So, this past weekend was one of the best sports weekends of the year. You had the Pau Gasol trade, Kobe in the T-dot to face the Raptors, college basketball heating up with the beginning of rivalry week, UFC 81, and, of course, the SuperBowl. But for a lucky 120 of us, there was also QSIC, the Queen’s Sports Industry Conference. In just its third year, QSIC aims to blur the borders between fandom and career with respect to the business of sports, inviting engaging speakers, getting great sponsors, and planning sports-themed events for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (leaving Sunday for the Bowl, obviously). Well, as the only three time QSIC delegate (fancy word for person in attendance…by the way, I may not be the only three delegate, but I’m claiming to be anyways), I thought, who better to give those who couldn’t attend an inside look at the weekend than Big Sexy?

Whether you attended for the enormous amount of free food and drinks (trust), just because you like sports, or because you wanted advice on how to break into the sports inudstry, QSIC provided something for everyone. I know a few people who wanted to attend and couldn’t, plus a few others who seemed intrigued as I told them about pieces of my weekend. I had battled around with exactly how to write this column, but in lieu of these people, I decided to throw it down chronologically, trying to provide those who could not attend with an exact replica of the conference via bandwith. I focused mostly on reviews of the speakers (the meat and potatoes of QSIC), and focused very little on the incredible and elaborate social events because, well, the site is supposed to be PG-13 (and I don’t exactly remember all the details).Sorry if this gets long, but speakers co-ordinators (and ODC writers) Kyle Norton and Trevor Smith, as well as the rest of the executive, did a great job packing the weekend full of good stuff. I have a lot more notes on everything, so if you want to hear more about any speaker, holler at me, baby.

Two speakers and a few free drinks at Goodes Hall and at MyBar. Some lame and awkward karaoke, but I guess some people enjoy it and you do have to have themed night events rather than just ‘hey let’s get fucked up…plus sports.’ Pardon my brief notes here as I had no pen and paper Thursday and am going off memory.

Dave Andrews, President and CEO, American Hockey League
Dave was a great first speaker to lead off the conference. He was passionate and had a very interesting story to tell, as he has basically taken the AHL from rags to riches, from a struggling competitor of the IHL to the NHL’s sole minor league system. More than anything, he engaged the audience with hockey talk from the get go and did a good job of getting everyone primed for a sports weekend and the topic of careers in sports. I got the chance to have a great one-on-one chat with Dave at MyBar later for quite a while, and we had a pretty cool discussion about where the NBA is headed with the D-League (I had written a rough draft of an article on that topic earlier Thursday, in a great coincidence), and he we spoke careers and law schools briefly, too.

Main Message: Strategic planning is the most important part of leadership.

Matthew Diamond, Partner, Capital C Sports Marketing
Matt was a really cool guy who seemed to care a great deal about what he was talking about. While he got away from sports a lot of the time in favor of promoting viral marketing and other out-of-the-box techniques for engaging customers, he did push the importance of sport in maintaining the “live eye” of viewers. Basically, sports is one of the last mediums left to reach customers where they are actively engaged (because of rituals, committment to the outcome, and the inability to fast forward through commercials because you can’t tape it and watch it later). I agree completely, and it’s no mystery why the SuperBowl is such an advertising haven. Matt also pointed out that it’s a good time to be a marketer because they are essentially “writing the rules” as the industry changes.

Main Message: Good time to be in marketing if you can be innovative and stay ahead of the curve.

The most jam-packed day of the weekend, I was blessed with a lack of hangover and a great greasy Holiday Inn breakfast. A lot of speakers and terrible weather this day, the executive did a great job rolling with punches and giving us the best bang for our buck in lieu of some unforseeable events (like the Frontenacs game we had tickets to being cancelled). At night, we had the Molson Jersey Jam at Joy Supper Club, which was a good time with a lot of free drinks and a really strange coat check system.

Chuck Robertson, Partner, Miller Thomson LLP
Chuck was a really interesting speaker for me because he does something very similar to what I’d hope to do—he is a labor and employment lawyer. While that doesn’t sound glamorous, he spends two or three months every year working on NHL salary arbitration cases on behalf of 14-16 of the teams in the NHL. He talked a lot about the arbitration process and the history of arbitration (and his firm) in the NHL. You can holler at me for more details on the actual process. He inadvertently stressed the lack of opportunities in this field, in Canada at least, but I came away a little more confident that law school was a good option for me. Unfortunately, he left quickly and I didn’t get a chance to ask him questions about law school, etc, but I did, at least, get to look at a copy of a briefing they prepared for Mikka Kiprusoff’s arbitration. While it was thick, it was also very elementary which surprised me (simple language, simple stats, simple graphss).

Main Message: He has a sweet job but working in the sports industry, especially in this area, is a hell of a lot of work.

Jama Mahlalela, Coordinator of Basketball Development, Toronto Raptors
Jama was, above and beyond, the best speaker of the weekend. He was extremely passionate and charismatic (Trev said he had that “black superstar” vibe going for him, and it’s a great way to explain it). He spoke excitedly for the whole hour and had the crowd laughing, excited, and touched at different times. Jama is a young guy but already has a strong not for profit organization in Concrete Hoops (a basketball development group that teaches youth at home and in his home of Swaziland about basketball and things like AIDS prevention) and is the assistant coach for the OUA Top 10 U of Toronto team. He told some great stories about working with young kids and about how he came up through life and the Raptors organization, and told an awesome story about Jason Kapono doing a perfect 3-ball competition run through THREE STRAIGHT times! That’s 75 threes in a row, in three minutes! Oh ya, and he gave us a top secret tip on Jamario’s dunk contest plans, but I’ll show Jama a little respect and keep it on the D/L.

Main Message: It isn’t who you know, it’s who knows you, so use your passion and enthusiasm to stick out.

