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MLB, NHL commissioners headline ILR School sports summit

Jeremy Schaap '91, left, leads a panel discussion with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman '74 and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred '80.

Close to 300 people including top executives and key sports industry leaders gathered at The Westin Grand Central in New York City Sept. 18 to discuss some of the most important issues shaping the industry’s future.

The ILR School’s first Sports Leadership Summit centered on such topics as sports labor, media rights, ethics and athlete wellness, college athlete compensation and branding.

A highlight of the daylong event was a discussion between Gary Bettman ’74, commissioner of the National Hockey League, and Rob Manfred ’80, commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Moderated by journalist Jeremy Schaap ’91, it covered industry-changing initiatives such as the growth of community outreach by the leagues, the complexities of collective bargaining for teams, and negotiation of salaries for star players.

Manfred said learning analytics and economics at ILR gave him a framework for the work he does now: “I wouldn’t be doing what I do today without ILR.” Bettman said ILR’s curriculum prepares students to be “almost like a social engineer. You have to be able to figure things out.”

Kevin Hallock, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and the Joseph R. Rich ’80 Professor, led the creation of the event in recognition of strong ties between ILR and the sports industry.

“Cornell contributes remarkable talent to professional sports and ideas shared at the summit are driving real-world problem-solving in this important industry. This type of work exemplifies our mission to advance the world of work and further engages us with stakeholders across the world,” Hallock said. “We feel very fortunate to be in a position to bring this group together and gain their collective insights on critical issues that will impact the future of sports.” 

For decades, Cornell graduates have been helping guide the strategic direction of many sports-industry sectors – from modernizing the way sports are viewed by consumers to merchandising to league operations.

Speakers included Mike Levine ’93 of the agency CAA Sports, who talked about the growing number of athletes using social media. “Athletes are using their platforms to do good in the world,” he said.

Ed Marinaro ’72, who set 16 NCAA records while playing Cornell football, led a panel focused on compensating college athletes. A spirited discussion ensued among Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim, South Carolina State Sen. Marlon Kimpson and others.

Kimpson has proposed legislation that would force universities to share the wealth they derive from college athletics with the athletes. Boeheim, while not against athletes receiving more help, spoke out against the idea of paying college athletes, stating that most schools actually lose money on athletics and that students are getting an education and a platform for future success.

Former Big Red football star and two-time Super Bowl champion Kevin Boothe ’05 addressed branding deals, saying that supporting products allows athletes to humanize their personal stories.

Media Contact

Daryl Lovell