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Manhattan Sports Business Academy Provides Students an Experience Like No Other

MSBA keeps students busy with a series of workshops, mixers, and speaker events every night for the duration of the two-month program.

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Image via Manhattan Sports Business Academy

(*MSBA is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

Since 2012, the Manhattan Sports Business Academy (MSBA) has provided one of the most comprehensive educational experiences the industry has to offer. Over 100 students have gone through the eight-week program with nearly all of them moving on to full-time careers throughout the sports.

For college students unsure of what specific area of sports they would like to move into, the program tries to give students an all-encompassing look at sub-sections of sport like sales, event production, law, marketing, and many others. This was at the forefront of founder Ben Sturner’s thinking when he created the program’s curriculum.

“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I was graduating college,” Sturner remembered. “I did some television production internships with NBC and ESPN, I did PR, and I eventually I found my way into sponsorships and working on the brand marketing side. Being 20 years old and trying to get an internship is very competitive. We wanted to create something where people can understand just how many different career paths there really are within sports.”

Through strong relationships with local pro and college teams in NYC, MSBA has placed 100 percent of the participants in internships or on-the job-learning opportunities. Students also tour companies like the NFL and NBA’s NYC headquarters and get behind-the-scenes looks at world famous venues like Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and the Barclays Center.

“The highlights of my experience were the networking opportunities and all the events we got to go to,” says alum Jessica Thomas, who now works in corporate partnership marketing for the Detroit Red Wings. “We just got to meet so many different people from so many different facets of the industry. We never heard the same thing from two different people.”

READ MORE: Inside the Huddle: Talking Paid Social With Angela Welchert

Each student is also paired with a mentor for the duration of the summer. This gives students someone to chat with about career goals as well as help them network with potential career opportunities throughout the sports world. The average student actually exits this program with about 100 new Linkedin contacts like genuine connections.

MSBA keeps students busy on this side of things with a series of workshops, mixers, and speaker events every night for the duration of the two-month program. While the technical lessons students take from the program are very important to Sturner and the rest of the staff, camaraderie is also a key part of the MSBA experience.

“The members of MSBA usually bond very well together,” Sturner says. “We really wanted to give students an immersive experience throughout the summer, allowing them all to become colleagues and friends with one another, which hopefully they will be for the rest of their lives.”

In order to create an experience that students can’t get anywhere else, Sturner and company created a feeling similar to that of places like sports academies where participants work very hard with their cohort, thus allowing them to build those relationships with each other.

“I liken MSBA to tennis academies where athletes train very hard and are with a small group of people constantly. That’s what we have for those looking for a career in the business side of sports.”

Alumni of the program can speak for the curriculum’s effectiveness in teaching them what it takes to have a long and productive career in the sports world.

“The biggest lesson that MSBA taught me is that being a fan will only get you so far in this business. You will burn out very quickly if the only reason you’re doing this is to try and get paid to be a fan. MSBA prepared us for the tenacity and willingness that you’re going to have to show to advance in this industry,” says 2014 alum Fred Stillman, now working with clients — the likes of which include MLB players Clayton Kershaw, Dexter Fowler, and Kyle Schwarber — at Excel Sports Management in New York City.

Ethan Shibutani, a 2013 alum and now a growth marketing specialist at DraftKings, echoes this sentiment.

“No doubt, MSBA was a catalyst for my professional development. Not only did MSBA allow me to uncover new skill sets and push me professionally, it paved the road that landed me in my current job,” Shibutani says. “Aside from playing a key role in my summer experience, MSBA’s network is full of professionals willing to put in the time to help you jumpstart your career even after the program is over. As the quality of the program continues to flourish, and as we all grow collectively in the business together, I’m proud to call myself an MSBA alum.”

One alum, Kevin Paul (2015), is actually in the midst of returning to MSBA as the academy’s newest program director.

“I really feel like I grew a lot as a professional and as a person through my involvement with MSBA,” Paul says. “I’m looking forward to giving all of our students the best possible summer individually. We try to cater to the student as much as possible by finding their individual strengths and putting them in the right internships.”

READ MORE: Inside the Huddle: Monetizing Social Content With Alex Korn 

Not only do MSBA’s past participants love the results of the program, they thoroughly enjoy the process of participating as well.

“MSBA provided an experience both invaluable and game-changing,” shares Chris Stathos (2013), partnership activation coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs. “In just eight weeks, the close relationships I made — and continue to maintain to this day — with my classmates are unique and unparalleled, and it’s extremely rewarding to see most of us getting our sports careers underway.

“No doubt, we have the MSBA program, its staff, and our mentors to thank for giving us exposure to one another and to some of the industry’s best. I can confidently say that MSBA is one of the smartest professional decisions I’ve ever made.”

(*MSBA is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

The cutoff for applications for the summer 2019 program is February 28. Students interested in applying can click here for more information.

