A small team of Haas students tackled the contact sport of networking on the East Coast at the end of last month while attending the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and meeting with New York execs from the major sports leagues.
It was Berkeley MBA student Brandon Doll’s second time at the Sloan conference. Last year, after attending “from more of a sports fan's perspective,” Doll was inspired to pursue a career in the sports industry. “It was a different experience this year. My strategy for the conference was a lot more targeted in terms of what panels I attended and who I was looking to connect with,” says Doll, MBA 14.
Doll, who currently has an internship with the Oakland Raiders, targeted people at sports technology companies and executives working for professional teams and leagues in business development, a job function he hopes to pursue after graduation.
Doll’s interest in sports stems from his grandfather, Don Doll, who played in the NFL for six years and then coached pro footbal for 25 years: “ I grew up in a family where sports were very important. For my grandfather, it was his livelihood.”
Sports also have a played an important role in the life of Paul Simpson, a student in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program. Simpson played college basketball, and in addition to founding a tech company, is a founding partner of EDGE Basketball Academy, which trains high school and college students in basketball and provides academic mentoring and support.
Simpson, EMBA 14, was especially fascinated by not only the use of analytics on display at the conference but also the advancement of analytics across sports.
“Think of it as Moneyball 2.0,” says Simpson. Teams have gone from using analytics to choose players, as featured in the book and movie Moneyball, to using analytics to determine the best combination of players to put on the field, how to best encourage fans to attend games instead of watching on TV, and how to drive sales of specific foods, he explains.
Meanwhile, a panel on how team owners manage transition applied directly to Simpson’s daily experience as CEO of a tech company.
In particular, Simpson recalls, Vivek Ranadivé, owner of the Sacramento Kings, said owners want to do things that matter, and that drive helps them lead in a way that communicates to employees that “transition can be the catalyst of hope.”
After the Sloan Conference, several Haas students traveled to New York to meet with execs from the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, and Major League Baseball.com. The meetings were organized by Doll and Juan De Jesus, MBA 15, who worked for Major League Baseball before coming to Haas.
"The trek was a great opportunity to apply some of the key management concepts that we have learned at Haas to the sports business," says De Jesus. "I now have a better understanding of the key issues that all the leagues are trying to solve and am excited to ideate potential solutions while at Haas."
“It was really interesting to compare the different leagues,” adds Anne Lewandowski, MBA 14, a huge Red Sox fan and active member of the MBA students’ Sports Business Club. “You could see the spectrum business savvy, how international they are, and what they are doing with technology and marketing,” she says, noting MLB.com looked like a San Francisco-style startup while the offices of the other leagues felt more corporate.
No More Old Boys’ Club?
Lewandowski was pleasantly surprised by the number of women they met. She especially enjoyed meeting one female executive in major league baseball who also had held high-level positions at two top professional teams. The executive described how she successfully negotiated a contract with a baseball player when she was with a team by taking a more empathetic approach to negotiations rather than just focusing on dollars.
“I could have talked to her for hours. She was so interesting,” says Lewandowski, who hopes to land a job in corporate strategy but is not yet sure in what industry.
“Even if I don’t ultimately make my career in sports, this trip was just one of those great experiences that crystallized that our classmates really did go beyond themselves, especially Juan and Brandon, in terms of organizing this trip and getting these meetings,” she says of the New York sports trek. “It showed the strength of the Haas network and my classmates’ willingness to stick their necks out and help us have a really fantastic experience.”