> The Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program

Creating the Leaders of Tomorrow Through Innovation and Deep Ties to the Industry

From the NHL to NASCAR to esports, a common thread that resonates throughout the sports and entertainment industries is the talent that emerges from a graduate program begun at the University of South Florida in Tampa just eight years ago.

The pipeline that has staffed front offices, from marketing programs to analytics departments across the nation leads to the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program in USF’s Muma College of Business.

The program began under the direction of Bill Sutton, an impresario in the business of sport and entertainment management. He began the program after Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, agreed to fund the startup costs.

Sutton created the blend of traditional business-school education and industry application that became his calling card through a 40-year career that has included stops at Robert Morris University, Ohio State, UMass and UCF, along with a four-year stint at the NBA’s TMBO division and a steady flow of consulting projects. Since founding the program and elevating it to one of the best in the world, Sutton has appointed Michelle Harrolle, PhD, the new program director as he transitions into retirement. Despite his new chapter in life, Sutton remains very involved with the program.

A lot has happened since the inception of the Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management program. The program this year was ranked No. 3 in the United States and No. 4 in the world by SportBusiness International and boasts a job placement rate of 99 percent for graduates of its program within six months of graduation, an accomplishment that is based not just on the quality of the graduates and on-the-job experience gained through the program, but also through the networking done by Harrolle, Sutton, and the dedicated and innovative faculty.

Members of the faculty have participated in externship programs in which they take time away from teaching and research to help businesses find creative solutions to the issues they face. In turn, the externship opportunities give the educators a chance to connect with the business community, as well as provide fresh material to teach upon returning to the classroom.

Another innovation that sets the curriculum apart is the fellowship requirement for students, who must spend the second year of the two-year program working in a marketing or analytics department for a professional or collegiate sports department or an entertainment-based company. The result is a graduate well versed in the workings of these businesses and who is ready to step from the commencement stage into the front offices. Graduates walk into their careers with a master’s degree in sports and entertainment management and an MBA from an AACSB-accredited business college.

Students don’t have to venture far for these opportunities as USF is the only major research university in Florida located within a major metropolitan area. Sports teams? The Tampa Bay Lightning, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Rowdies all have hosted students as interns or fellows and in many cases, hired them after graduation.

“What is truly unique about the USF program,” Vinik said, “is that it places students through an intensive fellowship program with Tampa Bay-based sports teams, marketing agencies and entertainment companies, best preparing them to join the industry.”

The vision shared by Sutton and Vinik, who in 2017 made a $6.5 million gift to the Muma College of Business which named the program in his honor, is to recruit the brightest minds and educate them in the sports and entertainment industry to create a pool of future executives who will lead the industry in the years to come.

“I am pleased to say that USF and its leaders are exceeding expectations,” Vinik said, “building a growing pipeline of talent with masters’ degrees that helps the Lightning and dozens of other organizations – locally and nationally – fill open positions with very well-prepared young people.”

The crop of talented young graduates, bursting with innovative ideas for the future, is now being placed not only in the front offices of traditional sports entertainment venues, but in emerging industries such as esports, a budding billion-dollar industry. In its effort to keep abreast of trends – and as an example of its innovative, forward-thinking vision – the program has introduced esports into its curriculum.

“Our students are more than qualified from the time they leave our program. They have experience in areas ranging from operations to business intelligence to marketing and partnership development,” said Harrolle.

“The Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management program is creating a pipeline of talent that the industry needs,” she said. “Our graduates are entering organizations and setting themselves apart as top employees who make a positive impact on companies and communities.”

University of South Florida - Muma College of Business

Submit your Innovation Story

Join and network with a global community of innovators  by sharing your success story with the world.



Our promise: we dislike spam as much as the next person, and promise never to break your trust in us. We will never sell data – this is only used for the INNOVATE® Newsletter