SBJ/Sept. 9-15, 2013/Opinion

Moving industry-academic dialogue ahead

I wanted to congratulate you on your recent article “Can academic research help sports industry?” (SportsBusiness Journal, Aug. 12-18 issue). It was a much needed start to an important discussion. There truly is a disconnect between the sports industry practitioners and the faculty members who teach in the area. There is a lot of fault to be spread on both sides. On the practitioner side, there are those who have worked in the trenches and do not trust those from outside. Some in the industry have significant business school training (e.g., Harvard, Wharton, etc.) and feel they have a stronger grasp of the topic than many academicians, yet others feel there are enough people interested in breaking their teeth in the industry that they can get the research or data from other sources rather than searching/paying for academic research. On the academic side, there are many educators who research what they like, not what the industry needs. There are those who conduct research on areas where it is easy to find data to cut down on research time/cost, yet others have no real connection to the industry and sit more in ivory towers rather than getting their hands dirty in the trenches.
 
The most widely successful business school faculty members are hired by the industry to help drive industry growth. These academicians’ research is often funded by an industry willing to invest with the thought that that investment will be returned many times over with great findings. Sometimes these findings are beneficial while other times the results are wrong. These academicians then disseminate their research in popular publications read by the industry — everything from Bloomberg Businessweek to Harvard Business Review. These summarizations of the research make it accessible to the average business person with simple-to-understand charts and suggestions for implementation.
 
In contrast, many sport management professors have to fight to undertake free research in the industry, have very few grant opportunities for research, and publish primarily in academic journals where the focus is so much on statistical analysis that few academicians actually understand what is written. This trend, though, is changing, as more practitioner-based publications are being launched. Also, some areas of sport management education have had a very strong industry connection. Sports law is such an example where research is often cited by courts and used by attorneys. I personally (as well as many other professors) have fashioned my research agenda based on cases or consulting projects as a way to address industry questions and provide hard data to support positions. This keeps us in the loop, and everyone is a winner.

Instead of placing blame, let’s move the dialogue to a solution. That solution is creating a forum where folks from the industry and academicians can connect and talk about potential projects and ideas. I just created a forum on LinkedIn called Sport Management Research Forum. The idea is to create a collaborative environment where faculty can propose research ideas and industry can propose ideas so we can try to create a match. Faculty and doctoral students can try to find research sponsors or see if the industry is interested in a research idea. Industry professionals who have some nagging questions or desire to have some research undertaken can post an idea and see if any researchers are interested in working with them. The idea is to have a collaborative dialogue in a nonjudgmental and healthy environment.
 
I look forward to having my brethren in academia and my colleagues in the industry work together to help professionalize and improve our industry for the benefit of everyone involved.

Gil Fried
New Haven, Conn.

Fried is chairman and professor in the sport management department of the College of Business at University of New Haven.

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