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Dallas Cowboys’ Digital Team Takes on Texas-Sized Storytelling

With one of the largest social media audiences in sports, there really isn’t an offseason for the Dallas Cowboys’ digital team.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

(*Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

There are many superlatives to describe the Dallas Cowboys organization. On top of the five Super Bowl victories, the Cowboys are valued at $4.8 billion, the highest figure of any professional sports team in the world. The Cowboys are also on or near the top of the NFL, as well as the global pro sports landscape, in terms of total audience on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Telling a story to that big of an audience can be daunting. It’s a challenge, however, that the digital team of Taylor Stern (Content Strategist), Shannon Gross (Director of Content Strategy) and Dana Byrnes (Social Media Coordinator) continually meets. With their combined experience, the group has come to understand how to approach the NFL offseason from a digital perspective. When the season ends on the field, the digital team begins to recap the team’s accomplishments while being sensitive to how the season ended as well as personnel changes. There isn’t too much time to dwell on the past though with things like free agency, schedule releases and the NFL Draft quickly approaching.

“As far as preparing and getting ready for other events that are coming, you kind of hit the ground running right away,” Stern says. “It’s all immediate. For some of the other smaller events such as the combine that fall in between, we have game plans set. I think it’s just having consistency in the offseason that we’ve really found to be the key because during the season you can’t really prepare for it because you’re so focused on what’s happening in the moment.”

In recent years, the Cowboys’ digital success during the regular season and postseason has been best exemplified by the storytelling in their video work. Particularly, in the buildup to the 2016 playoffs, the Cowboys released a series entitled “#FinishThisFight,” which consisted of short-form documentaries about the struggles notable players overcame to obtain their current success. The series reached over four million people combined on social media.

“It was really unique because, for the first time ever, we got the players to tell their own stories headed into those playoffs and then actually followed up in the off-season,” Stern recalls. “I was lucky to be a part of a team that went and did this documentary that we actually won an Emmy for. Following up for 2018’s playoff run, we went with #FinishThisFight again, and we had great videos once again.”

2018’s #FinishThisFight included a video simply called “Round 2” featuring Cowboys fan and world champion boxer Errol Spence Jr. That video had a reach of over two million on Facebook.

While the Cowboys have the largest audience on Facebook, the digital team puts the most effort, in terms of strategy, into the team’s Instagram presence. That page includes no sponsored content or promotional posts. As a result, the team has seen more growth on Instagram in the past year than on any other platform.

“I don’t think that as a brand we’ve ever been flashy with contests or things of that nature,” Stern says. “Instagram is so focused on images, and we have great photographers that we want to show off and make images stand out instead of being buried against an ad.”

Something that you will find on the Cowboys’ social pages is content created through the team’s partnership with Team Infographics. The digital team and Team Infographics work together to create templates for score updates and player of the game posts as well as things like schedule releases. It can all be modified and rendered on the fly through the company’s easy-to-use CMS.

“Team Infographics are absolutely incredible and the customer service that they’ve been able to provide us is unlike any other vendor I’ve ever worked with,” Stern says. “Doing graphics in-game is a huge part of the game-day experience on social media. The PSD files were messy [before Team Infographics]. I think it’s heaven-sent because of the fact that it’s all just on a web page, all custom and unique to us. It’s the best system I’ve used.”

Now, just a few short months away from another NFL season, the Cowboys digital team is settling in for another year of churning out high-quality content. This approach can be an example for aspiring sports professionals to keep working hard and trying to outdo themselves.

“Don’t take your foot off the gas,” Stern advises. “It’s really easy to get discouraged in this business. But just keep grinding, keep working and keep changing and adapting and growing, and you’ll get to where you want to be in time.”

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Viz Arena’s Down & Distance Gives Ravens Fans More to Cheer About

Vizrt’s game-changing technology is a vital storytelling tool for the Baltimore Ravens and soon could be throughout professional football.

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Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

(*VIZRT is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

The NFL’s Baltimore Ravens know a lot about meeting goals on and off the field. Since 2000, the team has won two Super Bowl, two AFC Championships and five AFC North division titles. Now, as a three-year, $120 million renovation nears completion, the Ravens want to make M&T Stadium the very best place in the U.S. to experience football.

Vizrt’s Viz Arena live sports enhancement solution is a vital part of the upgrade. Both a fan enhancement tool and a monetization solution, Viz Arena enables the addition of augmented reality graphics, including virtual ads, through image-based tracking.

The sweeping renovation also includes a high-density WiFi network, larger and higher-resolution in-stadium video screens and a completely overhauled control room with the most advanced video production solutions available today.

With Viz Arena and their new broadcast equipment, the Ravens can now give fans an even more immersive in-stadium experience through cleaner, more professional in-stadium programming. The team also tacked on a package called Down & Distance, a software application of Viz Arena that inserts a yellow first-down marker, making the line appear painted on the field rather than digitally imposed. This is the first application of its kind available in 1080p or 4K without any upscaling or complex image processing.

