New center to study sports market

jthomas@centredaily.comMarch 2, 2008 

UNIVERSITY PARK — The new Center for Sports Business Research at Penn State campus is poised to tap into a potentially lucrative market by developing intellectual research into the business of sports.

“It’s just an area that’s very ripe for this intellectual exploration,” said Wayne DeSarbo, executive director of the center and a Smeal distinguished professor of marketing.

He said the sports market is a $400 billion industry that is untapped in the areas that the center, established by the Smeal College of Business at the start of the year, hopes to explore.

DeSarbo said the business research center at Penn State combines the school’s reputation in the sports industry, particularly football, with the goal of attracting top scholars to study aspects of the sports industry such as marketing, supply chain management and finance.

DeSarbo said he wants to see the center bridge the gap between academic research on sports business and issues facing decision-makers, such as major league team owners, in the sports industry.

“It’s like a new field,” he said. “There’s not many areas of academic inquiry that have a section in almost every newspaper in the country.”

Other schools, including the University of Oregon, Southern California and Minnesota, have sports-related centers in their respective business schools, but the focus of their research differs, DeSarbo said.

The existing schools have taken an educational and practitioner-related approach, with research being mostly oriented toward trade journals, he said.

Smeal looks to take the research a step further.

“Our goal is to define sports business-related problems and devise new quantitative, behavioral and/or managerial methods to solve these problems so that the research can be published in A-level academic journals,” DeSarbo wrote in an e-mail.

He said the plan is to survey executives within all areas of the sports industry to determine what issues need to be addressed.

It’s a wide-open market when it comes to opportunities, DeSarbo said. There’s room to study everything from brand loyalty — something that is very different from product loyalty, given that fans don’t usually jump to another team — exploring what drives television ratings for games, ticketing models for certain matchups, even coming up with a model to determine where a player should be drafted.

One project already under way, for example, has a goal of creating a computer model that will determine a major league baseball player’s worth when it comes to salary.

In addition to the research, there also are plans to help define additional sports-related courses and opportunities for undergraduates who are considering making a career in the sports industry.

Andrew Bergstein, a marketing instructor for the college and the center’s associate director, said part of the challenge is how to educate students about opportunities in an industry where the largest number of jobs are in marketing.

“I think there probably more people who say they want to do something with sports than there are jobs for them,” he said. “Part of what we need to do is sort of separate the fan from the people who want to work in the industry.”

He’s offering a sports management and marketing course this semester. Sports-related courses outside business are in such fields as journalism and law at University Park.

That could help expose a small number of students to the industry, projects and internships.

Bergstein said that as interest grows, there is a possibility that an interdisciplinary minor will be developed. There also will be supervised student research at the undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels.

“It’s really trying to give students some extra education,” he said.

DeSarbo said key advantages for Penn State are placement of students at positions in the industry, promotion of the college and increased funding opportunities for research and executive education.

DeSarbo said the goal is to have all parts of center in operation by this time next year.

Work is ongoing to establish an advisory board, complete with members representing interests ranging from television stations to advertising.

There are also plans to host an annual conference that would bring industry practitioners, faculty and students together.

Lecture programs, newsletters and a sports industry career fair will be developed to increased awareness.

Jennifer Thomas can be reached at 231-4638.

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