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Bill Sutton Retires, Students and Grads of the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program Sound Off

By Keith Morelli

Bill Sutton and Michelle Harrolle

TAMPA (November 23, 2018) -- Commonly known as “Doc” to the students enrolled in the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management program, Bill Sutton is the only director the program has ever had. Beginning in 2012, through a partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the program has flourished under Sutton’s leadership. This year, it rose to No. 4 in the SportJournal International ranking. That’s No. 4 in the world.

Sutton announced his retirement from the program a few weeks ago. He will stay on until the end of August and spend the fall semester of 2019 in an externship with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Along the way, he will ease the transition for his successor, Michelle Harrolle, who will take the reins of the program that boasts a 98 percent rate of employment for its students within three months of graduation.

And upon hearing the news of Sutton’s retirement, many of those former students had things to say about “Doc:”

Sutton said that over his time in academia, he figures to have taught, mentored and graduated some 2,000 students both at USF, where he started in 2012, UCF prior to coming here and before that at Robert Morris University, The Ohio State University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

He will continue his consulting business, Bill Sutton & Associates, which specializes in strategic marketing and revenue enhancement in the sports and entertainment industry.

Sutton, who will continue to live in Tampa with his wife, Sharon, said he had accomplished much of what he set out to do with the program. 

“I had a list,” he said. “When you catch yourself not adding to that list, it’s time to go.”

He believes the program, which awards an MBA and a master’s degree in sport and entertainment management, excelled as fast as it has because of its close collaboration with the Tampa Bay Lightning and having the support of many other community partners.

"If you're going to have a program in a place like Tampa, you need to capitalize on being in Tampa. And that's what this program is able to do," Sutton said in an article published on the college’s website shortly after he started. "We're able to do all the different things that are part of Tampa and make it part of our curriculum, make it part of our program and provide these opportunities for our students."

It’s the residency component that makes the program so special. First, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning who offered temporary jobs to students to learn the ins and outs of the business. Then other sports teams and entertainment businesses joined in. It was Harrolle who built the residency programs into what it is now, Sutton said. The part-time jobs often lead to offers of full-time employment.”

 When he came here six years ago, he had an opportunity to build the program pretty much from scratch. And now that it’s off and running, he’s stepping aside.

“I’m a builder,” he said, “not a developer.”

That will be Harrolle’s job, he said.

“She’s got the energy and passion to do this,” he said. “She has proved herself not just to me, but to our partners as well.”

His main focus now is to raise money for a $1 million professorship endowment. Jeff and Penny Vinik, who donated more than $5 million for the naming rights of the program, have pitched in $500,000, Sutton said.

A distinguished academician and a proven sports marketing practitioner, Sutton teaches courses in sports marketing and sales and fundraising in sports. Outside the classroom, his list of clients for whom he has done consulting work is impressive: AEG, NBA, NFL, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, MSG Sports, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the New York Mets.

Sutton, who grew up in Pittsburgh earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate from Oklahoma State University, where he was inducted into the College of Education Hall of Fame in 2003. He has authored more than 200 publications in journals such as Sport Marketing Quarterly, the Journal of Sport Management, and the International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship. He is also a co-author of two texts: Sport Marketing and Sport Promotion and Sales Management and is co-editor of the Handbook of Sport Marketing Research.

Sutton is an inaugural member of the Robert Morris University Sport Management Hall of Fame (2006) and recipient of lifetime achievement awards from the Southern Sport Management Association and the SEVT Conference presented by the University of South Carolina in 2012. He serves on the board of directors for the Folds of Honor Foundation. Sutton is also a past president of both the North American Society for Sport Management and the Sport Marketing Association.

Sutton makes it a point to know all of the students in his program, so that he may better help them find fitting jobs once they graduate. Sutton, who has been in the sports management field for almost his entire career, has many working relationships around the country which could help his students after graduation.

Here's More of What Students and Former Students Are Saying: