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The Research Behind the Industry — the Journey of T. Bettina Cornwell

Front Office Sports



By: Katie Willis, @_KatieWillis

T. Bettina Cornwell, Edwin E. & June Woldt Cone Professor of Marketing in the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon

Front Office Sports is honored to have sat down with T. Bettina Cornwell, Edwin E. & June Woldt Cone Professor of Marketing in the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon. Bettina was kind enough to have offered up her time and insight into her journey through the sports business industry. Her research focuses on marketing communications and consumer behavior, often including international and public policy topics. Bettina looks at indirect marketing, such as sponsorship, celebrity endorsement and brand placement in addition to how memory influences consumer behavior. She is author of “Sponsorship in Marketing: Effective Communication through Sports Arts and Events”, a book that makes a decade of research on sponsorship more accessible.

As a professor of marketing, research has played an important role in your work. What are you most interested in learning more about?

My interests are very much about supplying evidence for decision-making. My academic career is built around understanding subtle marketing communications, and contexts where it’s sometimes difficult to understand messages and where they may have unintended consequences. It also applies to public policy situations. A good part of my research has been on corporate sponsorships in sports marketing and entertainment. In that situation, you have a very deprived communication environment where a lot of people only see logos as a backdrop to competition or the flicker of a brand as it travels past them. That difficult communication context is what a lot of my research is based around. On the public policy side, children receive brand communications today at a young age and I am interested in how this shapes their behavior and their future. This part of my research is more public policy oriented and isn’t so much about sports but about health.

I am interested in a range of topics and for me, they all fall under the same umbrella. I enjoy understanding difficult communication contexts and even more, how people are thinking about things due to these minimal but repeated communications. In sponsorship, how do people gain information about a sponsor during a sporting event with everything else going on? In a similar fashion, young children learn a great deal in cluttered contexts and very young children pick up on brand messages about food whether it’s coming from commercials, products or restaurants. That’s the policy side.

At times, research on sport sponsorship and public policy come together. If a company is utilizing sponsorship in communicating about their brand and wants to be viewed as being healthier, they might sponsor sporting events even though they don’t have a healthy offering. Is that a bit problematic? We’ve been researching this and that behavior can be destructive to brand meaning clarity. It applies to oil companies sponsoring nature preservation and to fast food restaurants sponsoring sport. When you are on the environmentally unfriendly or unhealthy side, sponsoring environmentally friendly and healthy things cannot shore up your image. Moreover, we show these sorts of combinations are actually detrimental to the sponsored object- whoever is being sponsored.

My objective is to bring research evidence forward that is helpful to society and to the brand. If sponsorship is not authentic for a brand they should not want to raise skepticism. Likewise, sports must think carefully about their relationships. While the financial support that comes with sponsorship may be attractive a sport property, they must be careful about their own positioning and the authenticity of their brand.

Like companies who try and build an authentic relationship with their brand, how do people build a personal brand that is authentic? How does it apply when looking at various job opportunities?

I think that you cannot choose a better criteria for your own personal brand than to be authentic. You have to present yourself as you are on your social media, on your LinkedIn page and in everything you do. Try to be authentic and true to who you are. Don’t try to be something you think people want to see.

You have to think a little bit about the receiving side also. If you apply to three different companies and write your resume three very different ways, who are you really? You have to be the authentic you. It’s really better for you and the employer if you are honest about who you are, where you want to go and who you want to be in the future. They make a better choice about hiring you and you make a better job choice because you learn if it’s going to meet your needs and goals. Don’t try to form yourself into something you’re not. Be your best, but be you.

How can young professionals set themselves apart and distinguish themselves when entering the industry?

One of the things the market needs is analytic ability. If you want to make sure you stand out, have additional analytical skills, an understanding of statistics, software programs, customer relationship software, etc.

Another thing to distinguish yourself is to learn a second language — really, truly knowing how to speak a second language beyond your high school and college learning experiences. Actually, go to another country and develop your speaking skills to interact and to take it to the next level. This can be done while volunteering in the sport space or while interning.

