The biggest thing I learned from the NASSM Conference:
Good morning, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.
I'm finally back in Chicago, after spending the last several days in Atlanta for the NASSM Conference. I'm really thankful for those who helped run the event...NASSM officers went out of their way to help me, a non-academic, feel welcome, and I absolutely got a lot out of it.
I have a full calendar of interviews for this coming week...with many of the professors who presented at this conference, with experts for completely different stories, and more. But before I completely shift gears, I wanted to take a second and share some big-picture takeaways I had from talking to so many professors and grad students.
What was NASSM, and why should I, the reader, care about it?
NASSM stands for the North American Society for Sports Management. It's an organization full of academics and researchers from all over the continent, digging into a variety of sports related discipline, from sports business, sports marketing, event management, sport history, and more.
I say this not as a critique, but this conference was very much an academic's event. If there was another reporter there, I didn't see them anywhere. Outside a handful of vendors, it was pretty rare to find anybody there that wasn't in academia. While there were a few keynote talks and small discussion groups, the bulk of the conference agenda was dedicated to presenting research.
I went to this event to go to as many of those research presentations as I could, because so many of them touched on topics that would be of interest to the Extra Points readership. But I also wanted to talk vendors, break off time to chat with grad students in more detail, and also potentially sell some Extra Points subscriptions.
I'll get to more of the research in a second, but I was struck by how often my conversations with professors and grad students returned to this theme...it's hard to get everybody on campus talking to each other
One of the central truths I've really come to learn since launching Extra Points is that higher education, as a general rule, can be really siloed. At most schools, various academic departments don't do a great job building meaningful relationships with the athletic department. Hell, they often don't do a good job at building relationships with different academic departments. I heard story after story of schools accidentally offering the same class across different departments, of schools using expensive consulting services when in-house work could be done elsewhere, of not trusting each other, and more.
I don't believe that's a system born purely out of petty grievance and turf protection. As so many researchers explained to me, getting a write-up in say, Sports Business Journal, or Sportico, or shoot, Extra Points, would be an excellent way to help industry practitioners or the public learn about their findings, and potentially help turn that research into practice. But there's no guarantee that a dean, or advisor, or other department administrators, care about that at all. Publishing in an obscure academic journal, only to read by a handful of other graduate students, on the other hand, would be perceived as much, much more valuable.
So if you have a limited amount of time, well, what would you focus on?
I do not believe I know enough about arcane higher education politics to offer a solution. I don't think I know enough to even meaningfully critique the academic publishing industry. What I can say is that if a university believes that service should be part of their institutional mission...and if they're a Land-Grant school or a religious institution, it is part of your mission, then making sure that research actually gets in the hands of the people who could act on it, ought to be at least somewhat of a priority.
What were some of the presentations that appeared especially interesting?
I don't have the full PDFs of these studies, although I've reached out to several professors asking for additional data that I hope to share in future Extra Points newsletters. But I can share a few high-level insights.
On Friday, I popped in to a presentation titled "Does Social Media Engagement Drive Ticket Sales?", from Nels Popp of the University of North Carolina, and James Du, of Florida State University.
I wasn't just interested in the data and the results here...I actually helped work on this study. Dr.Popp is an Extra Points reader, and after talking a few times, I agreed to help file FOIAs to collect ticketing data for D-I men's basketball programs over a series of seasons.
The original hope was to use this data to better understand how playing on certain dates or times might influence ticket sales over an entire season. His team is still examining this question, but found that this data set could also be used to dig into how a school's social media activity related to ticket sales.
Essentially...does a program's Twitter account activity help sell tickets? Does it matter how users engage with those tweets? Previous research suggested that Facebook activity can have a positive relationship with increased intention on buying tickets, but that isn't exactly the same thing as buying tickets.
Surprisingly, after adjusting for factors like the previous season's ticket sales, winning percentage, coaching changes and more...the research showed a positive relationship between Twitter activity and ticket sales. This data, if I am understanding the conclusion correctly, showed that you can actually sell more college basketball tickets by posting more.
Pretty interesting if you're a marketing professor, right? But also potentially very interesting if your job requires you to sell college basketball tickets!
This sort of thing is actually the biggest reason why I run our FOIA Directory. If this helps make it easier for professors to produce useful research, my efforts were well worth it.
This is a good time to be researching esports
You don't have to be a gamer to be interested in what's happening in the e-sports space. Leaders all over the country that have never touched a video game controller after the SNES are realizing that esports programs can be an affordable way to boost student enrollment and retention, as well as market their institutions. Investors, both legitimate and shady, are realizing more and more that the professional e-sports world represents a meaningful and highly engaged audience.
And hey, baseball, basketball, football...these sports professionalized and organized in the US decades and decades ago. But what if somebody invented a sport just a few years ago, and built a completely new infrastructure around it, freed from decades of tradition and inertia? That'd be pretty interesting to watch, wouldn't it?
I saw papers on esports facility construction, on brand engagement, fan engagement, and more. If I was a graduate student trying to dig into a world that hadn't been as deeply researched, there would be plenty more paper ideas in the e-sports world. And honestly, I think administrators ought to at least ask around their campus to learn more about how it works locally, if only to potentially try to steal an idea or two for their own marketing campaigns.
I'll share more details on other specific papers, from conference realignment to gambling, to burnout to DEI, later this week and beyond. But for now, I'd really encourage the administrators among my readership to reach out and try and learn from their sports management and sports business team on campus...and for researchers to try to communicate what their work means to the practitioners.
In a world where resources are increasingly scarce, making the best decisions possible means getting the best data possible, the best advice possible, and the most context possible. That means stepping outside our comfort zones every once in a while.
A college campus is a wonderful collection of expertise in nearly every possible discipline. What good is that expertise if nobody accesses it?
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