Ivy Sports Symposium Sends A Clear Message: Opportunity Abounds

We are hiring!

That was the common thread that seemed to continue to pop out during one of the best days on the sports business calendar, the annual Ivy Sports Symposium. From the eclectic panel assembled to discuss sports in Brazil, to Yahoo’s Eric Winter and Talent League’s Tom Richardson to Gillette’s Greg Via the message was very clear…if you can hustle, be willing to take some risk, and bring a unique set of talents to an organization, especially those in the digital space or those needing to ramp up with the mega-global events coming…from World Cup and Olympics…there is a place for you.

Maybe it’s because it is a mix of students and  global sports executives from all areas of business, maybe it’s because the setting is a college campus, maybe it’s because  the combination of those two give the speakers a chance to be a little more loose and free thinking with ideas, but for the eight straight year the Ivy Sports Symposium topped itself as one of the most unique and comprehensive one day gatherings on the sports business calendar.

This year’s event was held at Harvard University for the first time, after one year stops at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University  and five years at Princeton University, and the over 100 speakers and 600 attendees were treated to a day of open conversation, leadership ideals, networking and sharing of best practices from areas ranging from social responsibility to new media to finance to team and league governance. While much of the details can be found on the Symposium website, some of the more frank and positive discussions came from the leadership core of speakers that frankly rarely take such opportunities to address a conference.

The rare voices heard from included MSG President Dave Howard, Excel Sports President Jeff Schwartz, Rio 2016’s Leonardo Gryner, NBA President  Joel Litvin, Sports Illustrated’s Mike McCann and Pete Thamel,  and they mixed and match well with both the students and the industry execs gathered to talk about such a wide range of topics. The audience and the Ivy cache’ clearly helped drive new faces to the event, and mixing those names and voices in with others like Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, the Boston Celtics Rich Gotham,  ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry, MLB Security head John Skinner, and Palace Sports and Entertainment head Dennis Mannion among many others really helped create a tension-less and free flowing exchange of ideas and positive thought on a rainy Friday in Cambridge. In the end, it seemed like not just the attendees but the speakers as well who sat in on one another’s panels throughout the day, all seemed to have learned something that had not thought of before.

Now if you were a student or someone in transition or looking for guidance to see what’s next, the messages were pretty clear; if you speak a second language, can express yourself in the written word outside of twitter, have an understanding of finance and sales, are willing to travel and have a feel for the various forms of media available today, then you have a leg up. There were few rambles about wanting to be bold and challenge every aspect of traditional authority or structure. Rather, the discussions were about a mix…understanding the traditional ways business has been done and then adapting to a new global environment. Lawyers and accountants mixed with high school students,  senior team and league executives shared thoughts with graduate students, and for the most part everyone seemed to embrace an old fashioned idea…listen before you speak. While the networking was part of the event, the halls were far less crowded while segments were going on than most conferences, meaning that there was substance being discussed, whether it was in philanthropy or new media or law or sales or athlete representation. Some may say the event is sometimes too wide ranging and not focused, but it always seems to come across as a nice slice of the industry, a look both back and forward of all aspects of the business.

In the end the most encouraging news was the frankness with which senior executives readily admitted that the job market is opening wider and more diverse than ever. There was no hemming and hawing, it was very clear. Of course the openings won’t suit everyone. A workforce that hiring industry executives admit may have as much as 65 percent  of people as consultants by 2020 doesn’t mean that those of a certain age can suddenly take a $60,000 a year position at a startup without benefits, but in a world or re-engineering the skills one has, hearing that employers are willing to listen and look for new ways of engaging talent was a very strong message, and probably the best one that could come out of the day- long conference…a message that probably wasn’t expected by most who have heard about downsizing and doom and gloom for the better part of a decade.

Every year the Ivy Sports Symposium has brought a little more light and discussion to the industry. This year, its biggest message may be the most impactful yet; that those who attended Friday may have had tangible opportunities presented to them as a result of taking the time to make the trek to Harvard, and that’s the type of ROI that everyone; from the most senior execs to those looking to get started down the road, could have ever expected.