Experience is your number one gig but it’s not experience that will set you apart. It’s your distinguishing characteristics that will set you apart come interview time. You have to get out there, volunteer, work part-time, be entrepreneurial, innovative–whatever you have to do to distinguish yourself from others. What are you going to do other than just having an internship? Most everyone has internships. What more are you going to do?

In the sponsorship space, there is a great deal of job movement amongst sport, intermediaries-like sport marketing firms, and brands. If you’re going to work on the sports side of sponsorships service, collaborate with brands to achieve both their goal and your goals. It helps to know what they want and need. Get your mind inside of their brain. Put yourself in their shoes to better understand the sports properties and their value.

What is a characteristic someone can highlight about themselves when walking into a job interview?

Quality. If something is worth doing, do it to the best of your ability. Have a sense of what quality is, how to implement projects, and then, measure your outcomes. That applies to a Ph.D., to an MBA to an undergraduate [degree]. Invest in quality experiences and make sure you complete them. There are so many things that are left undone. Before you ever start it, look forward so that you can later measure. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? Make those goals so that you can measure them at the end and ask yourself, ‘Was it successful?’

At the end, you now have talking points. You can talk about what goals you had and the outcomes you experienced. You don’t need superlatives, fluff or puffery. You can go straight to: here is what we set out to do, here’s how we did it, and here’s the success story. That speaks so much louder than claims.

How important is mentorship? What can a young professional do to make sure they are establishing those relationships in a good way?

A lot of people talk these days about having your own personal board of directors for several different areas of life. You gain knowledge from a variety of people. I fall back on authenticity and quality. You want to engage with people who are meaningful for you and not just develop more friends on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn. You want to have deeper quality relationships. They have to be organic, look to people you can respect and can admire. Some mentoring programs place you with a mentor. While this may be a good person if their personal style is not good for you, it won’t work. You have to have faith in the relationship or it will not have value into the future.

There’s also sometimes value in ending relationships. Don’t stick with people or jobs that drain you. Go for jobs or relationships that fuel you. Just because you’ve been with someone for a long time doesn’t mean you have to continue along that path. You should cultivate relationships that fuel you, build you up and inspire you. If it’s not working, then that’s okay. You can end them on a good note and move forward.

Additional wisdom/advice:

Be thankful for family, friends and colleagues. Research is a team sport. My journey is tied to the journey of my research collaborators, my colleagues, my students and the support from my home team. In particular, my PhD students inspire and question me, and convince me every day that I made the right career choice. There really is not a better job in the world than to get to explore new ideas with people you enjoy.

We would like to thank her for her time and insights and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors!

You can follow her on Twitter here!

This interview is another edition of “Winning Edge Wednesday” in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry. If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at

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How The UNC Tar Heels Organized Roy Williams’ Court Dedication

To celebrate the dedication of Roy Williams Court, UNC staff were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend.

Front Office Sports




via UNC Basketball

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

The history of the NCAA Tournament can’t be told properly without the inclusion of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels and head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams. Now in his 16th season as Tar Heels head coach, Williams has guided UNC to five Final Fours and three national championships alongside a host of individual coaching awards.

To honor Coach Williams and his impact on UNC basketball, the university dedicated the court inside the Dean E. Smith Center to him with a ceremony in August of 2018. To celebrate the occasion, men’s basketball staffers were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend that included hundreds of UNC’s greatest players from Williams’ time as a student, assistant coach, and head coach in Chapel Hill as well as the current team and members of Williams’ family. This mainly fell on the shoulders of administrative assistant Cynthia Friend and business operations/special events manager Kaye Chase.

READ MORE: Mississippi State Volleyball Camps Run Efficiently While Building for the Program’s Future

To help notify all the invitees about the event and maintain their contact information, Friend and Chase needed an effective communication tool in Teamworks. UNC’s athletic department had already been utilizing the software for two years for a number of internal logistics like messaging, compliance related tasks, distributing travel itineraries, and document sharing, but found another use for it in Teamworks’ mass communication abilities.

