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 connect with Penn. sports business alumni.
The summit was originally founded in 2017 and was the first in-person iteration of the event since 2019 due to COVID-19. Planning the summit was an extensive process, according to college senior, WUSBC co-president and chief event organizer Sarah Abbe.
“We started planning the Summit as soon as school started in August 2022 and finalized all of our outreach, logistics, finance and marketing initiatives in the last week before the event,” he said. “Planning the summit required tireless work and constant communication with WUSBC and WSABI board members.”
The event kicked off with a morning fireside chat with keynote speaker Marc Lasry, CEO of Avenue Capital Group and most notably, co-owner of the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Lasry spoke at length about his journey growing up as a Moroccan immigrant, going through law school and managing hedge funds before turning the conversation to the Bucks. He bought the team at arguably its lowest point, when it 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 championship. He concluded his conversation by talking about how he became an advocate for analytics in sports, especially basketball, and his experience of the 2021 playoff run. The event itself was moderated by Kate Solomon, member from WUSBC and a sophomore in college, which Abbe was excited about.
“Prior to this year, there had never been a current undergraduate participating in one of our summits,” he said. “It was extremely special to see one of our own club members facilitate such an important and incredible conversation…and I would definitely recommend [that] the club will implement more students as moderators in the coming years”.
After Lasry’s talk, 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 analysis, sports networking and sports investment opportunities.
Additionally, during the lunch break, attendees were able to sign up for coffee chats and connect with many of the panelists from organizations such as IBM Sports and Entertainment, MLB and the Philadelphia Eagles. WUSBC considered numerous factors when choosing speakers and panelists and focused on the different aspects of the sports business and each speaker’s unique background.
“As co-chair, I took this opportunity to prioritize diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and thought among our panelists,” Abbe said. “The speakers on each panel brought a different background with unique stories to the table – something we found to be invaluable in 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 coordinator of scouting operations for the Brooklyn Nets; and Kelly Schrader, who is the associate manager of the NBA’s Global Strategy and Innovation Department. All of them emphasized the importance of having a willingness to learn on the job, and to network and send cold emails to enter the industry.
Additionally, other notable panelists included Ani Kilambi, the assistant general manager of the National League Championship winning Philadelphia Phillies; Amanda Herald, NFL vice president of marketing strategy, insights and planning; and Will Misselbrook, the creative director of the Washington Commanders, who oversaw the team’s rebranding over the past three seasons.
The summit concluded with 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 focused on Harris’ life before the NBA, what he’s learned in his career so far, and his plans for his post-business career and building his personal brand.
Harris talked about what he looks for in a business before investing in it; touched on recent sports business topics such as college name, image and likeness deals; and talked about how he’s a big proponent of analytics in basketball. He closed his remarks by encouraging the audience to keep working hard at what they love to do and to be proud of what they have achieved so far.
Overall, the conference was a huge success, according to Abbe, and she and the rest of WUSBC were delighted with the interest they received at the Summit even after a three-year absence in person. Many of the attendees also came from outside of Penn.
“The turnout ended up being amazing,” Abbe said. “We sold over 275 tickets for the event and our attendees came from a variety of universities and companies.”
WUSBC and WSABI look forward to building on their success from this year’s Summit into the future, and WUSBC will continue to host events with prominent sports business figures throughout the year.