Some 300 students and sports fans heard world-class speakers on the state of sports business today at the fourth annual UTSB conference on Friday.

The first panel of the U of T Sports and Business Association’s conference discussed the question of why companies invest in and partner with sports teams. David Kincaid from Level 5 Strategy, Scott Moore from Sportsnet, Kan Otto from CARA Operations, and Justine Fedak from BMO discussed how sports sponsorship has changed significantly in the last 20 years and offered some insight into how simple sponsorships and purchasing naming rights has morphed into the partnership model popular today.

The second panel, “Same Script, Different Story”, focused on modern developments in sports journalism. The world of sports journalism has changed with the Internet and social media, and the panellists were there to discuss how these modern developments have affected sports journalism. The five who spoke on it were James Mirtle from The Globe and Mail, Steve McAllister from Yahoo Sports, Evanka Osmak from Sportsnet, Scott Morrison from CBC, and Daniel Bruno from BarDown.

During lunch, the U of T Sports Analytics group presented a poster on sports analytics. The majority of attendees showed interest in the emerging field, flocking to the UTSPAN. The Toronto Raptors mascot was also there to take pictures and interact with fans.

The panel after lunch was probably the most interesting of the day. Titled “Big Data and How We View Sports” and featuring NBA director of analytics Jason Rosenfeld, New York Giants assistant GM Kevin Abrams, former New York Rangers GM Neil Smith, and The Guardian writer Richard Whittall and moderated by Bloomberg Sports’ Alex Burwasser, the panel discussed the modern and future use of analytics in sports. The panel was peppered with a wide variety of questions on everything from how much analytics affect field decisions in the NFL to how they have transformed minor league hockey. The attendees were mostly enthusiastic about the questions, which numbered by far the most of any panel.

The last panel of the day was on disruptive marketing in modern sports. With experts from Canadian Tire and Red Bull, the panel discussed how modern sports marketing has switched its focus to disruption and how integrated marketing is taking over. Susan O’Brien from Canadian Tire, Keith DeGrace from Red Bull, Kevin Foley from Project 10, and John McCauley and Susan Krashinsky of The Globe and Mail were the panellists for this one.

The final keynote was delivered by John Bitove, the founder of the Raptors. He discussed the unique challenges of running a professional sports franchise here in Toronto and how the Raptors became successful. There were a large number of Raptors fans in attendance and Bitove’s keynote was very well received.

The annual UTSB conference is a must for any fan, anyone interested in the business of sports, and any athlete. The speakers are top-notch, and every year the content is cutting-edge. As fans, we are all interested in the inner workings of our favourite games, and it’s not often that we get to look inside.