Desautels Hall. Tosin Maiyegun/THE VARSITY

It is safe to say that Toronto is well on its way to becoming a sports city. The Pan Am games, the NBA All-Star game, and the unprecedented success of the Blue Jays and Toronto FC in the past year have gone a long way towards cementing the city’s reputation. The University of Toronto Sports and Business Association (UTSB) are capitalizing on the success of the city’s blossoming athletic scene. On March fourth the UTSB will host their fifth annual sports industry conference — one of the largest of its kind in Canada.

Revolutionary thinkers like NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and the NBA’s director of basketball analytics Jason Rosenfeld are two of many industry tycoons scheduled to attend the conference as keynote speakers, delivering talks on recent trends and disruptions in sport.

The conference, which will be held at Rotman Commerce’s Desautels Hall, is one of the most anticipated events of the year for U of T students and Toronto sports fans alike — and it’s run entirely by students.

“The marketing team has been working hard on curating promotional content and advertising the event across different platforms, mediums, and organizations,” said Arco Recto, the UTSB’s marketing director regarding the lead-up to the conference this year. In preperation for the event, the UTSB’s events and corporate teams have been working non-stop in order to curate a seamless and exciting experience.

This year, the theme of the conference is “Behind the Game: Building the Playbook.” The theme is centered around a team’s playbook and strategy and examines how the playbook is developed to aid players and help deliver a winning team.

“[The theme] was developed from this notion that the esteemed roster of speakers speaking at our conference undertake a myriad of duties and responsibilities that the public are not necessarily aware of,” explained Recto, adding that behind every award winning team there exists an entire organization of individuals who work together to develop the playbook strategy. 

“By looking at statistics from something like a basketball game, fans and sports professionals are able to identify another dimension to the sports they’ve loved,” explained Dan Oh, a fourth-year Rotman Commerce student and the current president of the UTSB.

For professionals working in the industry or students looking to get their foot in the door, the conference seeks to provide opportunities to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of major league sports teams. “In the past couple years, the UTSB and U of T have collectively seen a huge student drive to work in the industry. The UTSB serves those needs and provides a platform for both students and professionals to connect, and discuss new ideas,” comments Oh.

Recently, an increasing number of professionals have become enthusiastic about attending the conference as well. Mathieu Bilodeau, a second year student who works in the UTSB’s corporate relations department notes that there has been a significant increase in acceptances to speak and attend the conference by sports organizations, media, and professionals. “I only see the potential of the quality of speakers and the knowledge they impart increase as we keep hosting [the conference],” he said.

As an organization, the UTSB also provides an opportunity for students to engage in the business, marketing, events, and corporate aspects of the sports industry — processes that may not be understood or appear transparent to those looking at a successful league from the outside.

“In my first and second year as a student, I faced the same ordeal that many students faced and still face today: not knowing what to do with their life,” says Recto, who adds that due in part to his involvement with the UTSB, he has landed jobs with the Raptors and Maple Leafs in their community relations departments, as well as the Blue Jays’ marketing department. “There is no greater feeling to work in an industry and organization where you share the same interests, values, and passion,” says Recto.

The conference will kick off with a talk by keynote speaker Jack Armstrong, the Toronto Raptors’ broadcaster, as he interviews Canada Basketball’s president, Michele O’Keefe on the issue of the growth of basketball throughout the country.

The conference will tackle sports data and analytics with the NBA’s Jason Rosenfeld on how the league keeps track of its stats, which it values most, and what the optimal player in each position looks like. Former gold medalist Johann Olav Koss and Toronto FC General Manager, Tim Bezbatchenko will discuss sports strategy as well.

To cap off the event Bill Daly the NHL’s deputy commissioner will give a talk about the expansion of hockey and the ramifications this international growth has for the sport. 

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