Robert Morris sport management department looks to change with the industry

Logan Carney, Sports Editor

MOON TOWNSHIP — The Robert Morris Department of Sport Management has evolved to better reflect the changing industry as well as provide new and different learning experiences to students.

In the past two years alone, the department has added a class focused on WWE, another centered around eSports and added a new club focused on sports analytics.

“It is a process,” said Dr. David Synowka, the sport management department head. “We’ve been engaged with things that have worked for a long time. We have always tried to keep up with what’s going on with current trends and changes with the industry.”

The first notable course addition to the department came last year when they added “A Survey of WWE” to their department.

The class was originally taught by the School of Business Dean Dr. Michelle Patrick, Dr. John Locke and Dr. Synowka, and it is now taught by just Dr. Locke and Dr. Patrick.

It was created when chief brand officer of the WWE Stephanie McMahon and RMU President Dr. Chris Howard reached out to the three professors about the course.

“The idea of taking that communication, art, story-telling, theatre and merging it with the sound business practices in sport management is the discipline in entertainment management and WWE is the global leader in entertainment,” said Dr. Locke.

Earlier this year, the department followed up the addition of the WWE class with a new club centered around sport analytics in part because of the increased use of analytics in the industry today.

The club was co-founded by RMU students Spencer Wellington and Samuel Anthony, with the faculty advisor being Dr. John Clark of the department.

In an email, Wellington stated that he was interested in the subject matter after taking Dr. Clark’s class. When he found out that there was not another class on sport analytics, he and Anthony reached out to Dr. Clark, who was also thinking about starting a club on sport analytics. They meet weekly with about 10 other students each week, according to Wellington.

“We have tried to encourage everyone to research sports and stats they are passionate about and try to learn more about them through statistical analysis,” said Wellington in regards to the focus of the club.

Another new addition to the department this year is a course centered around eSports.

eSports is a newer industry in sport entertainment that has seen significant growth over the years, with projected revenues topping $1 billion this year alone, according to Newzoo.

The new eSports class is being taught by Dr. Synowka and Donald Marinelli, a former theater and technology professor at Carnegie Mellon who now works for Inven Global, a company that covers eSports.

When speaking to RMU Sentry Media reporter Scott McDanel back in November when the course was announced, Dr. Synowka had this to say about the class: “(Students will look at) the different parameters of the eSports industry, different areas such as high school, intercollegiate and professional sports, as well as providing students with the background of the entertainment sports management area.”

Sports analytics club co-founder and RMU student Spencer Wellington said, “I think the changes that the department has incorporated recently show that they are making an effort to stay current and make sure they are providing students with the most relevant info on the sport industry as they can.”

He specifically singled out the eSports class, as he said, “I know that they have brought in someone (Marinelli) with great knowledge of that industry to help teach it which I think will be helpful for those taking the class.”

The department’s changes extend to their annual sport management department in the fall as the past couple of years the conference added workshops in both analytics and social media, as well as invite professionals from the eSports industry.

Dr. Synowka said at the conference that he continues to expect the class to adapt to the changing marketplace. That is good news for people like Wellington, a sport management major, who said that the weakest part in the department was it, “Being a little bit behind the industry at times.” Although, as previously stated, he has noticed effort being put into adapting with the industry.

In regards to the conference, Wellington also thought that, while it provides a great experience, it also can stand from improvement by including more areas in the industry.

“The Sport Management Conference is a great opportunity for students to get professional experience,” said Wellington. “However, there is a heavy emphasis on ticket sales and it generally lacks a presence from other areas of the industry. This would be the biggest area where some improvement could really go a long way toward helping students who might not be interested in ticket sales.”

Despite all the evolving the department has done over the past couple of years, they may be forced to make some unwelcome changes as it was reported by RMU Sentry Media’s John Blinn earlier this year that Robert Morris is dealing with a “student enrollment crisis.”

A university spokesperson said to Blinn that the school is dealing with “a potential budget gap resulting from expenses exceeding tuition revenues.”

One of the proposals to deal with this issue is a voluntary and involuntary termination strategy.

While it is unknown exactly what departments will be affected, when asked how his department is handling the situation, Dr. Synowka said, “You just keep moving forward. I’ve been here 40 years and you usually have to be creative and use the best way of utilizing the best resources that you have. And the resources that have worked best for us so far are our relationships.”

Dr. Synowka mentioned that their alumni network is one of the resources that they could utilize.

He added, “We just keep moving ahead and we say, things will be okay. We’ll move forward, we’ll be successful and students are a big part of that as well.”