Faculty Spotlight - Bill Sutton

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Bill Sutton gained a love of sports watching the Pittsburgh Pirates play.

Years later, he is still fascinated by sports, but by aspects other than the swing of a bat or the curve of a pitch. Now, it's the business of sports that intrigues him. As a former vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA, Sutton, who is the the inaugural director of USF's Sport & Entertainment Management MBA program, knows what it takes to get fans in the seats. In his current role, the longtime sport marketing scholar is passing his knowledge of the business along to USF students.

"Sports is a cyclical business because sometimes you're up, and sometimes you're down, but whether you win or lose, you have to meet your business expenses," he said. "I enjoy that challenge."

Sutton's own career has been a mix of teaching, consulting, and high-profile sports marketing positions. He obtained bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from Oklahoma State University, and after teaching at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh and The Ohio State University, he decided to pursue sports marketing and prove to himself that he could apply the subject matter he was teaching students.

He took a vice president position with marketing firm DelWilber + Associates, returning to teaching at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst three years later satisfied that he knew his subject matter firsthand. He later took the job with the NBA and started his own consulting firm, in addition to helping head the sport business program at the University of Central Florida.

"What I like most about my job is that I've done what I teach, so there's some credibility there because I understand the job," he said.

It still feels surreal to look back on his experience with the NBA and think that he had an effect on its marketing strategy, Sutton said.

"When I would sit down with NBA Commissioner David Stern and figure out where to go next, I had to pinch myself," he said.

However, Sutton said the opportunity to pass the value from those experiences along to students was just as appealing to him.

Recently, Sutton has been recognized both for his scholarship and professional experience. This year alone, he received three awards: the Academic Achievement in Sport and Entertainment Award from the Sport Entertainment and Venues Tomorrow Conference; the Sport Management Scholar Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Sport Management Association, of which he is president; and the Inaugural Sutton Award from the Sport Marketing Association. The Inaugural Sutton Award, in its first year, is named after him, and recognizes contributions by an academic to link theory and practice and industry and academia.

Sutton's contribution to the industry isn't only based on personal achievements, but also in the knowledge he has passed along to his students. In his consulting work, Sutton said many of the problems he has been asked to solve deal with talent. He said he hopes the USF Sport & Entertainment MBA will infuse talent back into the community to be part of the solution.

The sport and entertainment industry is one where workers are expected to pay their dues, Sutton said, adding he tries to communicate that reality to his students. Entry-level jobs are not high-paying, he said.

"You've got to be flexible, you've got to be opportunistic, and you've got to work hard to build a strong skill set," he said.

However, Sutton said he hopes the partnership between USF and the Tampa Bay Lightning will give students a boost in their careers. Sutton pointed to the second-year co-op requirement for students, where students will have a yearlong 20-hour per week internship with the Lightning and other local companies. He hopes the program will enable students to graduate with less debt than in other MBA programs because it includes paid work experience in addition to real sport and entertainment business experience on their resumes.

"The students will have worked for a year before they graduate and look for a job, and that's going to be a lifechanger," he said.