The University of Guelph has launched a sports business institute to study the multibillion-dollar world of athletics, from sponsorships to social media.
Guided by an advisory board chaired by International Olympic Committee member Richard Pound, the International Institute for Sports Business and Leadership will aim to bring together scholarly and commercial minds, with a reliance on graduate students and the board’s industry leaders.
“The recruitment of PhD candidates and other graduate students are going to give it a sufficient mass to do the kind of work they want to do and end up becoming a thought leader in sport,” Pound said in an interview.
A champion Canadian swimmer who served as founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Pound said the research centre will help organizations looking to boost attendance, leverage e-sports and study links to health and wellness.
The institute lands in the middle of a North American industry on track to hit $80 billion annually by 2022, said athletic department director Scott McRoberts.
"It's a huge business," he said in a release.
The centre, a joint venture between the College of Business and Economics and the athletic department, will start off “lean,” said founding director Norm O’Reilly, assistant dean of executive programs.
The two entities will pour less than $100,000 each into the centre — the only sports business institute in Canada, he said — enough to support four graduate students.
“We’re not chemistry, we don’t need a lab. All our data is out there in industry,” O’Reilly said in an interview, adding that he aims to apply for research grants from provincial and federal governments and international organizations.
He hopes to examine “high-level, complex” issues with the aid of data analytics.
“How do you help in the decreasing sport participation rates of youth in the country? Can we get all of our athletes to participate in doping-free sport? Can we solve these problems?
“What academia brings to the table is an unbiased view where we actually develop data that’s shared,” he said.
Academic programs in sports commerce now number 16 in Canada, according to the North American Society for Sport Management. That doesn’t include most college programs, or Ryerson University's newly launched master of business administration specializing in sport business.
Anthony Church, director of Laurentian University’s School of Sports Administration, called research hubs like Guelph’s “wonderful,” but questions the necessity of some sport management programs.
“It’s creating more of an academic dialogue around sport and legitimizing sport as a business and an industry worthy of study,” he said.
“I would say that the industry itself does not warrant the growth in sport management programs...Increasingly those executive positions in sports organizations are filled by business graduates...but the cynic in me thinks that the growth in sport management programs probably is more of a cash grab.”
Institute members will produce peer-reviewed research and train industry up-and-comers, churning out data for use by sports groups, the university said.
The centre has a five-year mandate for now.
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version called the athletic department director Scott McRobertson.