On Friday, the Wharton Undergraduate Sports Business Club and the Wharton Sports Analytics and Business Initiative hosted the annual Wharton Sports Business Summit, where students interested in sports business and analytics have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders and connect with Pennsylvania The University builds connections with alumni in the sports world.
Originally launched in 2017, the summit is the first in-person iteration of the event since 2019 due to COVID-19. According to Sarah Abbe, a college senior, WUSBC co-chair and lead organizer of the event, planning for the summit was an extensive process.
“We started planning the summit as soon as school started in August 2022 and completed all of our outreach, logistics, finance and marketing planning in the last week before the event,” she said. “Planning for the summit required constant effort and constant communication with the WUSBC board members and WSABI.”
The event kicked off with a morning fireside chat with keynote speaker Marc Lasry, CEO of Avenue Capital Group and most notably co-owner of the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Lasry details his upbringing as a Moroccan immigrant, studying and managing hedge funds through law school before moving on to the Bucks. He bought the team at arguably its lowest point, when they ended last season 15-67, needed a new stadium, and the threat of relocation was rampant.
Lasry oversaw the development of a new state-of-the-art arena, an increase in the team’s net worth, and the Bucks’ emergence as an NBA champion. He ended the conversation by talking about how he supports sports analytics, especially in basketball, and his experience in the 2021 playoffs. The event itself was hosted by WUSBC member and sophomore Kate Solomon, and Abbe was thrilled.
“Prior to this year, no undergraduate student had ever attended our summit,” she said. “It’s very special to see one of our own club members facilitate such an important and incredible conversation…I would definitely recommend [that] The club has more students as hosts over the next few years. ”
Following Lasry’s talk, attendees were able to participate in a variety of panel discussions, including industry-renowned Penn alumni and local Philly athletic directors. Panel discussion topics include following in the footsteps of recent Penn alumni, sports betting and analysis, sports networking, and sports investment opportunities.
Additionally, during the lunch break, attendees were able to coffee chat and network with many panelists from organizations including IBM Sports and Recreation, MLB, and the Philadelphia Eagles. WUSBC considered many factors when selecting speakers and panelists and focused on different aspects of the sports business and each speaker’s unique background.
“As co-chair, I take this opportunity to prioritize diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and thought among our panelists,” Abbe said. “Speakers from each panel brought different backgrounds and unique stories: we found these to be very valuable in maximizing the learning potential and overall success of the summit.”
Notable panelists from Penn include Eric Babitz, manager of baseball operations for the Milwaukee Brewers; former Quaker basketball player Matt MacDonald, scouting operations coordinator for the Brooklyn Nets; and Kelly Schrader, who is a Deputy Manager of NBA Global Strategy and Innovation. They all stressed the willingness to learn on the job and the importance of networking and cold email to break into the industry.
In addition, other notable panelists are Arnie Kieranbe, assistant general manager of the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies; Amanda Herald, NFL vice president of marketing strategy, insights and planning; and chief creative for the Washington Commanders Officer Will Misselbrook, who has overseen the team’s rebranding for the past three seasons.
The summit concluded with another fireside chat with keynote speaker and current Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, moderated by Wharton associate dean for analytics Eric Bradlow. The conversation focused on Harris’ life before the NBA, what he learned during his career, and his plans for business and building a personal brand after his career.
Harris talks about what he looks for in a business before investing; touches on recent sports business topics like college name, image and likeness deals; and discusses how he became a big proponent of basketball analytics. Finally, he encouraged attendees to keep working hard at what they love and be proud of what they have accomplished so far.
Overall, the conference was a huge success, Abbe said, and even after a three-year absence, she and the rest of the WUSBC were excited about the interest they had gained at the summit. Many attendees also came from outside Pennsylvania.
“The attendance was staggering,” Abbe said. “We sold over 275 event tickets and our attendees came from a variety of universities and businesses.”
WUSBC and WSABI hope to continue to be successful from this year’s summit and into the future, with WUSBC continuing to host events with the biggest names in sports throughout the year.