“There were multiple parts to the reunion including the unveiling of the court, dinner, a golf outing, and pick-up games on Saturday. We needed to get all that information to the lettermen as well as get their RSVPs in the most time-efficient way that we could,” says Friend.

The two then were able to set up different profiles for each prospective guest within the program that included their respective contact info and their eventual response. To maximize likelihood of a response, Friend and Chase used Teamworks to send both emails and texts to all prospective attendees.

“Going into this, we really were not sure how we were going to handle RSVPs,” recalls Chase. “So we made a form, which auto-populated into an Excel spreadsheet. That saved us quite a bit of time.”

Friend and Chase then were able to efficiently let the hundreds of attendees know where they were expected to be for each event as well as other key logistical details. If and when small changes to the schedule occurred, all attendees could be notified easily through Teamworks. The end result was a very smooth weekend that had many of the former players raving on social media both during and after the weekend.

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READ MORE: Miami Hurricanes Leverage Technology To Prepare For Actual Hurricanes

Moving forward, the Tar Heels plan to hold more reunion events, particularly for their teams that won national championships or reached the Final Four. 2019 marked Roy Williams’ 29th season in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. It is only a matter of time before one of his legendary teams is honored with a special return trip home to Chapel Hill. When that time comes, UNC administrators will have the procedures in place to make it happen after acquiring the contact information for nearly every letterman in program history through setting up Carolina Family Weekend. 

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“It’s great to have these processes and this information already in place for smaller events and reunions,” Chase says. “Having all of our lettermen organized into this database has been really great for us. We’re looking forward to finding more ways to use it and more reasons to bring our alumni back to campus.”

To learn more about how Teamworks helps empower the sports world’s best, visit today.

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USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

The U.S. Olympic Committee is careful in the technologies its sports use, but overall technology is now an important tool in helping train athletes.





Photo via USOC

Phil Cheetham is careful to avoid analysis paralysis.

The term was used to describe providing athletes with too much information from the variety of ways data can be collected today. Cheetham, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s director of sport technology and innovation, said the TMI condition is possible, but easily maneuvered around by allowing coaches to be the gatekeeper.

“We’ll feed coaches as much as we can,” Cheetham said. “They’re the filter, they have to take the data and filter it into coach speak and into the drills and exercises.”

Cheetham’s role is largely to interact and advise with the various National Governing Bodies that make up the U.S. Olympic teams as they enter into the final training stretch of Tokyo 2020.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

His main goal is to help the various teams, coaches and technical directors select technology that is simple to use and helps understand and improve athletes more rapidly and to avoid injuries.

“If tech can help an athlete be quicker and better, then we’re for it,” Cheetham said.

That said, Cheetham said the technology used within the U.S. teams across the sports spectrum have to not be too intrusive. The equipment — like wearables – must be simple and easily integrated into a piece of clothing or shoes, without impeding the athletic performance. They also need to be accurate, and accuracy is improving regularly, but still can be a problem.

Cheetham, a former Olympic gymnast for Australia, also has a passion for diving and has several pet projects working with those two sports at the USOC.

The technology within the U.S. Olympic community is greatly helped by a fund created by philanthropists from Silicon Valley. Cheetham said the fund is made up of entrepreneurs and billionaires from V.C. firms and tech companies, to provide an advisory board.

“It’s not just money, but expertise and networking,” Cheetham said. “These guys are the top of Silicon Valley, so they know everybody. If we want to know what’s best in motion capture, artificial intelligence or virtual reality, we can go to them first.”

The Olympic organizations often have a chance to be among the first users for a lot of technologies in sports — and while it can be great to be on the cutting edge of the innovation, Cheetham said it’s important not to let the athletes be guinea pigs.

“A lot of times, we get prototypes, and that’s good and bad,” he said. “A lot of times, a weekend warrior or high school and college athletes can do the basic testing and when the tech is close to ready, that’s when it comes to the Olympics.”

That’s because if the data doesn’t work, it can’t help the teams improve. Technology, like one of his pet projects in motion capture, has increasingly gotten better and faster, collecting so much more data and more efficiently without disrupting athletes. Now the statistical models created can be much more useful in following trends and designing training around how long to train and when to take breaks.

