The value of engaging in conversations with Twin Cities sport industry leaders
by Dr. Lisa Kihl, University of Minnesota
On November 8, the University of Minnesota’s Sport management program and the Athletics Department and the Minnesota Twins Baseball club co-hosted a panel discussion with Minneapolis & St Paul (Twin Cities) sport leaders. The panel was titled “Challenges and Future Landscape of the Twin Cities Sports Industry”. The panelists included Mark Coyle, University of Minnesota Director of Athletics, Bryan Donaldson, Senior Director of Community Relations for the Minnesota Twins, Dannon Hulskotter, Vice President of Marketing and Fan Engagement for the Minnesota Vikings, and Ryan Tanke, Chief Revenue Officer for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. The event was moderated by Dave Mona, a local sports media personality. Professor Brian Mills from the University of Florida gave a summary of key discussant’s themes and potential research opportunities.
Objective & Rationale
The main reason for hosting leaders from different Twin Cities sport organizations was to learn about the challenges they encounter in this respective sport market, forecast opportunities, and explore potential research collaborations to address specific areas of concern.
A secondary aim was to enhance student awareness of the challenges facing the Twin Cities sport industry and participate in discussions that would better prepare them for the workforce.
The impetus for bringing to together these sport leaders onto our campus was the result of two conversations. First, in the previous spring semester, Bryan Donaldson was serving as a guest speaker in my senior capstone sport management courses. He shared that in order to have a sustainable and successful career in the sport industry, leaders need to understand the challenges in this landscape and forecast opportunities for growth. Second, simultaneously in my doctoral seminar class, we were discussing how we could make our research relevant to the sport industry and fulfill the University’s mission of generating knowledge, by conducting high-quality research that benefited the Minnesota sport community. An aspect of relevancy is forecasting or engaging in prescience where we theorize or conduct research that helps predict the long turn nature of the sport industry. In particular, making conjectures of what the Twin Cities sport market would look like in 5 or 10 years. As a result of these classroom discussions, the need to engage in dialogue with Minnesota sport leaders to better understand what I would characterize as a unique and dynamic Twin Cities sport market was evident.
Whilst the vibrant Twin Cities sport industry is exciting for fans and arguably good for area development, we learned from the panelists that it brings certain challenges for sport leaders. The panelist shared their different strategies to successfully navigate the perceived “saturated” Twin Cities sports market. First, in terms of globalization, some teams push beyond the Twin Cities area into global markets to increase market size and attract fans. Second, the panelists discussed how the local region has experienced new competitors (Major League Soccer and Women’s National Basketball Association) and the importance of understanding how this competition occurs, the available purchasing choices for fans, and what makes the Twin Cities unique in this respect. Third, the use of analytics and how it is integrated into sales and increasing attendance was a key area for teams. Gaining access to data was identified as an opportunity for research synergies to assist teams on how to strategically use the fan and/or purchasing data they collect. Additionally, balancing the needs of Millennials, Generation Z, and long-term season ticket holders in gaining and maintaining fan loyalty was a challenge for organizations. Last, they discussed the importance of sport and what their organization does to be a good citizen of the local community. Determining the best way to integrate socially responsible initiatives into the community and evaluating their effectiveness was deemed important. Finally, each panelist agreed that given changing technology they were uncertain of what the sport market would like five years from now.
Overall, it was an honor to partner with the University of Minnesota’s Department of athletics and the Minnesota Twins organizations. Engaging students and faculty in a conversation with Twin Cities sport leaders was the first step in creating an ongoing dialogue about how the academy can better serve the local sport industry. Individuals may watch the full panel discussion here.