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STHM-hosted sport marketing conference “an amazing success”

By: Jamie Cann
First Published: November 3, 2014
Topics: In the News, STHM School

Scott O’Neil rolled a video clip that was short in length, but not in significance.

The clip showed fans at an NBA game last March, when the Philadelphia 76ers – for whom O’Neil serves as Chief Executive Officer – broke a 26-game losing streak, which had matched the league record.

“What are they cheering about? Why are they so happy?” O’Neil asked, rhetorically. “In the throes of one of the worst seasons in NBA history, it wasn’t about what we did with the game, but how we were able to reach people. That’s sport marketing.”

The keynote speaker at the 12th annual Conference of the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), O’Neil emphasized the significance of working together to achieve a greater purpose, striving for organizational commitment, and stopping at nothing to attain goals.

The Sport and Recreation Management program at Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) hosted the annual SMA event, held Oct. 22-24 at the Sonesta Hotel in Philadelphia. Nearly 300 of the top minds and practitioners in sport marketing attended the conference, which featured the highest number of international registrants in the event’s history.

Within his address, the Bill Veeck keynote, O’Neil mentioned the 76ers’ 101-person ticket-sales team, the largest in pro sports; their season-ticket sales, which rank sixth-best in the league; and their employees’ annual commitment to 76 individual hours of community service, among other topics. Then, O’Neil rolled another clip – of his Sixers’ salespeople stopping operations to high-five a co-worker for landing a big sale.

“In this business, it’s about confidence and commitment,” O’Neil said. “And it’s inspiring to be a part of a team that is that committed.”

At the conference, six faculty members, eight PhD students and more than 30 undergraduate- and graduate-student volunteers represented STHM, including Associate Professor Dr. Joris Drayer. The conference director, Drayer received two research-based awards. He co-authored the research paper, titled, “Developing and Validating an Emotional Attachment to Sport Team Scale,” which received the conference’s Best Paper Award. Additionally, he was named a SMA Research Fellow.

“The conference was an amazing success,” Drayer said. “The general mission of the SMA is to bridge the gap between industry and academia, and I heard from attendees all week that, through great speakers and relevant research, we accomplished this better than any SMA conference previously.”

Friday’s Super Panel, sponsored by Turnkey Intelligence, was a perfect example of, as Drayer put it, “bridging the gap.” Industry and academia experts discussed the state of market research in sport business. For Tim McDermott, research plays a pivotal role in understanding the fan experience. The Chief Marketing and Information Officer of the 76ers, McDermott commented on the difficulty industry executives encounter in conceptualizing the value of research.

“You just don’t have time to read journals and the latest research findings,” said McDermott, “so it’s got to be quick. What should I know? What’s the ‘so what’ (pitch)? … Research also has the stigma of an expense. How can we alter the message to, ‘Invest one dollar, make two.’ Research has a (return on investment) that people don’t always embrace.”

Dr. Michelle Harrolle, an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida, didn’t disagree with McDermott, but offered another obstacle in the incorporation of research in sport marketing.

“I would challenge sport teams to connect with universities in their area,” said Harrolle, whose students have conducted applied marketing research for companies. “Look right here at Temple. Their programs have faculty and (PhD) students who can excel in marketing research areas. There’s a lot of knowledge in this space and, sometimes, we have different objectives. But I know this is something academia would love to be a part of.”

Other panelists included Steve Seiferheld, Senior Vice President of Research at Turnkey Intelligence, who reflected on the sport-marketing culture change toward long-term objectives dictating decision-making; and Brian Papson, Vice President of Marketing with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, who said he wishes research findings were more-readily disseminated within organizations.

The three-day event, held in Philadelphia for the first time, also included a keynote address from Lynn Wittenburg, Chief Marketing Officer of William Morris Endeavor Live. Previously, she had worked for the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom she oversaw a $50 million arena renovation, three major brand transformations and the doubling of season-ticket sales.

And another highlight of the conference took place Oct. 23, with attendees engaging in an off-site networking session at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies, and nearby Xfinity Live!

“Given SMA’s long history of bridging the sport industry’s most-talented current and future marketing leaders, we were delighted to offer our support to such a major event,” said Dr. Elizabeth Barber, Associate Dean of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.