USF partners with Lightning for sports management program

A new master’s program sponsored by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Lightning Foundation is slated to arrive next fall. Yet about 50 students have already inquired about joining since it was announced Thursday.

The two-year College of Business program for sports and entertainment management will launch in fall 2012 and is the result of a four-year partnership struck between the Lightning sponsors and USF. William Sutton, the program’s director, said student response to the program is “overwhelming.”

“I think Florida in general is a great place for the program,” he said. “Tampa has three professional teams. It’s centrally located for a number of opportunities.”

Sally Fuller, interim chairwoman of the Department of Management and Organization for the College of Business, said the program will feature courses designed to teach students management practices in the sports and entertainment industry. Following a meeting with Lightning officials and USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, Sutton, who has run a version of the academic program before at the University of Central Florida said he was intrigued about the prospect of resuming the program at USF because of the Lightning’s involvement.

While the program at UCF was not sponsored by a professional sports team, Sutton said participating students gained prominent positions with the Dallas Cowboys, the NBA and Nike after graduation.

Sutton said the program hopes to place all participating students in a job following graduation.

“I want to it to be (among) the top five programs in five years,” Sutton said. “I want to be recognized and I want it to be a global program. I want to recruit students internationally. I want to be educating students about global sports business. I want to be working closely with the Lightning to improve the states of the Lightning as the lead sports franchise.”

The program will guarantee students a paid summer internship with the Lightning or another major sports organization in the area. The Lightning will also provide guest speakers in the sports and entertainment industry from around the Tampa area, Fuller said. Space in the program will be limited to 20 students.

“I don’t think we will take more than 30 students even a few years from now,” Fuller said. “We won’t take more students than we can handle because of our requirements for internships, and the director wants to place all the students in jobs. (Otherwise) we wouldn’t serve the students well.”

A grant of undisclosed value, which will cover faculty salaries and internships, will be paid for by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Lightning Foundation, Fuller said.

He said the Lightning would cover most of the program’s costs, but couldn’t comment on how much. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the commitment could be more than $2.5 million, which would include $150,000 each in annual salaries for two professors and student scholarship stipends worth about $10,000 a year. USF’s costs for the program will rely on existing classroom space, according to the Times.

Bill Wickett, executive vice president of communications for the Lightning, said the amount of the grant would vary year-to-year because the “numbers each year will change.”

Prospective students must submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, GMAT or GRE scores, a transcript from an accredited university and a statement of purpose explaining why a student wants the degree. To qualify, students must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.

Wickett said the program will help find potential employees close to home.

“It’s a great opportunity for The Lightning and the Tampa Bay community and we can educate students in our own backyard,” he said. “We’ve been looking for ways to contribute to our community. We’ve done that in a number of different ways and this is just one more element to that. Additionally, the program is going to create for us some excellent entry-level candidates. It would help our business.”