12th annual Sport Management Conference a home run

Ian Kist, Staff Reporter

On Friday Oct. 16, 2015, the Sport Management Department at Robert Morris University held their 12th annual Sport Management Conference at the Sewall Center on the campus of RMU. The conference had 74 professionals from all across the country speak at breakout panel sessions and at roundtables. Of those 74 speakers, 37 were Robert Morris alumni.

Harry Leckemby Jr., who is the Director of Sports & Athletic Sales at BookMyGroup, played a pivotal role in organizing the speakers and presenters at the conference.

“My job and the role I play is: I am in charge of bringing in every single speaker that we have for our panel and roundtable sessions for the event.”

Leckemby uses strategy in planning the speakers.

“The way I structure that is, looking at our alumni base first and really developing the game plan of getting as many of our alumni involved as possible and then moving on outside of our alumni base of companies and organizations that have become good friends of our program, and bringing them in as well.”

There were three breakout panel sessions where students could select what panel they would like to hear from. The panels consisted of professionals involved in that specific area of the sports industry and a moderator with the knowledge of the topic guiding the panel.

After each panel session was completed, roundtables were conducted. This gave the students a better opportunity to sit and talk to the professionals in a more personal atmosphere. Students walked around the International Suite at the Sewall Center selecting which companies and/or individuals within that specific company they wanted to talk with. Every ten minutes the students would get up and select a new company and individual to talk to.

The roundtables were a great opportunity for the industry professionals to get to know the students names and interests in potential internships and job openings. This was a great time for students to get business contacts and pass out their resumes to the professionals.

The conference featured two key-note speakers and presenters; Murray Cohn, Vice President of Team Ticket Sales for the National Basketball Association, and Dan Migala, Founding Partner of Property Consulting Group and of the Migala Report. Both speakers engaged the audience into their presentations and gave vital information and advice to the students that would help them and encourage them as they go down their career paths in the sport management industry.

When asked why this conference was important to him and for the students, Cohn answered, “It’s been my 12th year being a part of it and as an alumni (of Robert Morris University), and it has been an honor and a privilege to be able to help so many people launch their careers in the sports business.” Cohn went onto say, “My goal for (students) is, ideally, I’d love to place people into internships and jobs and make some great connections in the industry that can help their careers.”

Not only did RMU students attend, but so did students from 18 universities and colleges from all parts of the country.

“I don’t think there is difficulty, it’s just a matter of coordinating and being persistent and consistent and following up on the details, said Dr. David Synowka, Department Head of Sport Management at Robert Morris, when asked about the most difficult aspect of having such a big conference with 18 other schools attending.

Synokwa believed that allowing other schools to attend the conference at RMU is a positive. “It makes our conference more attractive to bring in as much talent as possible and that in itself drives a lot the industry professionals, recruiters and speakers and presenters coming because they do have to invest some money so it helps them develop relationships,” he said.

Synowka thinks it is important for RMU students to interact with the students from these other institutions. “In regards to RMU students, interacting with other students, that’s where friendships and relationships start. And your best friend ten years from now may have come from this conference.”

For many students, especially seniors, the conference is a great opportunity to talk to industry professionals because they are looking for jobs when they graduate.

Matt Gornall, a senior Sport Management Major at Robert Morris, found that this conference was important for him.

“It is huge. This is my fourth go around so for me it is a lot of catching up with people that I have met before but even for people that are coming for the first time, it is a great opportunity to learn a lot about the business and to get your name out there and meet a lot of really great professionals that are looking to hire,” he said.

Gornall also believes that students should attend the conference every year.

“You aren’t going to lose anything,” he said. “For me, I didn’t have the best start in terms of approaching professionals but I grew and matured, I got more comfortable and it was something that came easy to me so for me it is better to be overwhelmed as an underclassman than an upperclassman.”

The conference is impactful to the students, which may be a cause of why some believe the Robert Morris Sport Management Conference separates itself from other sport management conferences held at various other universities and colleges nationwide.

Drew Ribarchak, Director of New Business Development for the Columbus Blue Jackets, a speaker and an RMU alumnus at the conference, thinks that RMU’s conference is unlike conferences he has attended in the past at other schools.

Ribarchak believes the pre-conference held the night before is an important tool for the students that Murray Cohn led. “It really puts students in an opportunity to know exactly how to dress, how to prepare a resume, how to act on the actual day of the conference.”

Ribarchak continued, “The amount of preparation that goes into making sure the students are given the best opportunity to succeed and not just go out a flyer and to hopefully have a good day at an event like this is one thing.”

Ribarchak also considers the types of speakers at the conference to set RMU’s conference apart form others. “The types of speakers is very diverse, which if you don’t want to get into sales, it still gives you many other opportunities to hear what is out there from a career standpoint.”

In terms of recruiting future employees at the conference, Ribarchak likes the quality of the students that attend the conference.

“For me this is a great recruiting tool because I am a proud RMU alum and the pipeline of talent that is coming through Robert Morris University is fantastic,” Ribarchak said. “You have students who have an understanding about what growing a sales career is all about and that really starts with the professors preparing students for what a future looks like in not only professional sports but in ticket sales.

“So the level of what Robert Morris has and also the other universities that are attending this conference, there is a high quality of students that are very engaged and career driven even as young students that are looking for that first step to really make a long career happen.”

The day was capped off with the induction ceremony of the Robert Morris University Sport Management Hall of Fame Class of 2015. The 2015 class consisted of Angela Churchill, Katy Yurk, joining her husband who was inducted last year, and Jennifer Heppel.

Planning and preparation for the 2016 edition of the Robert Morris Sport Management Conference is already underway.