On Friday, the Wharton Undergraduate Sports Business Club and the Wharton Sports Analytics and Business Initiative held the annual Wharton Sports Business Summit, a conference where students interested in sports business and analytics have the opportunity to learn from notable individuals in the industry and network with Penn alumni in sports business.
The Summit was originally founded in 2017, and it was the first in-person iteration of the event since 2019 due to COVID-19. Planning for the Summit was an extensive process, according to College senior, WUSBC co-president, and chief organizer of the event, Sarah Abbe.
“We started to plan the Summit as soon as school began in August 2022, and finalized all of our outreach, logistics, finance, and marketing initiatives within the final week before the event,” she said. “Planning the Summit required tireless work and constant communication with WUSBC board members and WSABI.”
The event started off with a morning fireside chat with keynote speaker Marc Lasry, the CEO of the Avenue Capital Group and, most notably, the co-owner of the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Lasry talked at great length about his journey growing up as a Moroccan immigrant, going through law school, and managing hedge funds prior to shifting the conversation to the Bucks. He bought the team at arguably its lowest point, when they finished 15-67 the previous season, a new stadium was required, and threats of relocation were rampant.
Lasry oversaw the development of a new state-of-the-art arena, an increase in the team's net worth, and the Bucks’ rise to NBA champion. He concluded his conversation with talk of how he was a proponent of analytics in sports, especially in basketball, and his experience of the 2021 playoff run. The event itself was moderated by WUSBC member and College sophomore Kate Solomon, which Abbe was thrilled about.
“Before this year, there had never been a current undergraduate student participating in one of our summits,” she said. “It was extremely special to see one of our own club members facilitating such an important and incredible conversation … and I would definitely recommend [that] the club implement more students as moderators in the coming years.”
After Lasry’s conversation, attendees were able to go to different panels that included Penn alumni who are well-established in the industry and local Philadelphia sports executives. Topics for the panels ranged from following in the footsteps of recent Penn alumni, to sports betting and analytics, to sports networking, to investment opportunities in sports.
Additionally, during the lunch break, attendees were able to sign up for coffee chats and network with many of the panelists from organizations such as IBM Sports and Entertainment, the MLB, and the Philadelphia Eagles. WUSBC considered numerous factors when choosing speakers and panelists and focused on the different aspects of sports business and the unique backgrounds of each speaker.
“As co-president, I took this opportunity to prioritize the diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and thought among our panelists,” Abbe said. “Those speaking on each panel brought a different background with unique stories to the table: something we found to be extremely valuable to maximizing the learning potential and overall success of the Summit.”
Notable panelists from Penn include Eric Babitz, the manager of baseball operations for the Milwaukee Brewers; former Quaker basketball player Matt MacDonald, the scouting operations coordinator for the Brooklyn Nets; and Kelly Schrader, who is an associate manager for the NBA’s Global Strategy & Innovation Department. All of them stressed the importance having a willingness to learn on the job, and of networking and cold-emailing in order to break into the industry.
In addition, other notable panelists were Ani Kilambi, the assistant general manager for the National League Championship-winning Philadelphia Phillies; Amanda Herald, the vice president of marketing strategy, insights, and planning for the NFL; and Will Misselbrook, the chief creative officer for the Washington Commanders, who oversaw the team’s rebranding over the past three seasons.
The Summit was capped off by another fireside chat with keynote speaker and current Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, which was moderated by Eric Bradlow, Wharton's vice dean of analytics. The conversation was centered on Harris’ life before the NBA, what he learned during his career so far, and his plans during his post-career in business and building his personal brand.
Harris talked about what he looked for in a business before making an investment in it; touched on recent sports business topics such as college name, image, and likeness deals; and discussed how he is a big proponent of analytics in basketball. He closed his remarks by giving some encouragement to the attendees, to keep working hard on what they love to do, and to be proud of what they accomplished so far.
Overall, the conference was a major success, according to Abbe, and she and the rest of WUSBC were thrilled with the interest they received in the Summit even after a three-year in-person absence. Many of the attendees came from outside of Penn as well.
“Attendance wound up being amazing,” Abbe said. “We sold over 275 tickets to the event, and our attendees came from a variety of universities and businesses.”
WUSBC and WSABI hope to continue their success from this year’s Summit into the future, and WUSBC will continue to host events with notable individuals in sports business throughout the year.