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Diego von Vacano (left) and World Cup-winner Mario Kempes (right)

Yale SOM Students’ Soccer Conference Explores Business of ‘the Beautiful Game’

The two-day event convened the industry’s major figures, including players, club executives, and media partners.

By Matthew O’Rourke

Students at the Yale School of Management hosted the first Yale Soccer Conference on February 9 and 10, convening speakers from some of the biggest clubs in the world, including FC Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, and Galatasaray SK; soccer’s governing body, FIFA; leagues including La Liga, Bundesliga, and Major League Soccer; media partners NBC Sports and ESPN; and players like Mario Kempes, a member of a World Cup-winning Argentine national team. The event focused on the development and internationalization of soccer as a sport and a business.

The conference featured panels exploring a variety of topics. One examined how women in roles across the industry face issues of sexism and gender inequality. Another looked at the role of big data in the soccer industry;  representatives of FC Barcelona showed off its Innovation Hub, which assembles a variety of sports metrics in collaboration with universities and researchers. At another panel discussion, representatives from the Bundesliga, the primary league in Germany, and FC Bayern Munich discussed how the clubs are reaching out to American counterparts like Charlie Stillitano, CEO and chairman of Relevent Sports, which organizes the International Champions Cup, to promote the game in the United States and grow a larger fanbase.

Panelists also discussed the role of the media in sports. Speakers from ESPN and NBC Sports described how their companies are embracing the internationalization of the sport in the social media age. For example, ESPN has used outlets like Snapchat to present multilingual approaches to storytelling, and NBC Sports hosts events in New York on game days to bring together fans and their teams.

Erleen Hatfield, a lecturer at the Yale School of Architecture and managing partner of the Hatfield Group, gave a talk titled “Structuring the Fan Experience.” Her company most recently designed the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home to Super Bowl LIII and Major League Soccer champions Atlanta United.

Thairo Arruda ’19, co-founder and president of the conference, said he was delighted by the success and feedback he received from the event’s first year. “People could see how the sport we love intersects with business in data and analytics, but also through the passion of the fans and the opportunities that creates,” Arruda said. “I’m hopeful that this becomes an annual event and something we can do to connect MBAs and fans of the game with the people working inside of it.”

Attendees, too, expressed their satisfaction with the event. ESPN and Barcelona representatives told their Twitter followers that Yale was provided an ideal venue for discussing the business of the world’s most popular sport.