The Sports Industry via academicsIn a basement classroom just off Walnut Street, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania took his undergraduates on a tour of an industry.

For 90 minutes, Scott Rosner talked of “a possible line in the sand” drawn by television distributors that could eventually cut this industry’s revenues. Consolidation and realignment, Rosner said, were “not unlike when banks get rolled up.”

He pointed out how expenses in this industry have been outgrowing revenues by a 2-1 ratio — “Let’s think about the sustainability of this.”

He was talking about college sports.

“As a leading business school, we look at sports the same way Wharton looks at health care and finance and other leading businesses,” Rosner said in his office before class. “By all metrics, it’s one of the largest industries in the United States.”

Local academics do more than teach in the classroom. In recent years, Philadelphia has become a leading center for the academic study of sports. Research is focused across the spectrum, from the economic benefit of naming rights of local arenas, to diversity in sports. For instance, Temple professor Joel Maxcy is starting a project with some colleagues using Philadelphia Flyers data to look at the secondary ticket market.

Academics do sometimes look at everyday questions that might pop up in the paper or on sports-talk radio — are Philadelphia fans really crazier than the rest? (No. At least, not crazier than Cleveland’s.)

Sports isn’t a new field of research. Temple has one of the first and leading sports-management programs. History professors at schools such as St. Joseph’s and Swarthmore have long considered sports history a legitimate field of research. John Lord at St. Joseph’s teaches a course on the history and traditions of baseball. David Karen and Robert Washington at Bryn Mawr have studied integration patterns in that sport. Swarthmore’s 37-year tennis coach, Mike Mullan, also is a sociology professor at the college who has studied how Gaelic sports played into the assimilation of the Irish in Philadelphia.

Maybe what’s changed lately is an acknowledgment by academia that sports is worth studying in real time, that it can tell us interesting things about ourselves.

In December, Rick Eckstein, a sociology professor at Villanova, began a spirited discussion of an honors seminar on sports in society by showing an excerpt from the “Crack Baby Athletic Association” episode of “South Park, a belly laugh-inducing parody of the NCAA.

What was the point of all this? And why does Eckstein study sports? Eckstein said he’s been working for the last seven years to try and answer that question.

In 2003, Eckstein and Kevin Delaney at Temple wrote a book, “Public Dollars, Private Stadiums.

“We would go on book tours and people always wanted to ask about sports,” Eckstein said, remembering how they’d respond: “ ‘The book isn’t about sports. It’s about stadiums, about politics, about power, about corporations. It just happens to be about sports stadiums.’ And we would dismiss it.”

The questions never stopped, Eckstein said, depressing them to no end. Until they realized, he said, “it really “was about sports.”

Ken Shropshire explains that as “a Los Angeles guy,” that city might offer the best laboratory for studying sports — “if they had an NFL team.”

Since they haven’t for almost two decades, the Wharton professor figures that Philadelphia is right at the top as a place to study sports at all levels.

“There are very few cities with all four major sports franchises playing in the city limits — with MLS very nearby — and none with the league and union offices a train ride away,” Shropshire said. “If Penn was a sports powerhouse, then there would be no better place to sit.”

Shropshire then noted that “top powerhouse schools in cities don’t have top business schools — so again, tough to find a better real-life ‘lab.’ ”

For the last decade, Shropshire has headed a think tank, the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.

Sports franchises looking at pricing models, for instance, can contact the Wharton Sports Business Initiative to collaborate on research. It doesn’t have to be the major-league teams, either. One piece of funded research several years ago was titled “Sports Branding, Community Enhancement and Social Impact: A Longitudinal Study of the Camden Riversharks.”

Shropshire, a special counsel at the Duane Morris law firm, always has side projects. He worked with the Big East on realignment issues for Duane Morris; led a mayor’s task force on where to put the Philadelphia stadiums; and has done a lot of work on diversity issues, including leading a research effort for Major League Baseball’s on-field diversity task force and heading an NFL diversity workshop at Wharton.

Shropshire has written a textbook with Rosner, “The Business of Sports. They’ve begun co-hosting a sports-business show on Sirius XM, part of a Wharton Business channel.

If you want to find copies of all the collective-bargaining agreements from all the major leagues, current and past, Rosner has them in his bookcase on the sixth floor of Huntsman Hall.

In the classroom, Rosner broke down the economic factors behind all the recent college sports realignment.

“Let’s say you had a generic sports franchise and you were allowed to move from the National Hockey League to the National Football League, wouldn’t you do it? Of course you would,” Rosner told his class.

Source: MCT Information Services