For Vice President of Broadcasting and Gameday Productions Jay O’Brien and his production staff, this means enhancing replays and in-stadium entertainment to include first-down line capabilities for the first time.

It’s become the standard for watching football and has completely changed the viewing experience,” explains O’Brien. “Fans aren’t looking at sticks and the chain any more. They look to the video boards. The yellow line has changed fans’ viewing patterns, so it has to be accurate and reliable. We can’t afford any mistakes.”  

The Viz Arena Down & Distance tool can also seamlessly and unobtrusively integrate locked-in virtual graphics or ads on or around the field of play. They can be fully integrated into a production at a specific location or tied to the lines as they move.This versatility allows multiple sponsors and graphics to change throughout the game. It adds an extra incentive for sponsors and another revenue stream for the organization.

“What’s surprising is how much Down & Distance has changed the way we produce our content,” O’Brien continues, “It gives us in the control room information in real time that’s vital to enhance the in-stadium fan experience and get more value from our programming.”

In the past, O’Brien worked with other similar video solutions that didn’t live up to his team’s needs or expectations. After using Viz Arena’s Down and Distance for a short time, however, he could see that the end product was of a higher quality altogether. Not only that, it’s cost-effective: Down and Distance depends on live or archived footage instead of cameras and doesn’t require expensive, labor-intensive deployment.

As an added bonus, the solution only took O’Brien and his team roughly 25 minutes to set up and about the same time to learn how to use. All told, O’Brien expects the solution to be a much bigger part of the fan experience landscape in the near future.

“Vizrt wants to innovate with us. They want a larger footprint in the NFL space, and that’s sure to happen as more teams become aware of what Viz Arena and its applications can do,” he says. “I’ve been a cheerleader for this product, and we want to stretch our use of the solution even further next year.”

For more information Vizrt’s Viz Arena and Down & Distance application, please visit www.vizrt.com or email sports@vizrt.com.

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Connect&GO’s RFID Solutions Improve Live Events For Fans And Venues

The founders of Connect&GO brought several uses for radio-frequency identification technology to the world of live sports and entertainment.

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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

(*Connect&GO is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology can have many practical uses. In the past, Anthony Palermo has developed RFID solutions within the realms of healthcare, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and military operations. In 2012, Palermo and Dominic Gagnon joined forces to found Connect&GO in Montréal, Québec. Connect&GO provides RFID solutions for sports and entertainment events and venues all over the world.

Seven years ago, Palermo and Gagnon had their first major success within the sports industry with Montréal’s Saputo Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Montréal Impact.

At the time, Saputo Stadium comfortably sat about 16,000 fans, but a plan was in process to add 5,000 more seats. The venue enlisted Palermo and Gagnon to find a way to attract more fans while simultaneously making game entry  as easy as possible. Their solution was a plastic key that fans could scan in an express lane to enter the stadium on game days.

“The concept was fans could have their own key to the stadium,” Palermo says. “We wanted to make fans feel like the stadium belonged to them.”

Every seventh fan that scanned their key would even see their name and photo appear on a monitor welcoming them to the stadium. Fans could also scan the keys at several points around the stadium to enter contests, utilize photo kiosks and collect points that were redeemable at the fan shop and other areas tied into the stadium. It was from this success that Palermo and Gagnon realized they had a valuable tool for access control as well as cashless payments and experiential activations. From there, Connect&GO was born.

“We personally believe, as a company and as founders of the company, that technology should only be there to make an experience better, not to impose on an experience,” Palermo says. “What we’re trying to do is look at guest experiences and ask how do we make it a better? How do we make people see the value in being a VIP or a season ticket holder?

“What we don’t want to do is have people use technology for technology’s sake. We don’t want to drive people to an app. We want to maximize the amount of time that people are using to actually take in the game or show. That’s a personal mission that we have.”

This focus on the guest experience is what Palermo believes sets Connect&GO apart from other RFID solutions providers in the space.

“RFID just happened to be the technology that as a team we mastered over the years, but it really wasn’t about that.” he says. We ask questions such as, ‘How do people enter? Is the parking frustrating? Is getting through security frustrating?’ What we’re trying to do is make everything that much easier, and it gets people to just enjoy their experience as well.”

After the Saputo Stadium project, Connect&GO partnered with the Osheaga Festival, Canada’s largest music festival. From there, the company has performed activations with brands including Pepsi and HBO at events like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, Comicon and SXSW. In 2017, Sports Illustrated named Connect&GO a company that will “change the way you watch sports.” Moving forward, Connect&GO has activations lined up with the Rogers Cup and the AFL.

As Connect&GO continues to focus on ways to improve the guest experience through access, payments and experiential solutions, look for their footprint within the sports industry to continue to grow exponentially in the near future.

Learn more about Connect&GO and how they connect the fan experience at live games in their latest whitepaper here.

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