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Marketing students blend art, science through Fox Sports U

Marketing students blend art, science through Fox Sports U

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In recent years, academic programs in sport business have followed the lead of industry trends and placed a heavy emphasis on business intelligence. This emphasis has been primarily in the form of courses focused on analytics and data-driven decision-making. I can remember during my tenure at the NBA league office how we began to emphasize research in the form of data collection regarding season-ticket holders and ticket buyers. Our goal was to learn as much about them as possible and to create predictive modeling as to who was most likely to renew their ticket plans and which types of prospects were more likely to purchase ticket plans. At that time we began to refer to our skills as balancing both the art and the science of marketing.

As director of a graduate MBA/MS program I have found it essential to have class activities and projects that utilize both. Five years ago, I was fortunate to be introduced to Fox Sports University through our affiliation with Fox Sports Florida.

Fox Sports University is a partnership developed by Fox Sports with, as of now, 40 prestigious academic and athletic institutions from around the country. In the 10 years since its inception, more than 5,000 students have participated in the program and more than 100 have been hired as either interns or in full-time positions. The program is designed to provide real-world experience to graduate and undergraduate students, while developing a pipeline of innovative perspective and new talent for Fox Sports properties.

Fox Sports challenges students with a semester-long case study that is timely and relevant to the Fox Sports business. Students are tasked to develop solutions — products, concepts and campaigns that have the potential to be executed across Fox Sports businesses, giving students the opportunity to see what it takes to make their ideas come to life. Fox Sports executives and on-air talent take part in the education process, giving the practical element to learning whereby students produce research, campaigns and concepts for Fox Sports. The participating class is divided into working teams who compete against each other to have their particular concept being chosen as the “winner.” The winning team then has the opportunity to join the Fox team to observe their ideas evolve from concept to reality in the form of a campaign, commercial or some other media element.

Implementing the project is facilitated by Fox Sports U staffers who usually travel to campus three times — along with representatives from the participating Fox Sports RSN, to present the project, check in around midterm and come back to evaluate and assess the final project. For the students it is an opportunity to “audition.”

In preparing to write this column I reviewed a number of Fox Sports U projects from the participating schools. One in particular that I found interesting was professor Don Ingle’s public relations class at DePaul University. Ingle’s class was to create platforms for MLB’s environmental sustainability initiatives, enhance the partnership between Fox and MLB, and celebrate a joint commitment to sustainable practices in broadcast and ballpark operations. Ingle was impressed with the involvement throughout the semester of high-level executives from both Fox and MLB and the investment made to provide the winning team a trip to the 2017 MLB All-Star Game in Miami where they joined MLB’s Green Team on site. One of his students, Caroline Fronczak, had this to say about her experience: “For me, Fox Sports University was more than just a class. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allowed me to grow my personal and professional skills while gaining real-world exposure. Working on this campaign was exhilarating, thought-provoking and one of the most impactful career growth experiences I have had in college. Not only was I given the opportunity to channel my passion for sports into my classwork but I was pushed to think differently and work alongside five other talented individuals to create a unique and executable campaign for Major League Baseball and Fox. Fox Sports U encourages students to tap into and reach their highest potential and I’m still in disbelief that my team’s winning campaign led to us being invited to attend the 2017 MLB All-Star Game and serve on the MLB Green Team. Fox Sports U invests in its students and encourages them to think big while ensuring every student has the tools they need to succeed.”

A student team from USF worked with the Tampa Bay Rays on their Fox Sports Go mobile app.
Photo by: FOX SPORTS FLORIDA

Judy Foxman, a lecturer in the Cox Business School at SMU and a seven-year participant in the program, sums up very nicely how a number of faculty participants, including myself, describe their experiences with Fox Sports U: “The Fox Sports University Program consistently provides our students with an immersive, hands-on learning opportunity that sharpens their marketing skills and differentiates them when interviewing for jobs. It is a full 360-degree experience — from learning client objectives, to executing market research, building a strategic marketing campaign based on a data-driven foundation, and presenting recommendations to senior Fox Sports and team executives. The Fox Sports University program is truly dedicated to giving our students a robust learning experience that prepares them for their professional careers.”

Fox Sports selects interns and employees from the ranks of its Fox Sports U “alumni,” making the experience even more valuable for the student groups. To date, more than 100 students have been hired out of this pipeline of bright and talented young minds.

In summing up the program as a five-year veteran, the experience of analyzing and proposing possible solutions for a real-life case study scenario brings out the best in students. They immerse themselves into the project because it isn’t a lecture, a test, or even a paper or research project. What they are working on is what they hope to be doing post-graduation — meaningful work that has expectations, a measurable outcome and hopefully a change to produce a product to be utilized by the sponsor and viewed by thousands. It provides the student with an answer to the adage: It’s not just who you know, but who knows you.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.

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