NEW YORK — League commissioners, athletes and sports industry professionals descended upon midtown Manhattan on Monday for the ILR Sports Leadership Summit. And in turn, students, faculty and alumni flocked to the event for an impressive lineup of speakers, most of whom Cornell alumni themselves.
Thirty-one different panelists and moderators assembled to discuss their experiences in the sports industry on a handful of topics including the future of labor in sports, media rights, negotiations and labor law surrounding collegiate athletics.
According to organizers, the sold-out event was a huge success its first time around.
“I was thrilled with the outcome of the first ILR Sports Leadership Summit,” said Assistant Dean for Communications and Marketing for the ILR School Tom Addonizio. “It was great to see such a tremendous turnout from our students, faculty, staff and distinguished alumni who have helped to shape the modern sports industry.”
First up on the day were National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman ’74 and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred ’80 on a panel, moderated by ESPN investigative personality Jeremy Schaap ’91.
Bettman and Manfred discussed the future of labor negotiations in sports in the context of an evolving market. In addition, Schaap asked if the relationship between the leagues and players go beyond economic issues, such as salaries. Bettman described using their respective leagues as platforms to positively impact local communities in conjunction with the players.
“Another thing we do, and we work very well with the Players Association on this … is using the power of sports to set a good example,” Bettman said during the panel. “[We] have programs in the community that either emphasizes education or physical fitness, emphasizing the values of leadership and teamwork and discipline.”
Schaap facilitated a relaxed environment, resulting in an enjoyable yet informative keynote.
“Beyond the incredible outpouring of support that we received across our community, a personal highlight for me was seeing Commissioners Bettman and Manfred on stage with Jeremy Schaap,” Addonizio said. “In my opinion, Jeremy is one of the all-time great journalists and he proved it, once again, today.”
Schaap’s sports journalism roots trace back to Ithaca, where he served as sports editor for The Sun, following in the footsteps of his father, the late Dick Schaap ’55, a former editor-in-chief of The Sun. Bettman and Manfred also trace their roots, albeit in labor relations, back to their time on East Hill as well as the two are graduates of the ILR school.
Later on in the festivities, National Basketball Association Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum ’91 and former YES Network CEO Tracy Dolgin ’81 spoke alongside other panelists about media rights negotiations in the age of online media and streaming services.
Despite the exodus of consumers away from cable television, they agreed the demand for live sports will live on.
Other notable Cornell alumni who spoke included Major League Soccer’s Chief Administrative Officer JoAnn Neale ’91 and former Cornell football lineman Kevin Boothe ’05, who claimed two rings with the New York Giants in 2008 and 2012.
Co-Head of Creative Artists Agency Sports Mike Levine ’93 was the featured speaker during lunch, discussing deal-making in a changing sports industry. Notably, Levine touched upon eSports, and the substantial amount of revenue drawn from live video game competitions.
With millions, and even billions, of dollars behind the media rights deals, eSports is making noise across the industry, Levine said.
On top of the showcase of speakers, the event itself went along smoothly despite it being a first time event, according to Student Intern for Cornell ILR Sports Leadership Summit Matthew Vani ’19.
“What impressed me the most about the event was the ability of the conference staff to run the event perfectly,” he said. “I was able to see how well every member of the … staff was able to work together fluidly with the speakers and guests to create an incredible event the likes of which I have never seen before.”
Since somewhat of a disproportionate amount of ILR alumni — and many more across Cornell — hold senior leadership positions in the industry, the ILR Sports Leadership Summit seemed like a no-brainer. According to Addonizio, ILR Dean Kevin Hallock was inspired to create the conference by the alumni themselves, specifically by Dolgin and President of Business Affairs of Fanatics Inc. Gary Gertzog ’80. With two alumni as commissioners, Hallock believed the idea of the conference could become a reality. And it did.
In addition to making the summit a recurring event, the ILR school is working to add more programming around sports as a whole.
“We are considering a drumbeat of communications around key issues that we’ll organize on a regular basis,” Addonizio said. “We also have been evaluating the addition of a summer sports leadership camp for high school students held in Ithaca or NYC.”
The undergraduate students who attended Monday’s event were members of the ILR Sports Business Society, which was founded in 2006. In assisting with the event, the students were able to engage with the speakers and other alumni over the course of the summit for more personalized interactions.
“The purpose of bringing the students was two-fold,” Vani said. “The one reason was to give the students a chance to meet alumni and trailblazers in the industry. The other reason was to showcase to the world the Cornell ILR Sports Business Society which has become a pipeline for placing Cornell students in the sports industry.”
Throughout the day students, faculty and alumni shared their experiences and viewpoints of the evolving sports industry. With current and future leaders of the sports industry coming together, the Cornell influence beyond the borders of Ithaca was present.