New sports management class at Olin includes all-star lineup of guest speakers

From allegations of steroid use to astronomical salaries, the business of professional sports has unique challenges rarely covered in a standard MBA curriculum. The Olin Business School is an exception. This spring, the school is introducing a sports management course that will feature an “all-star” lineup of guest lecturers.

The class will be co-taught by Todd Milbourn, Ph.D., professor of finance, and by someone who knows the business inside and out: Seth Abraham, former CEO of Time Warner Sports and Madison Square Garden.

“This will be a wonderful introductory class for students to get a panoramic view of the business of sports around the world,” Abraham said. “What was once a pastime has now transformed into a global economy. Television rights, team and league management, corporate sponsorship and marketing, media coverage and the impact of multinational corporations will all be covered in depth. Students will get a novel perspective on how the sports economy works.”

Interest in the class is strong; 104 business school students have enrolled to learn about the business of sports from some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry.

The first guest speaker March 25 is Neal H. Pilson, a senior industry executive and former president of CBS Sports. Pilson, whose sports television consulting company, Pilson Communications, is active in all areas of sports television, media and marketing, is regarded as one of the savviest negotiators in sports television rights agreements.

“The marriage of sports and television is one of the great success stories in the history of mass communications,” Pilson said. “I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with the students in the sports management class.”

Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch Inc. and president and CEO of the Busch Media Group, will lecture April 1 about the relationship and impact of multinational corporations with sports. A 26-year veteran at Anheuser-Busch, Ponturo is one of the most influential executives in the sports business.

“In my class, I will explain in real-life terms how sponsorships in sports and the media are focused to sell product, and generate sales and market share growth,” Ponturo said.

“I also plan to address the complexity of today’s consumer and the many ‘reach vehicle’ choices that are available driven by technology, such as satellite, Internet and mobile telephones,” Ponturo said.

Harvey Schiller, Ph.D., will oversee the class discussion April 15 about the management of sports clubs and leagues. Schiller is chairman and CEO of GlobalOptions Group, a multidisciplinary international risk management and business solutions company. He was recently elected president of the International Baseball Federation.

Prior to his current work, Schiller served as vice president of sports programming for Turner Broadcasting System, president of Turner Sports, Inc. and president and governor of the NHL expansion Atlanta Thrashers. Schiller also served as chairman and CEO of YankeeNets, an integrated sports-based media company with ownership of the New York Yankees, New Jersey Nets, and New Jersey Devils and as executive director/secretary general of the United States Olympic Committee.

Given his resume, it is not surprising that Schiller plans to discuss leadership in athletic organizations.

“From amateur to Olympic to professional, based on my personal experiences, we will review the value proposition with regard to organizations, their appeal and the future of sports on the world stage,” Schiller says. “Understanding the global interest in sports, its economics and political value presents case studies of value in management development.”

The final guest lecture will take place April 22 and be given by Selena Roberts, the first female columnist for Sports Illustrated. She joined the magazine in January after 11 years as an award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times. Roberts will lecture about the marriage of journalism and sports, which she describes as an often dysfunctional, but necessary relationship.

“In sports management, it is essential to understand the role of reporters and columnists who can influence executive decisions and team strategies, hirings and firings with a single story,” Roberts says. “How should management interact with writers and bloggers? What leeway does a columnist have that a reporter does not? What are the ethical rules of engagement between the two sides? In the rapidly changing landscape of journalism in the Internet age, the issues are ever-changing.”

The course is part of the Olin Business School’s mission to offer an innovative education that involves faculty, students and members of the broader community.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer this unique course to our students,” said Mahendra Gupta, Ph.D., dean and the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management at Olin Business School. “Thanks to Mr. Abraham’s hard work, our guest speakers will offer perspectives on a wide range of topics pertaining to the global commerce of sports. This is a welcome addition to our curriculum at Olin and demonstrates Olin’s dedication to innovation. We expect the class will become a permanent fixture in the future.”

The sports management class is a half-semester course. It began March 18 and meets on Tuesday evenings.