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Students, Visiting Faculty and Marketing Professionals Examine Cutting Trends in the Sports and Entertainment Industry

By Keith Morelli

Speaker in front of audience

TAMPA (April 2, 2018) -- The opening message at the fourth annual University of South Florida Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference was foreboding: Interest in professional athletics is waning and it's been on the decline for years. The upbeat thought: It will fall to sport and entertainment program graduates to turn the trend around.

That will be a difficult task, but it can be done if the new blood in the sports marketing industry can break free from the conventional approach to marketing and come up with innovative ways to bring fans back to the stadiums, arenas, courts and courses, said Rich Luker, the first speaker at the conference held last month in the USF Gibbons Alumni Center.

He paused after asking how many in the room were graduating in May.

"Welcome," he told the students with their hands raised, "to chaos."

For decades, sport marketing moved slowly and steadily, often reacting to trends rather than setting trends, he said. Seats were filled, televisions were watched. But, over the past few years, all that has changed. Younger generations now lack the exposure of attending an afternoon baseball game or a fall football game and they go elsewhere for entertainment, namely the iPhones and the Internet, he said. The challenge is to bring all those potential fans to the game by convincing sports CEOs, most of an older generation, to implement some seismic changes, including, perhaps, admitting children to games for free.

Data is key, said Luker, the founder of Luker on Trends, a consulting company that develops new social and market research models and specializes in sports research, but ferreting out what data to use, particularly data that may explain why a trend is happening, not just that it is happening, is the challenge.

"You will be inundated with data the rest of your life," he said, "and most of the data you will see in analytics is crap."

His remarks were the first of more than a dozen speakers giving talks and participating in panel discussions over the two-day conference, attended by about 200 people. Many were students from USF and other universities, along with sport and entertainment marketing professionals and some faculty from other universities.

The topics varied widely, but most dealt with strategies of how to get sport and entertainment fans into seats and engaged. The conference is gaining prestige in the emerging world of analytics and creativity as it relates to sports and entertainment. Guest speakers from around the country, who are on the cutting edge of data collection and analysis and devising ways to improve customer/client/fan experiences, shared their experiences and insights.

"Analytics is no longer used for a competitive advantage," said Mike Mondello, conference chair and associate program director who teaches sport/business analytics and finance classes in the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program. "Now, analytics is a competitive necessity."

Among those attending was Paul Blakely, a professor at the University of Worcester in the United Kingdom. He brought three of the four students enrolled in the fledgling program there.

"We want to focus on the international component," he said, and the conference offered a good taste of that. It was the first trip with students to the United States, he said. "This is an extension of some of the content we teach in our program. The data is available, but the best use of that data is key."

The conference gave its first Lifetime Achievement Award to Matt Levine and the Innovator in Sports Analytics Award to Mike Bernstein and Shelley Pisara.

Levine is a sports/business and marketing strategist, innovator and managing director of Source USA, a sports, live entertainment and event branding/image elevation and audience-building program.

Bernstein is vice president of Wasserman Media Group, a sports-marketing group that synthesizes data, insights and strategic analysis into consumer engagement approaches. Pisarra is senior vice president of research and insights at Wasserman. She develops and executes strategic frameworks that identify new growth territories for clients.

"This is my second year attending the USF Sport and Entertainment Analytics Conference, said Lauren Alford, a student in the program. "It's a great opportunity to network with distinguished organizations such as the Orlando Magic, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Wasserman Media Group.

"This event is valuable for all students and professionals," she said. "Nearly every speaker stressed the importance of having a knowledge of analytics, no matter what business department one resides in. Analytics can be applied to marketing, partnership, operations, and more. It's the way businesses must operate in today's world in order to maintain a competitive edge."

Mondello said this conference was the best the program has had.

"I base that not just my opinion but from the positive feedback shared by the attendees," he said. "The presentations and panels were engaging, insightful and left all of us with new ways to think about helping reshape the sports business industry.

"As our conference grows both in prestige and value, much of the credit goes to our speakers and panelists," he said. "Those inside the industry recognize the leading organizations driving the innovation in sports and entertainment analytics on the program and this gives us additional credibility."