Industry: Engaging with Leaders

The value of engaging in conversations with Twin Cities sport industry leaders

by Dr. Lisa Kihl, University of Minnesota

On November 8, the University of Minnesota’s Sport management program and the Athletics Department and the Minnesota Twins Baseball club co-hosted a panel discussion with Minneapolis & St Paul (Twin Cities) sport leaders. The panel was titled “Challenges and Future Landscape of the Twin Cities Sports Industry”. The panelists included Mark Coyle, University of Minnesota Director of Athletics, Bryan Donaldson, Senior Director of Community Relations for the Minnesota Twins, Dannon Hulskotter, Vice President of Marketing and Fan Engagement for the Minnesota Vikings, and Ryan Tanke, Chief Revenue Officer for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx.  The event was moderated by Dave Mona, a local sports media personality. Professor Brian Mills from the University of Florida gave a summary of key discussant’s themes and potential research opportunities.

 Objective & Rationale

The main reason for hosting leaders from different Twin Cities sport organizations was to learn about the challenges they encounter in this respective sport market, forecast opportunities, and explore potential research collaborations to address specific areas of concern.

 

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Credit: Lisa Kihl, University of MN

A secondary aim was to enhance student awareness of the challenges facing the Twin Cities sport industry and participate in discussions that would better prepare them for the workforce.

 

 The impetus for bringing to together these sport leaders onto our campus was the result of two conversations. First, in the previous spring semester, Bryan Donaldson was serving as a guest speaker in my senior capstone sport management courses. He shared that in order to have a sustainable and successful career in the sport industry, leaders need to understand the challenges in this landscape and forecast opportunities for growth. Second, simultaneously in my doctoral seminar class, we were discussing how we could make our research relevant to the sport industry and fulfill the University’s mission of generating knowledge, by conducting high-quality research that benefited the Minnesota sport community. An aspect of relevancy is forecasting or engaging in prescience where we theorize or conduct research that helps predict the long turn nature of the sport industry. In particular, making conjectures of what the Twin Cities sport market would look like in 5 or 10 years. As a result of these classroom discussions, the need to engage in dialogue with Minnesota sport leaders to better understand what I would characterize as a unique and dynamic Twin Cities sport market was evident.

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Credit: Lisa Kihl, University of MN

Key Takeaways

Whilst the vibrant Twin Cities sport industry is exciting for fans and arguably good for area development, we learned from the panelists that it brings certain challenges for sport leaders. The panelist shared their different strategies to successfully navigate the perceived “saturated” Twin Cities sports market. First, in terms of globalization, some teams push beyond the Twin Cities area into global markets to increase market size and attract fans. Second, the panelists discussed how the local region has experienced new competitors (Major League Soccer and Women’s National Basketball Association) and the importance of understanding how this competition occurs, the available purchasing choices for fans, and what makes the Twin Cities unique in this respect.  Third, the use of analytics and how it is integrated into sales and increasing attendance was a key area for teams. Gaining access to data was identified as an opportunity for research synergies to assist teams on how to strategically use the fan and/or purchasing data they collect. Additionally, balancing the needs of Millennials, Generation Z, and long-term season ticket holders in gaining and maintaining fan loyalty was a challenge for organizations. Last, they discussed the importance of sport and what their organization does to be a good citizen of the local community. Determining the best way to integrate socially responsible initiatives into the community and evaluating their effectiveness was deemed important. Finally, each panelist agreed that given changing technology they were uncertain of what the sport market would like five years from now.

 

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Credit: University of MN Sport Management

Overall, it was an honor to partner with the University of Minnesota’s Department of athletics and the Minnesota Twins organizations. Engaging students and faculty in a conversation with Twin Cities sport leaders was the first step in creating an ongoing dialogue about how the academy can better serve the local sport industry. Individuals may watch the full panel discussion here.

 

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Sport Issues: S4D

We look too close, then we overlook

By Laura Coughlin, Development Aid Intern, Sports Charity Mwanza

There is this overarching idea that the western world needs to go to Africa and help, but do we see what we want to see or do we see what is really in front of us? I fell into this mindset after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2017, as I knew I wanted to avoid the corporate world a little longer and decided to travel to Tanzania to work for a sports charity. We worked to provide equipment and training to local teams and clubs. I quickly learned how Western influence is not this rainbow filled picture of volunteerism and help. We assume and judge and try to change what we see because it differs from the way we grew up, and then we overlook the issues we leave behind.

Kids in Tanzania play sport to keep off the streets. They play sport to avoid gang involvement. They play sport with the hope of becoming a professional and being able to provide for their family. They play sport with the hope of receiving an education, which they fail to receive at their local schools. In Eastern Africa, sport is a hope, a dream, and a means of survival.

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Kids in the United States play sport for fun and to be active. They play to get into college. They play to make money; to be rich and famous. Sport in the United States is a pastime, a business, and a way for school kids to make friends.

When westerners enter these rural parts of Africa, we look close and narrow in on the fact that this boy is playing football without any shoes on and a red flag goes off in our mind. We are used to having the latest pair of Nike cleats at our reach, therefore how can this kid properly play sport without similar shoes? Because of instinct, we search and donate shoes to that little boy and some of his friends. They enjoy and show them off and now everyone in the community wants the same nice shoes. Can you blame them? As volunteers, we do what we can but to give a whole community a pair of shoes is just too much. So we leave these few boys now possessing an unnecessary material item, and unknowingly have created a demand that we cannot fill. We look too close at the shoes, and then we overlook the larger picture.

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While the sports industry drives our economy in a positive way, maybe it is driving our values in a negative way. These kids in Tanzania had some of the most impressive football skills I have seen in a youth community, without shoes and without a properly lined field. We need to stop looking at these players as charity cases and begin to see them for what they are, talented youth with the potential to dominate a professional football league. There needs to be a push to get them exposure and the resources they need to have their skills seen, to give them the opportunities to change their lives through sport, the way athletes in the United States can. We cannot expect these opportunities to be identical. They must be relative to the location, such as a chance to escape violence in Tanzania versus the chance to go pro in the United States. These opportunities will vary, but they need to exist.

Don’t get me wrong, donating to a child in need is great and something to smile about. I just hope we can get to the point where we take another step into the investment of these poverty stricken kids. We need to help them take another step towards their future in their new shoes. I hope Western culture doesn’t lose the passion and dedication that is the true key to success in sport, and we do not just remain focused on the money or cool shoes. I hope to focus my future career in sport on community development and athletics that have a direct impact on individuals and their situations. Imagine how many kids from Eastern Africa could out play Ronaldo, but will never get the chance because we only give them shoes instead of a shot.