business schools.
The program will teach students to use statistics and financial models to make decisions regarding sports enterprise, marketing and administration. For example, students will analyze the effect of a new stadium on a city’s economy, use demographic data to target and build a fan base and determine how to best maximize return on advertising in a sports arena.
The degree’s strong focus in data analysis is the direction the sports management industry is headed, says Carol Dole, chair of JU’s sports business program.
“You can’t say, ‘I love sports so I’m going to go major in sports,’” Dole says. “If you’re going to go get a job with a team or with an organization, it’s going to help you to be able to quantitatively analyze your position in the market.”
Many sports management programs are within a school’s kinesiology or hospitality and tourism department. Other programs pair sports administration classes along with general business class, but few mesh the two and offer a series of sports-focused business classes, Dole says.
The curriculum requires students to take general business classes with a sports focus, specific sports business classes and a capstone class where students will assist a local sports organization with a project.
Classes will focus on topics ranging from venue financing to monetizing brand sponsorship to sports industry investment returns.
The sports industry is a growing market. PricewaterhouseCoopers, a multinational accounting firm, predicts sports market revenue will surpass $145 million by 2015, a rise from about $121 million in 2010.
JU senior Zach Greenwald will return to campus in the fall after finishing an internship with the Atlanta Hawks’ customer relations department. Greenwald, 22, helped collect demographic data from potential Hawks ticketholders to pass on to an analyst who manipulates the data to create a marketing plan.
Greenwald says he is excited to take the new sports business classes at JU where he can begin to learn some of those skills.
“If there’s a class devoted to teach you how to use a database, when you have an internship and you can put on your resume you’ve had moderate amount of experience with it, that’s going to stand out to employers,” he says.
Business analytics can make students more competitive in the job market, says Brian McCullough, secretary of the North American Society for Sports Management and a professor at Bowling Green University in Ohio.
McCullough says Bowling Green has talked about including more data analysis into its sports management program because more franchises are looking for employees with those skills. Sports management students can lose jobs in the sports industry to students who can do data analysis, he says.
“People from Harvard and MIT get a paid position in business analytics and they get a job,” he says. “Well, now we’re competing against these schools.”
Don Capener, the dean of JU’s Davis College of Business says the program’s numbers-based focus is similar to the type of cost-benefit sports analysis made popular by the 2011 film Moneyball. The film was based on the true story of an Oakland A’s coach who used sabermetrics, a model that uses different statistics to choose players and lineups, to create a winning baseball team.
The new sports business degree could eventually include classes that teach the sabermetric method and focus on analyzing the worth of individual players and creating competitive strategies for sports teams, Dole says.
Jimmy Howick, a JU senior, will start the new sports business classes after playing baseball for the Houston Astros. Howick, 22, says the team’s general manager strongly supports sabermetrics.
Howick says the program’s focus was smart. During his professional career, he says he has seen analytics and number crunching replace “gut feeling” or intuition in many aspects of sports, from creating lineups to marketing promotions.
“It may seem like overkill statistics, but it can give you a competitive advantage,” he says. “It can show you what’s working and what’s not.”
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