New York University’s Vince Gennaro, associate dean and clinical associate professor of the Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport, tells Adam Nelson how the school’s new MS in Global Sport will train the sport business students of today how to work in the industry of tomorrow.
At New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport, a new postgraduate programme has been introduced to prepare the next generation of sport business leaders for the future of the industry.
While the school’s long-running MS in Sports Business is well-regarded for its ever-evolving curriculum and international outlook, the new MS in Global Sport, which will welcome its first intake of students this September, is set to take that to the next level, with a programme that focuses on the emerging sectors and themes that are set to drive the industry forward over the coming years.
“We have an ambition to be the global leader in sports business education,” says Vince Gennaro, associate dean and clinical associate professor of the Tisch Institute. “We want to make sure that our students are coming out of the programme equipped with the absolute latest sport industry knowledge, because they’re going to be the leaders of the sport industry in the years to come.”
The low-residency MS in Global Sport programme sees students spend just four weeks out of a 16-month programme on-site, with the rest of the lectures and other materials delivered online, to allow a diverse spread of students to take part. 50 per cent of those enrolled on the programme for its first year are non-US based, says Gennaro, while many are already in work – either in the sport industry and looking to improve their job prospects, or outside it and hoping for a way in.
“Everything we’re doing on the course is built around four future-facing themes,” says Gennaro. “Broadly, they are: globalisation; sports technology and innovation; the next generation of the sports consumer; and sport for social change. Of course, they’re all very tied together. If you put them on a map, they would all touch and overlap, but these are are the key areas we see as the future of sport business education.”
Gennaro says that even more important than the four core themes is the fact that the MS in Global Sport does what it says on the tin and represents an international approach to the sport industry.
“One of the first things I did when I came in at NYU was I rebranded the department to be the Tisch Institute for GlobalSport”, he says. “I wanted us to have a less US-centric curriculum and we’re clearly moving in that direction. But it’s also about acknowledging that the world has shrunk and it is continuing to shrink. Just like I get up every Sunday morning to watch Premier League on TV in New York, we’re all interacting with each other all over the globe.”
Even if graduates have no intention of working in the global sports industry or outside the US, Gennaro notes that an understanding of the sport industry as an international phenomenon is still vital.
“If you want to work for for the NBA today, you’d better have an aptitude for and an understanding of the global market, because that’s a large part of their focus and it’s only going to grow,” he says. “As US sports brands seek their growth, they’re also looking internationally. There’s no denying the importance of the global sports scene. So we’ve added a course in international sports law where we discussed the Court of Arbitration for Sport and get into things that you normally wouldn’t talk about it in a sports law course that’s US-centric.”
As well as spending two of the four contact weeks on the programme in NYU’s campus in New York, students will also spend a week at the university’s sites in Tokyo and Madrid, working with sport industry-insiders from other cultures. In the programme’s first year, students will work closely with the Japanese Olympic Committee and the local organising committee for the 2020 Games in Tokyo as they prepare for that event, “to really understand the levels of preparation and the massive amount of work that goes into something like that,” says Gennaro.
A partnership with Premier League side Chelsea FC has also been struck in order to offer students “a real good immersion into the UK sport scene” and boost their knowledge of international leagues and sporting structures, he adds.
Sport for social change
That partnership also focuses significantly on another of the programme’s key themes. NYU students, from the MS in Sports Business and the MS in Global Sport, will examine Chelsea’s ‘Say No to Anti-Semitism’ campaign as a case study in how a large sport rights-holder “took a clear negative in terms of their fanbase and turned it around to shine a light on a topic,” says Gennaro. Graduates on the course will look at how Chelsea took fans who had been accused of antisemitic chanting on a trip to Auschwitz and at the efficacy of these kinds of schemes in educating people, and sport’s wider responsibility around social issues.
“This completely driven by the younger generation and the consciousness that they have for sports to play a role in the world, beyond just being entertainment,” Gennaro explains. “One of the things we know is that sport commands enormous attention – but the question of ‘how do you use that attention for good?’ is one that younger people are increasingly asking.
“We held a conference where we brought in a climate scientist who pointed out that 81% of Americans follow sports, but only 16% of Americans follow science. So if you want to impact climate change, you do it by connecting with sports organisations and getting them interested in it, which I thought was a brilliant idea and a lesson that I hope our students can learn from.”
