Why increasing access to sports industry jobs can make a difference
By: Jessica Kaufman
July 16, 2015
For women and minorities looking to work in sports, it’s often far easier to become a star player than it is to break into the leadership ranks. The ladder to the skybox still seems to have a glass ceiling. Take a look at the facts. Only 8.3 percent of Division I athletics directors are women, and United States Presidents have commented repeatedly in the past on the lack of minorities in sports management.
The NCAA, specifically, has made this a priority issue and has established several committees and grants aimed at the deeper integration of women and minorities into the sports industry. However, changing an ingrained industry-based culture is an arduous process. The root of the problem partially lies in the fact that there aren’t clear entry points for young talent in the sports industry, let alone for women and minorities.
Sports Symposium realizes this problem and provides essential support for all students and young professionals so they can get hired and make an impact in sports.
Sports Symposium was created in 2006 by Princeton University student Chris Chaney to promote the development of young leaders in the sports industry through accessible sports business education. Today, the non-profit organization hosts three initiatives: the Ivy Sports Symposium and the Global Sports Symposium (annual gatherings that enable the industry’s most successful executives to share invaluable information with their potential successors) and the 10 NEXT Awards (an annual award that recognizes ten outstanding sports business leaders under the age of thirty).
As a student-athlete at Brown University, Erika Mueller was passionate about sports and originally attended the Ivy Sports Symposium, the organization’s fall keystone event, searching for a way to apply that passion to her career. Now, Erika is the Executive Director. She graduated this spring and is strengthening the organization’s social venture focus through the development of a new sustainable business model.
For Erika, Sports Symposium filled a meaningful gap in her undergraduate life as a student-athlete. As she says, “There are a million different jobs in sports and as a college student you aren’t exposed to that. You really just see what’s on TV and you say ‘hey I want to be an agent or coach’ but beyond that, you have no way of understanding it, being exposed to it, or having a pathway to get there.”
After attending two Ivy Sports Symposiums though, and listening in on a panel about sport for social impact, Erika had a light bulb moment. She realized, “I was interested in the social impact of sport and less about the revenue generating potential, the sponsorship behind teams, or the development of athletes… But really this idea that sport has a social impact on communities and individuals, arguably more than any other industry.”
A mentorship soon evolved with Chris, the founder, and deepened during a two year leave from Brown where Erika gathered professional experiences at corporate and grassroots levels of sport for development in South Africa, England and Australia. She was then given the opportunity to build Sports Symposium as a social impact organization. She explains that she could not turn down the incredible opportunity. “It made sense for me, not only because of my personal experience with the event but just the idea of filling those gaps between students and professionals and still having a social impact. Let’s bring these groups together. Let’s bring them the information they don’t have access to.”
The Ivy Sports Symposium is one of the sport industry’s premier events, selling out the past three years with over five hundred attendees, and featuring over five hundred unique and industry leading speakers in its nine year tenure. Half of the attendees are students and half are professionals, including young professionals looking to network or presidents and CEO’s within the industry speaking on insightful panels. Universities are catching on to the importance of Sports Symposium’s mission by providing their own conferences to benefit their students.
Erika identifies that the problem they are solving is changing, explaining, “Our need to serve as this convener for students and professionals is less demanded and that’s okay, but we’ve realized that the young professionals, recent graduates or 10 NEXT recipients, who are really terrific at what they are doing, don’t necessarily have a space to come together to accelerate their careers or personal paths.”
For the next six months, Erika is developing the organization with an expanded focus on young professionals. She is working on a new business plan with an education and mentorship platform accompanied by the existing events and awards.
Sports Symposium is currently based out of the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Hub through a Hub Scholarship. Erika found out about the opportunity through MJ Kaplan, her Brown professor in the course “Leading Social Ventures: Social Entrepreneurship in Action”. MJ is the US Operations lead of the social venture Loomio, which also works out of the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Hub.
For Erika, the opportunity to work in a collaborative work space for social entrepreneurs is invaluable to the organization’s growth. As she says, “There is a lot of relevance in the conversations you overhear and just being in an environment where everyone’s ventures or initiatives are socially minded. Having people who have access to other resources that are relevant to what you are doing makes it valuable.”
With a new space to work in and a timely approach to help young professionals, Sport Symposium’s social impact continues to grow. Erika is excited to foster a new cycle of prosperous relationships in the sports industry, paying forward a similar experience from her own leadership development journey.
Student Venture Intern
Jessica Kaufman is the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Student Venture Intern for Summer 2015. She is working under the Social Enterprise Greenhouse University Initiative, which is funded through the Blackstone Charitable Foundation Innovation Grant to retain students and recent graduates in Rhode Island through enabling them to work on and in social enterprises. Her work centers around documenting the success stories of student and recent graduate social ventures. Learn more about Jessica here.