David Sally delivers the keynote at the sports symposium.
For students interested in sports business, the Media, Entertainment and Sports Group's (MESG) fourth annual Sports Symposium must have felt like Christmas Day. The symposium, held on Nov. 15 at the Harper Center, featured industry panelists discussing a range of topics, including front office management, sports analytics, digital marketing and litigation in sports. David Sally '95, Visiting Associate Professor at the Tuck School of Business, highlighted the conference with a keynote speech discussing the analytical reformation of soccer.
The day's activities kicked off with a panel of successful front office personnel. Booth alumnus Michael Girsch '03, the assistant general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, set the day's tone by stating there is "no equivalent in the corporate world to winning games." That certainly sounded like the professional motivation for two recent Booth graduates, Jon Hay '13 and Michael Gries '13.
Both alums sat on a panel discussing the increasing role of analytics in sports. Gries, who works in baseball operations with the Baltimore Orioles, said his current role is "like a fantasy job." A member of the Boston Red Sox's baseball analytics staff, Hay recalled his pre-Booth days as a trader, when his coworkers would read stock charts while he scoured baseball analytics websites.
During the lunch hour, current Booth students Ryan Jones '14, Mauricio Zachrisson '14 and Matt Frankenfeld '14, along with Harvard PhD candidate Alex D'Amour, delivered academic presentations on various sports analytics topics. The Booth students derived their subject matter from Booth's spring 2013 Sports Analytics class, taught by Walter David "Bud" Fackler Distinguished Service Professor of Economics John Huizinga, Fama Family Professor of Finance Tobias Moskowitz and George J. Stigler Distinguished Service Professor of Economics Kevin Murphy.
David Sally '95 energized the crowd in the afternoon, intermingling soccer clips with colorful anecdotes. A recipient of a PhD in economics from Booth, Sally discussed findings from his new book, The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong. In one example, Sally described soccer as a "weakest link sport," correlating the likelihood of wins to the quality of a team's worst player rather than its best.
Afternoon panelists discussed sports issues in marketing and law. The marketing dialogue centered on ways to utilize digital and social media to engage fans. Alison Miller, senior marketing director for the Chicago Cubs, noted her job was about providing "the right message, at the right time, in the right place." Meanwhile, the legal panel chatted about hot-button sports topics like concussions in football and illegal doping in professional sports.
Many panelists offered sound words of advice to attendees looking to break into the industry. Enthusiasm, passion, and tenacity are key traits, while the ability to communicate and sell an idea is paramount. The most critical takeaway of the symposium came from Sally's simple secret to sports analytics: "challenge conventional wisdom."