Gennaro adds that he recently spoke with a student who was born and grew up in New York City, but had become an avid fan of Welsh football side Swansea City, now playing in the second tier of English football. “One of the reasons he gave for becoming a fan was how much Swansea do in the community,” says Gennaro. “He was even aware of the fact that they’re among the leaders globally in terms of wheelchair access at their ground, the kind of thing that to me, as a baby boomer, would just never be on my radar.
“The social conscience of younger fans is increasingly going to become a driver of the direction of the sport industry, in my opinion.”
The Gen-Z consumer
The evolution of audiences and demographics is as important a part of the programme as the evolution of the industry itself, says Gennaro.
“Traditionally we’ve seen gradual changes, but over the last decade we’ve seen a massive shift in the way sports are consumed,” he explains. “A lot of that is driven by ‘generation Z’, which is people under the age of 22 at the moment. The way they interact with and consume sports is dramatically different even to how millennials were doing ten years ago.”
The cornerstone of this, he says, is the gradual eroding of the long-established truism, ‘content is king.’
“I would question whether that is the case any more, and that’s probably the crucial lesson we want students to come away with,” says Gennaro. “We’re in an era where I don’t care how good your content is, if you’re not putting it on the right platform and you’re not meeting the convenience of the needs of Gen-Z, then you might be okay today, but you’re not going to be okay five or ten years from now when this is the dominant sport consumer.”
Gennaro explains that the Tisch Institute has partnered with Fox Sports to examine “the behavioural differences, the attitudinal differences, and even the underlying motivation of this segment of fans” in order to create what he calls “a science of fandom.” Findings from this research are integrated into the MS in Global Sport, giving students the latest up-to-the-minute findings.
“We’re not just relying on what’s out there in the literature,” he adds. “We’re creating it ourselves right here in New York, our students are meeting with industry leaders, not just to learn from them but to actually share insights they’ve had, actually coach them on things they might want to do.
“We’re seeing certain trends that I think are not as obvious to people. Ultimately we’ll establish a research center in this area and this’ll be one of our largest focus areas. It’s all around the future of fan engagement and how the shifting technology and generational shifts are impacting that.”
Esports and new technologies
Rapidly evolving technologies, across all sectors, are underpinning the dramatic changes seen in the sport industry, says Gennaro. In September, NYU will add three additional modules focusing on the business of esports and another three on sports analytics and data – areas he believes will define the industry in the decades to come. One of the courses, which will be integrated into both MS programmes, and which Gennaro says is “the first of its kind”, will examine the potential uses for blockchain technology in sport.
“This is where sport is headed from every stand point, whether it’s technology that’s going to impact the selection of talent on the field or technology that’s going to impact the development of the emotional connection between the fan and the athlete or the club,” he says.
He describes esports as a “rather unusually structured industry” and says it is vital to educate students in its inner workings and how it differs from the wider sports industry. “I think it’s important that our students don’t just assume that they could learn traditional sports skills and go drop those into an esports organisation to go work for them,” he says.
“One of the new courses we’re launching is centered around the culture of esports events and event management. Putting on an NCAA football game or producing an NBA game is very different than producing an esports event. The culture of it is so different. The wants and needs of the attendees are so different. Their viewing practices, their buying behaviours are very different. So we’re making sure that we bring that into the classroom and give them a sense of that. We’re working with New York Excelsior, a professional Overwatch League team based in the city, to hopefully help our students understand a little bit of the psychology and sociology behind how esports became a phenomenon.”
All of this, Gennaro says, will ultimately add up to graduates who are much more prepared to deal with an ever-evolving industry and the changes that are certain to come in the near future. “We’re giving them a picture of what the industry will look like, so they’re ready to deal with it, and giving them the contemporary tools to be able to work with data, work with information, work with technology, use solid critical thinking skill on process very complex problems, and really have an impact on the industry,” he says.
Gennaro has already seen graduates from the MS in Sports Business influenced by these teachings, who have gone into the industry and are now “taking on tough issues, motivating their organisation to do good.”
In some cases, he says, graduates have chosen specific work placements based on the values of the organisations, “just like how they’re choosing their sports affiliations based on the values of the athletes or the clubs.”
“We’re teaching them to be ethical leaders and have a moral understanding of the industry,” he says. “It wouldn’t be a successful programme if we just sent them out of the door with a good commercial understanding of the sports industry. We want to remind them every day that if you’re a leader in a sports organisation, or anywhere in a sports organisation, you have the power to affect positive social change.”