On Wednesday, the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) hosted its inaugural Sports Innovation Conference at the Knight Management Center, featuring a host of speakers at the forefront of the sports industry – many of them carrying Stanford diplomas.
“The idea [for the conference] came from a group of students that wanted to engage with all of our illustrious alumni in the sports space,” said Mitch Houff MBA ’14, one of the co-chairs of the conference. “Once we started planning the event, we were pleasantly surprised with the enthusiasm with which our alumni and the Stanford community embraced the Sports Innovation Conference.”
Over 20 Stanford alumni served as speakers or moderators during the event, including Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie MBA ’05, Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob MBA ’83, San Francisco 49ers Team President Paraag Marathe MBA ’04 and ESPN senior writer Ivan Maisel ’81.
Aside from creating a platform to bring Stanford’s prolific alumni in the sports industry together, Houff and his co-organizers – Sachin Gupta MBA ’14, Tyler Price MBA ’14, Colin Twomey MBA ’14 and Andrew Yaffe MBA ’14 – also envisioned the conference as an educational medium for students interested in the sports industry as well as a showcase of innovations in the field amidst the backdrop of Silicon Valley.
“I think what’s on the frontier is getting hold of all the technological capabilities in Silicon Valley and applying them to the sports industry,” Houff said. “There’s so much talent and so many insights here in Silicon Valley that are directly applicable to the fan experience in sports.”
In the spirit of celebrating Silicon Valley innovation, the conference opened with a keynote address from Sacramento Kings owner and software entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive in CEMEX Auditorium. Ranadive’s talk focused primarily on the potential for basketball to become a global sport. After Ranadive’s opening remarks, the conference attendees – consisting mostly of Stanford GSB students, Stanford undergraduates and local industry affiliates – separated into four breakout panels: “The Future of College Sports,” “A Fireside Chat on Sports Content,” “Innovations in Fan-Facing Technology” and “Managing an Athlete’s Brand in the 21st Century.”
After the morning breakout panels, the conference returned to CEMEX Auditorium for the three featured presentations of the day from Cisco’s Mark Craig, McKinsey & Company’s Dan Singer and Jim Thompson MBA ’86 of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit organization focusing on youth sports.
The conference resumed in the afternoon with another session of breakout panels: “The Future of Televised Sports,” “The Intersection of Brands and Sports Properties,” “Sports Technology and Venture Capital” and “Basketball Analytics,” which featured Hinkie and Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala among others.
After the panel, Iguodala attributed his interest in attending the conference to his goal of working in venture capital after his basketball career.
“I’m just trying to get as much information as I can about the tech world,” Iguodala said. “[Venture capital] is kind of like being a GM trying to put the best team together to help the company grow.”
At 2:30 p.m., the conference concluded with a keynote panel of several titans of sports business: Marathe, Lacob, Sacramento Kings President Chris Granger, former San Jose Sharks owner Kevin Compton and prominent sports attorney Jon Oram ’96. Former Oakland Raiders executive and current CBS football analyst Amy Trask moderated the panel. The group ended the day with an outlook on the future of professional sports and the role of technology – with Lacob and Granger trading friendly barbs over the construction of each other’s new arena.
Ultimately, the immediate reviews of the conference were overwhelmingly positive and, as Houff asserted, provide a good indication that the conference can become a regular fixture at the GSB.
“Based on the number of impressive panelists you see and the number of attendees here, there does seem to be a great demand for an event like this and what better place to have it than in the heart of Silicon Valley at the Knight Management Center here at Stanford GSB,” Houff said. “We do think there is a bright future for an event like this at Stanford.”
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.