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Ryerson University to open ‘Future of Sport Lab’ in partnership with Canadian sports conglomerate


By David Schwartz
Published: September 18th, 2018

Sports conglomerate Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) is joining forces with Toronto’s Ryerson University to launch a think tank for innovation called the “Future of Sport Lab” (FSL), one of the first of its kind in North America.

The lab’s goal is to create a new sports-business ecosystem, which brings together industry leaders, tech start-ups, faculty, and students to discover and foster new business solutions and technologies. The plans for the lab are wide-ranging and could include anything from improving player performance to enhancing fan experiences.

The first initiative for the FSL will be establishing an incubator for tech start-ups. It will be open to entrepreneurs from across Canada who have an innovative product or service that could help MLSE or one of its many teams – which include the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC, Argonauts and their various minor league affiliates.

The FSL incubator will start accepting applications next month under the direction of Dr. Cheri L. Bradish, Loretta Rogers Research Chair in Sport Marketing at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Select start-ups will make their pitches to a panel of industry experts assembled by Ryerson and MLSE. Six to eight entrepreneurs will be chosen from that group to test their products or services within an MLSE venue in a program that includes mentorship as well as access the firm’s staff, teams, and even fans. After a four-month pilot phase, the start-ups will do a final pitch, and MLSE may choose to invest in the start-up or otherwise foster its growth.

The collaboration between MLSE and Ryerson will involve Ryerson students at both the undergraduate and graduate level and weave content into the curriculum. “The intent is to build a smart space to help these start-ups accelerate, and to grow Toronto into one of the leading sport ecosystems,” Bradish said. “Having taught sport business for a long time, I’m excited that this is a paradigm shift in the way we can deliver sports-business education. It will allow us to have some access to real-world problems and to industry leaders, which will help us accelerate some of the things we’re doing in class.”

There are similar sports-business incubator models elsewhere in North America, but not in Canada, nor by a company that owns as many franchises as MLSE does. For example, the

Los Angeles Dodgers Accelerator was founded in 2015, and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers opened an actual 8,000-square-foot innovation lab last year. Other teams with sports-related tech incubators include the Golden State Warriors and the Dallas Cowboys.

“While there are a lot of individual teams that have gone out and tackled this, we’re different because we have such a large number of major-league and minor-league teams, academy and youth programs, live music as a business and venues,” said Sumit Arora, MLSE’s senior director of strategy.

Ryerson can build on its success with a previous incubation initiative called Digital Media Zone (DMZ), which opened in 2010 and has since helped 350 digital media start-ups, raised $477.2-million in seed funding, and helped create some 3,300 jobs. The school also launched a fashion-related incubator with the Joe Fresh brand in 2015.

The new sports tech lab “will separate Ryerson from other schools, being married with the biggest sports and entertainment organization in Canada and one of the best in North America,” said Brian Cooper, president and CEO of MKTG and the executive-in-residence at Ryerson University advising on the sports business curriculum. “The brand recognition will be huge. It’s an attraction for sports business students. It’s going to offer students lots of ways to get hands-on experience.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

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