READ MORE: Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

“We’re really interested in tech that helps us track training length and intensity, and if we can do that, we can periodize training sessions better and taper perfectly for a competition,” Cheetham said. “When you’re training at an elite level, you’re walking a tight-rope of performance and injury. You can’t win a competition if you’re not in it, and the tech is helping us avoid injuries.”

The data collected can also provide coaches with more accurate information for better coaching, like if a shot put throw is off six degrees. It’s no longer “I think you were.” Now, it’s “I know you were.”

When it comes down to the technology used, Cheetham said the USOC takes yearly solicitations and ranks projects and budgets based on which ones will have the best chance to improve medal count. Often, the projects are easily transferable from one sport to another.

One example he provided was a radar technology used to track shot put, javelin, discus and hammer throws. The USOC technology was originally developed to track golf balls.

“We’ll do some blue sky projects, but most are good sells and no-brainers.”

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Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

A long-term Olympic partnership showcases the cloud computing power of Alibaba and makes it a global player in the sports tech industry.




Photo via Alibaba

Alibaba, China’s massive e-commerce company, is making its presence felt in sports.

The Chinese company first entered the sports realm in 2017, signing a long-term partnership with the IOC to become the official “Cloud Infrastructure and Services” and “E-Commerce Platform” partner of the Olympics.

Heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, Alibaba has partnered with Intel with intentions to develop the first AI-powered 3D tracking technology. The partnership will utilize Alibaba’s cloud computing with Intel’s hardware and deep-learning algorithms.

The partnership with Intel will hopefully bring Alibaba more name recognition and insight into the company’s operations, said Joey Tan, Alibaba Cloud head of global initiatives and general manager of sports business unit.

“It’s just getting the brand out there,” Tan said at CES this week in Las Vegas.

Alibaba Cloud is the world’s third largest cloud provider, behind Microsoft and AWS, and its foray into sports has all been cloud-driven. Tan said Alibaba’s exploration into sports is about four key points: digitizing fan engagement, innovative broadcasts, cost-effective operations, and high-performance athletic training.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

At the first Olympics as a sponsor, the company put on the Alibaba Olympic Games Showcase at PyeongChang in 2018. The immersive and interactive exhibit gave more than 100,000 attendees a glimpse at how technology can change future games.

In September 2018, Alibaba partnered with the Olympic Broadcasting System to launch the OBS Cloud to digitize broadcasting of the 2020 Olympics. The OBS Cloud helps streamline broadcasting workflow.

The OBS Cloud also goes along with the announcement of the Intel partnership, which will create deeper conversation around performance tracking by giving fans insights into the world-class athletic performances.

“It’s creating better athletic content to tell better stories,” Tan said. “It’s for broadcasters to tell wonderful stories, but at the same time, use it for teams and federations to do more fine-tuning with the athletes.”

Alibaba holds lots of American sport broadcasting rights in China. The company won Pac-12 rights and the ability to broadcast 175 events annually. The company’s streaming arm, Youku, won rights to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Youku also has a partnership with the NFL.

Sports were a natural fit for the evolution of the Alibaba company, Tan said, as founder Jack Ma believes strongly in “health and happiness.”

Alibaba has so much technology in the retail realm, and Tan said they’re pulling that technology and applying it to sports — helping showcase the company to a wider audience.

READ MORE: Toyota Grows Olympic Involvement With Six New Partnerships

“We are using the Olympics as a primary showcase of our abilities,” he said. “Sports brings health and happiness, so in 2017 we said ‘let’s make the health and happiness vision true.’”

In December, Alibaba launched the Olympic Store on Tmall, the Chinese retail website operated by Alibaba. Chinese fans can purchase Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 products all year. There are additional plans to launch a global e-commerce platform.

There are no major immediate plans to enter the U.S. market with its sports products, but Tan said the U.S. is certainly on the radar screen.

“The U.S. is one of the biggest markets in the world when it comes to sports consumers,” he said. “Our first strategy is with Intel and working closely with the USOC.”

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