Richard Pound, member of the International Olympic Committee.

The University of Guelph has launched the first Canadian sports business institute, a global centre for research and teaching that will bring together scholars and industry leaders, including IOC member Richard Pound.

The International Institute for Sports Business and Leadership (IISBL) is intended to make U of G a thought leader in the multibillion-dollar world of sports.

The announcement made news headlines with stories appearing in the National Post, CTV News, Canadian Business, the Toronto Star and 680 News.

The only one of its kind at a Canadian university, the institute will bring together faculty members and grad students as well as an advisory board of industry leaders chaired by Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee and a globally recognized champion of doping-free sport and fair play.

Institute members will study aspects of the fast-growing sport industry, including events, facilities, professional sport, participation sport and links to health and wellness, said Prof. Norm O’Reilly, IISBL founding director and a leading international scholar in the business of sports.

“We want to be an engine for solving problems for industry,” said O’Reilly, a professor in the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management (HFTM) who joined U of G this past summer as assistant dean of executive programs with the College of Business and Economics (CBE).

Norm O'Reilly giving a presentation at U of G conference
Prof. Norm O’Reilly, assistant dean of executive programs with the College of Business and Economics (CBE)

The institute is being launched today during a two-day workshop on campus involving Pound and other industry leaders.

CBE will run the institute jointly with the Department of Athletics. Athletics director Scott McRoberts will serve as associate director of the institute, and HFTM professor Lianne Foti will be assistant director.

Pound said the institute will help sports organizations looking to attract and keep larger audiences in a complex, fast-moving market. From ideas for boosting attendance to strategies for tailoring multimedia to varied audiences, he said, “Sport-related businesses need the kind of analysis that can be provided by the academic world.”

Organizers expect that institute members will produce peer-reviewed research and train highly qualified personnel for the sport management industry. Research topics for IISBL members might include sponsorship evaluation, leveraging e-sports, fan engagement, sport tourism and globalization, and social media.

“Sport is an enormous global industry looking to reach $80 billion in North America alone by 2022. It’s a huge business,” McRoberts said. “The data and information we get from the institute will help with strategic decisions. There’s not a single sport organization that doesn’t have some type of analytics unit spitting out data to make short- and long-term decisions.”

The institute is also intended to champion equity, diversity and inclusion, attract graduate students, seek private and public funding, and develop research partnerships with global universities.

Core faculty members at U of G will come from CBE as well as the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences. Those researchers will work with external institute fellows and organizations in Canada and abroad.

Scott McRoberts sitting in front of a camera at a U of G conference
Scott McRoberts, U of G athletic director

McRoberts, an adjunct CBE faculty member, said this new venture combines that college’s expertise and the University’s high-profile athletics programs.

From championship teams, to award-winning student-athletes and coaches, to more than 7,000 youngsters enrolled in the Junior Gryphons program through minor sports, he said, “The Gryphon brand is one of the most recognized university sports brands in Canada.”

Organizers expect that industry connections to the institute will offer opportunities for student co-op placements. McRoberts said U of G offers classes in sport management; he expects more courses to develop.

“This demonstrates how athletics can be connected to academics.”

McRoberts plans to work with Foti on a study of women in sport and leadership. This fall, the Department of Athletics launched a $2.5-million fundraising campaign called She’s Got Game, intended to ensure equity in U of G athletics.

Sport management programs have grown worldwide, including 17 university programs in Canada. The IISBL at U of G will be the only centre focused on sport business and leadership in the country.