When it comes to teaching sports and entertainment marketing, being located just outside of one of America’s biggest sports cities has mostly pluses. Many local teenagers follow at least one of the area’s four professional sports teams and have a natural interest in going into the industry. There are lots of stadiums to tour and industry professionals to meet. And schools are generally more than supportive of all things having to do with sports. Even so, says teacher Cathy Slagle, Knowledge Matters’ Virtual Business simulations have been the key to introducing classrooms full of students to the management side of sports.
For the past 11 years, Slagle has taught elective classes in business management at Ben Barber Career and Technology Academy in Mansfield, just 35 miles southwest of Dallas. Like so many other teachers, her classroom tools used to consist of textbooks, handouts, news stories and anything else she could pull off the Internet. When she first began teaching sports management, she discovered that some teachers relied mainly on sports-themed movies such as “The Titans” or TV shows such as “Friday Night Lights” to introduce students to the profession.
Slagle first heard about Knowledge Matters simulations when she attended a conference sponsored by DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), a national organization that helps high school and college students prepare for careers in business. At the beginning, Slagle wrote grants to acquire the Knowledge Matters software. But after seeing Slagle’s success in attracting and motivating students, Ben Barber soon began routinely purchasing and upgrading the simulations.
“What both teachers and students like aboutin the simulations is the way they bring topics to life,” she says. “Part of the Sports and Entertainment simulation program is about ticket pricing. At the start of class, students think that the goal is to charge the kind of prices they would like to be able to pay—low. The sims enable them to see for themselves how changes iIn ticket prices effect profits.”
Slagle starts out the beginning of school by helping each student set up his or her own fictional sports team. They pick the sport, the city, the size and location of the stadium, the concessions and, among other factors, the ticket price. They learn, for instance, that if you choose to build your stadium where land prices are low, you will probably have trouble getting enough attendance. If you pick a location surrounded by a large population, you might have to charge very high ticket prices—which can also lower attendance. As students play out different event scenarios, they see that it takes more than an interest in football or music to be a sports successful marketer.
“Knowledge Matters simulations take students through the entire marketing process. I give them the basic information, we talk about it in class, and they do the math and reading assignments that come with the sim. Then they get to actually go in and run the numbers to see what happens if they want to put a stadium in the middle of Wyoming?’ What happens if they charge $25 instead of $7—will they be more or less profitable? What if they don’t have enough security and fans go crazy and damage the field? What if they don’t bus in enough people and run out or parking?”
One of Slagle’s favorite features of the Knowledge Matters simulations is the control it gives her over re-setting simulations. When she’s teaching the ticket pricing lesson, for example, she allows students to do a practice sim in which they can enter values for a number of factors such as amount of seating, cost of concessions, cost of parking—and ticket cost. Once the students run the sim, they can see how much money they made or lost. Slagle will then reset the sim so they can make corrections in order to maximize profits. Once she resets it the third time, the grades count. She can also give her students permission to reset the sim as many times as they need to score a 100.
Slagle determines grades on the basis of two major parameters. First, she grades students on participation: how willing they are to show up and at least give it a try. The larger part of the grade comes from each student’s performance on the math and reading tests that accompany each lessons, in-class exercises, and overall project success. Her goal is to give every student the freedom to make—and then learn from—mistakes, but also to reward students who excel.
“I tell my students that this is the only time they’ll get to make consequence-free mistakes. In the real world, they may spend their last dollar doing it wrong, and not have enough money left to do it right. I want them to apply what they learn in class and make good decisions once they’re in the working world.”
Keeping Students Engaged: As Slagle readily admits, “Most students have an attention span about five inches long.” Her goal is to attract students to her class in the first place, and then to keep them engaged in the course work. “Kids live in a world of digital games. Getting instant scores on how they structure ticket prices or stadium location teaches them the same way they’ve become used to learning.”
Filling Classrooms: Slagle doesn’t have the luxury of teaching courses students have to take. “As an elective teacher, I have to make my classes meaningful to students. Knowledge Matters sims have helped me keep my classes full. Students enjoy it, and they tell other students.”
Builds Practical Skill Sets: By the end of the school year, students should be able to understand all of the individual elements that make up sports and event marketing—how to run and price concession stands, provide the right level of security, manage transportation, seek and acquire endorsements, and many more. And then they learn how all of these elements have to work together in just the right way to achieve profitability.
Builds Vocabulary: Slagle says that many of her students have had success due, in part, to their ability to speak intelligently about sports and entertainment marketing. “They know the words people in the profession use, as well as the basic concepts behind each element of sports marketing.”
Got “Bragging Rights”?: As Slagle notes, career schools have to compete just like everyone else. “Our school officials talk to other education professionals about how our students use Virtual Business simulations to build their own sports franchises and run their own stadiums. When other educators hear about what we’re up to at Ben Barber, they’re usually impressed.”