The Future of Sports is Focus of Inaugural National Conference at UT Austin on April 12, 14, 15

Playing the Long Game debuts with 2021 Clyde Littlefield Memorial Lecture featuring former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The pandemic caused a paradigm shift in sports in America. Where does the sports industry go from here? And how can young professionals and students in sport management shape its long-term future? 

A who’s who of sports professionals and thought leaders are gathering April 12, 14, and 15 to address the future of the sports industry at the inaugural Playing the Long Game conference, a free online event hosted at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education and open to all.

Playing the Long Game is presented by the College of Education’s Sport Management program, The H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, and Jim Rooney of Rooney Consulting and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Social media users can follow the conference with the hashtag #PlayLong. 

Pressing Challenges and Trends in Sports 

Conference attendees will learn from industry leaders as they discuss current challenges and future trends on a variety of panel topics, including the impact of COVID-19, innovation, diversity, culture, and ethics in the workplace. Question-and-answer sessions will provide opportunities for deeper engagement and insights. 

“Over the past year, I’ve been speaking to college students in business schools and sports management programs all over the country, and I’ve noticed a pattern. In just about every classroom, students seemed concerned about the sports industry. Where is the growth? How do we navigate our next steps? What are tomorrow’s opportunities? The sports industry today is not the same as it was 12 months ago, and students realize this,” said Jim Rooney, author of A Different Way to Win: Dan Rooney’s Story from the Super Bowl to the Rooney Rule

“I felt it was important to address students’ careers and concerns. That is why I decided to partner with The University of Texas at Austin to develop a symposium focused on the future of the sports industry. I invited some of the top professionals in the field to join me on panels for discussions on the most pressing topics,” he said. 

The Starting Line-Up: Sports Industry Leaders

A diverse and influential group of panelists and moderators come from nearly every professional sports field, as well as business, higher education, and media. They include: 

  • Paxton Baker, minority owner of the Washington Nationals and Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PKB Enterprises
  • Judy Battista, sports journalist at NFL Network Media
  • Swin Cash-Canal, Vice President of Basketball Operations for the New Orleans Pelicans; former WNBA player and founder of Swin Cash Enterprises, LLC
  • Jeremi Duru, professor at American University Law School and author
  • Raquel Garcia, Vice President of Marketing at MLS Austin FC
  • Jeff Miller, Executive Vice President of Communications, Public Affairs and Policy, NFL
  • Larry Miller, President of Nike’s Jordan Brand
  • Samantha Rapaport, Senior Director of Diversity & Inclusion, NFL
  • Jim Rooney, Rooney Consulting and The Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Dan Slater, Worldwide Lead Culture of Innovation at Amazon Web Service
  • Leah Triola, Senior Director of Football Operations & Administration, NFL
  • Laura Warren, General Counsel at MLS Chicago Fire

Panelists and moderators from UT Austin include: 

  • Matt Bowers, associate professor of instruction in Sport Management, the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education (KHE)
  • Ethan Burris, professor at McCombs School of Business
  • Allen Hardin, executive senior associate athletics director
  • Darren D. Kelly, assistant professor of instruction in KHE and associate vice president for diversity and community engagement
  • Kristin Neff, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology
  • Tolga Ozyurtcu, associate professor of instruction in Sport Management, KHE
  • LaToya Smith, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and vice president for diversity and community engagement

“I’m honored to be part of such a tremendous panel with leaders in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space who are making great strides across the sports industry,” said Sam Rapoport, who has dedicated her career to creating innovative business models aimed at enfranchising marginalized populations in sport. 

“I’m certain the students from the University of Texas at Austin and beyond will find the discussion beneficial and I’m looking forward to learning from my fellow panelists and helping students navigate their careers by sharing some of my experiences,” said Rapoport.

Clyde Rabb Littlefield Memorial Lecture: A Fireside Chat with Jim Rooney and Paul Tagliabue

Playing the Long Game kicks off on Monday, April 12, at 5:00 p.m. CT with the Clyde Rabb Littlefield Memorial Lecture, which will be a unique conversation between Paul Tagliabue, former Commissioner of the National Football League, and Rooney. 

Tagliabue will reflect on his career experiences and offers his perspective on the evolving sports landscape. He was NFL commissioner for 21 years and prior to that served as a lawyer for the league. Tagliabue won the 1992 Eagle Award from the United States Sports Academy, honoring him for his significant contributions to international sport. In 2020, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class of 2021.

Panel Sessions on April 14-15 Dive Deep Into Expertise

With timely topics and convenient times, each panel session offers unique perspectives for professionals, students, and even avid fans of the business side of sports. 

Lessons from COVID-19: Tuesday, April 14, at 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. CT

March 2020 marked a paradigm shift for sports in America and beyond. Professional and collegiate organizations instituted various COVID-19 policies to get teams back on the field as quickly as possible while keeping athletes and spectators safe from the coronavirus. This panel will discuss the lessons learned from these early experiments, expectations of when the industry might return to “normal,” and the broader implications of the pandemic experience. Featuring: Judy Battista, Matt Bowers, Allen Hardin, Leah Triola, and Laura Warren.

Innovation and the Future of the Sports Industry: Tuesday, April 14, at 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. CT

This panel will look toward the future and the vast growth potential and opportunities on the horizon for the industry. Panelists will discuss emerging trends and provide a vision for how various innovations, technologies, and socioeconomic forces will shape the sports world in the decades to come. Featuring: Raquel Garcia, Jeff Miller, Larry Miller, Dan Slater, and Jim Rooney. 

Diversity in the Sports Industry: Thursday, April 15, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. CT

Studies show that having diverse hires in leadership positions leads to better organizational outcomes. However, like most industries, minority hires are still lagging in decision-making roles throughout sports. This panel will discuss the benefits of diversity, how different organizations address this disparity, and the role diversity will play in the future of sports. Presented in association with the UT Austin Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Featuring: Swin Cash-Canal, N. Jeremi Duru, Darren D. Kelly, Sam Rapoport, and LaToya Smith. 

Culture and Ethics in the Sports Workplace: Thursday, April 15, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. CT

While all organizations endeavor to operate ethically and cultivate strong organizational cultures, many struggle to articulate and implement their vision. Panelists will discuss these abstract challenges and provide practical solutions for cultivating ethics and fostering the culture as strengths within organizations. Featuring: Paxton K. Baker, Ethan Burris, Kristin Neff, Tolga Ozyurtcu, and Jim Rooney.

Gearing Up for a Changing Industry 

Designed for up-and-coming young professionals and students, the conference intends to help them gain a better sense of the types of industry careers they’d like to pursue, understand relevant issues in the industry that can come up during interviews or on the job, and create a vision for how they can make an impact as they enter and advance in careers in sports. 

“Students are concerned about entering a changing industry in a tough labor market,” said Ozyurtcu, who teaches in the sport management program at the College of Education and co-organized the conference with Rooney. 

“At the keynote and first two sessions, I hope they wrap their heads around the big picture issues in the near and long term future,” said Ozyurtcu. “The panel on diversity does double duty: diversity itself is a critical issue, but thinking about operating in diverse workplace settings and building tangible skills to foster this diversity. Finally, as we conclude with culture and ethics in the workplace, students can gain insight into making their voices heard, even as junior members of an organization, as well as how to stand up for their values when they are challenged.”