Virtual reality and analytics are just two of the areas that could become major areas of focus for sports business programmes in the future as course leaders attempt to not just keep with the times, but also prepare for the future.
The last year has seen a number of major sports bodies announce new virtual reality (VR) offerings and take-up among fans continues to increase according to industry data.
For the 2016-17 season, National Basketball Association (NBA) Digital and its partner, NextVR, aired one weekly regular season NBA League Pass game in virtual reality.
As the season progressed, VR audiences “continued to surge,” according to Danny Keens, NextVR vice-president of content.
Many believe VR has the potential to become an increasingly important revenue stream for rights-holders and teams.
Its advocates recognise that English Premier League clubs could sell season tickets to millions of passionate Chinese supporters, while sports fans from across the world could enjoy the full experience of a night session in an Olympic stadium.
So far one might suggest sports bodies and the broadcasters they work with have struggled to stay up with the pack when it comes to VR.
Action from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was only available in VR on the day after it took place through NBC, while fans were also left frustrated by the ‘near’ real-time highlights provided by Fox Sports and partner LiveLike during the Super Bowl.
The enthusiastic, talented and sports-mad young people who can help to reimagine the future of sport are those sitting in classrooms right now and, according to T. Bettina Cornwell, of the University of Oregon, there is a need to incorporate technology “wildcards” within courses.
“The near-term role of technology and our ability to prepare students for it is an open question,” says Cornwell, the Edwin E. and June Woldt Cone professor of marketing at Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business.
“For example, augmented and virtual reality are wildcards that may advance quickly or may not be a game changer for a couple of years.
“Everyone will agree that there is a movement to incorporate analytics in the sport business curriculum and for good reason, since there is strong demand for graduates with analytic skills.”
One school that is certainly embracing the role of technology is AISTS, which offers a Master of Advanced Studies in Sport Administration and Technology.
The syllabus features technology that might be considered more traditionally associated with sport, such as stadium construction, as well as the possibilities opened up by the new worlds of broadcast media.
“Virtual reality is touched on within our digital module as well as our ICT module, but more as an example of what is to come,” Dominique Gobat, head of business development at AISTS, tells SportBusiness International. “I think the emergence of 8k mobile phone screens will really take virtual and augmented reality to a new level.
“With the ever-increasing rise in new technologies and the acceleration with which new technologies appear on the market, it has made the importance of understanding technology from a management perspective even more important.
"It is our role as educators to ensure that postgraduates are equipped with the necessary knowledge to make calculated decisions.”
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He adds: “We approach the topics of technology from a management perspective, so we don’t expect students to know or understand technical details of a specific technology, but rather to understand the general terminology, trends and impact.
"By observing and understanding decisional errors from the past, we will be better prepared for the future.”
If VR is considered trendy these days, sports information is quite simply king or queen of the catwalk. Market leader Sportradar last year secured the NBA’s stats for the next six seasons in a $250m (€225m) agreement, having already signed up with the NFL, NHL and International Tennis Federation.
Indeed, the company is so appealing that when it partnered with the NFL in 2015, the League acquired an undisclosed equity stake in it.
The worldwide sports analytics market is expected to be worth around $4bn by 2022, according to data published by Research and Markets, but such growth is only possible if capable graduates enter the sector.
Columbia Business School in New York City is just one establishment that has understood its potential, having launched an MBA in Sports Analytics at the start of the decade.
The course covers measuring and predicting player and team performance, decision-making and strategy in sports, and fantasy sports and sports betting.
Analytics and virtual and augmented reality may still be deemed rather specialist areas of expertise, though, especially when so many wide-ranging topics are considered essential in sports business courses.
Many schools quite understandably offer their students a packed schedule that covers everything from marketing and branding to corporate sales, finance, law, event management and communications.
Their curriculum must cater for students with a variety of interests and ambitions, from franchise chief executive to grassroots sports leader and venue manager.
But there is much to be gained from specialised areas of focus and many schools are doing just that, according to David Shilbury, of Deakin University.
“I think we are starting to see programmes seek to identify a competitive edge,” says Shilbury, director of Deakin Sport Network and co-director at the Centre for Sport Research at Deakin Business School.
“In other words, the standard stock programme may not provide the edge required for new programmes. Within the sport business framework some programmes, like Oregon, for example, may seek to provide a focus on sports marketing, while others may focus on other areas of the sector.”
One trend Shilbury would like to see develop is course leaders linking their own extracurricular projects with their classroom teaching – “an ongoing link between cutting-edge research by professors and their ability to infuse their work in the classroom through their teaching,” he adds.
“Although practical real-world scenarios are important to these programmes, they do not necessarily help students solve tomorrow’s problems and the challenge therefore for a top-flight sport business programme is to provide a foundational core of sport business knowledge, with the insight to new research and the problem-solving skills to tackle tomorrow’s issues.”
FURTHER READING - SportBusiness Postgraduate Course Rankings 2017
- Overview - Established schools continue to set the course
- Top 40 courses
- North America - How U.S. schools continue to build on a winning formula
- Europe - Leading the way in times of change
- Future course - How schools are embracing sport’s brave new world
- Emerging markets - When will developing regions make the grade?
- Data - Sports masters in numbers
- Data - Career prospects for graduates
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