SBJ/Nov. 11-17, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

New firm to deploy students for digital projects

Two digital media industry veterans have created a labor pool of college students called Talent League, aiming to supply sports properties and media outlets with talent for on-demand projects.

The effort, nearly two years in development, is the idea of Tom Richardson, president of Convergence Sports & Media, and Gregg Trueman, a former producer for MLB Productions and the head of several digital design outfits including Neographic and Humanize. Talent League is developing a curated database of student talent available for hourly and project-based work in fields such as social media, analytics and digital content development that have proved challenging for many companies.

The pair has partnered with nine major universities with prominent sports management programs, including the universities of Oregon, Massachusetts and Michigan, Syracuse University and the Ivy Sports Collaborative; and more than 20 companies and sports properties, including World Wrestling Entertainment, Bloomberg Sports and digital video syndicator CineSport.

Talent League seeks to capitalize on several emerging business trends, including the rise of a digitally based economy, the decline of the traditional internship-based model, and the growth of on-demand labor services not tied to a specific location.

Richardson
“The basic concept is workforce-as-a-service, where you’re able to deploy labor much more nimbly and efficiently,” said Richardson, who will serve as chief executive of Talent League while Trueman is chief product officer. “What we’re trying to do is really take advantage of the knowledge and energy of millennials, who in many instances know more about social media, digital video and so forth than we do.”

Sports, which has yet to see a large-scale, contingent labor supplier like this, is the initial area of focus for Talent League, but Richardson and Trueman intend to eventually expand the concept to other industries.
Trueman

They funded the creation of Talent League themselves, starting the venture with less than $50,000 in out-of-pocket costs, and have not taken on any venture capital funds.

Here’s how it will work: Talent League will partner with university administrators to identify talented students capable of working in one of eight core areas, including marketing, video production, quantitative analysis and social media. Those students will enter a database visible to companies using Talent League. Companies in need of help will review Talent League “squads” of available workers, interview targeted students, make their hires and assign tasks. Initial wages for students will hover near $12 to $15 per hour but evolve from there based on market conditions.

Talent League will gain a commission on the hourly rate paid to each student, similar to how global freelance labor marketplace oDesk operates. The startup also intends to generate some revenue through placement of students into full-time roles, as well as through the usage of the base of student talent in its database for research projects. The initial set of schools aligned with Talent League for free, but future universities will likely be charged a commitment fee.

“We’re continually trying to innovate our digital media business, but you can’t always scale your [full-time] staff or pull people off their other work,” said Perkins Miller, WWE executive vice president of digital media and an adviser to the company. “So we see this as something that could be really useful. I want to get some SWAT teams of students in, so to speak, into some of the emerging areas of our business to help answer some important questions for us.”

Among the initial projects Miller said he had in mind for Talent League students are to evaluate the effectiveness of its Twitter integrations for “Monday Night Raw” and to measure trend lines among mobile usage of its fans in India, where WWE enjoys a strong following.

Partnering universities said Talent League will help provide students with additional practical work experience, a critical element in entering the highly competitive sports industry.

“For our students and those in the other programs, this is another way to demonstrate the value of students to real-world projects,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “A big part of our mission in education is to merge book smarts with street smarts, and this definitely helps us get there.”

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