Dave Haggith, Head of Public Relations and Communications, IMG
IMG is the world’s largest sports marketing and athlete representation firm, so it was really cool to meet one of their top guys. He also worked with the Raptors from their inaugration and was, for a time, Vince Carter’s personal P.R. guy (and yes, he took a soft jab at Vince’s momma). Dave was a great speaker, very enthusiastic and interesting, and had some great stories and perspective. Primarily he talked about the role and necessity of Public Relations in sports and how it differs from marketing in general. This was really interesting for me since P.R. is a topic largely left by the wayside at Queen’s School of Business. His main points about his job were: honesty is important (admitting something limits its long-term potential as a story); a good relationship with the media is necessary (if you provide them access and are nice to them, they’re more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt), and; P.R. may be more important than marketing because you pay for marketing, but P.R. is free and taken as more genuine by consumers. Despite the lack of real career advice here, Dave was a very entertaining guy and a nice lunch-time speaker for the Philthy McNasty’s environment.

Main Message: Good will goes a long way in times of trouble (Wayne Gretzky, Mike Weir, Tiger Woods).

Dave Hopkinson, VP of Corporate Sponsorship, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE)
The second Dave in a row was just as good as the first, and was especially interesting given that he works for the Leafs, Raptors, FC, etc. One thing I should note is that Dave was a perfect representative of MLSE: he was cocky and very confident in their brand, but it all stemmed from truth. That is not a knock on him at all—he had supreme confidence and believes in himself and the company, which was refreshing given the PC nature of most sports figures. He gave a lot of high-level career advice, not speaking about his particular job so much as the business world in general. In terms of career advice, Dave was the most useful, though harsh. His key points were: image matters (and, of course, he looked at my pimpin’ tie as he said it); results matter; differentiation matters (the whole group can’t be promoted together); leadership matters, and; can you help grow the business? He then opened it up for a lot of typical Leafs & Raptors Q&A where he gave some good insight into the business side of MLSE.

Main Message: Look out for number one—the best way to distinuish yourself and serve your career aspirations is to lead, so when given the choice, develop your leadership skills over ‘hard skills.’

Jim Kyte, Former NHL Player & Founder, Algonqiuin College Sport Business Management Program
Jim is the only legally deaf player ever to play in the NHL, and he was a 1st round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1982. He spent 17 years as a pro, 14 in the NHL, and is a pretty inspirational guy. Later at dinner, I would accidentally insult him by making a joke about forgetting my Jim Kyte jersey for the Jersey Jam. Oops. Anyways, Jim split his talk into three parts. Part One talked about the Algonquin College program, which was interesting but you can check that out on your own time (seems like a cool program, but I think most of our readers are already in post-secondary education). Part Two was about his life and basically a motivational speech where he focused heavily on the idea of teammwork and what makes a good team. It was your standard teamwork talk, somewhere above Sesame Street but below Any Given Sunday. He used a cool “ham and eggs” analogy about the different type of people in teams, saying, “the chicken makes a contribution but the pig makes a committment.” I found it funny. Part Three was interesting because it was about next year’s World Junior tournament in Ottawa, of which he is a major part. All 463,249 tickets are sold already (at ridiculous prices, no less), and he basically just asked us to spread the word that there are lots of volunteer opportunities available. Overall, Jim was alright but spoke at the end of a long day and was nothing I hadn’t heard before.

Main Message: “Failure only happens when you quit. Perserverance and failure cannot co-exist.”

Mark Harrison, Founder, TrojanOne Sports Marketing
Mark came out of the gate strong and was very funny and charismatic, just what we needed while waiting for (more) free drinks. His speech focused on his company and business, and he sprinkled in strip club, alcohol, and Mike Vick jokes. His point of view was that sponsorship gives brands a meaning beyond the product’s purpose, as the brands can build hope and postitive associations with teams. He emphasized that sports marketing is not the same as sponsorship, and reminded us to never underestimate the power of a free t-shirt (no doubt!). He basically ran down his company’s evolution, and at this point he lagged, but that could be more because I was exhausted and feeling the free wine from dinner. He called the Calgary Stampede, “frosh week for 40 year olds,” and, “the best organization for sponsorship.” He then gave three guaranteed ways to get hired and not get hired by TrojanOne. To get hired: speak French, bring a client to the company, and be in the right place all the time. To not get hired: talk about your love for sports (it’s obvious if you’re applying for a sports job), ask for a 10 minute information interview (be honest and don’t waste his time), and bring printouts of their website (even his mom can do that). He concluded by saying that sponsorship, from a company perspective, does more than just improve customer relations, it can also improve employee morale (see: The Bay and overbidding for Olympic apparell sponsorship).

Main Message: Passion is great, but there are a lot of people passionate about sports, so you have to bring value as well.

Working a half-decent hangover, I hit the Holiday Inn for our quick brunch and wouldn’t you know it, my name was picked out in a raffle. What did I win? A badmitton backpack with a t-shirt and a badmitton DVD. You can bet your ass The On Deck Circle is going to become more badmitton focused now. Anyways, Saturday was a great day despite the tiredness and poor attendance in the morning. At night we hit Fanatics for a great semi-formal dinner (I debuted a pin-stripe suit with a great shirt and tie combo, plus the best tie knot I’ve ever tied) and the Leafs/Sens game. Then we hit Ale House for…more and more free drinks. Plus a lucky lady (Stu, too) had to buy me a drink when Lesnar tapped to the same ankle lock that cost him the WWE Title at Summerslam 2003. The speakers Saturday were great, especially the last ones I saw.

Rolland Hedges, Partner, Hedges & Sutherland
Hedges was pretty useless from a career perspective, but as my hangover peaked he told a lot of great stories surrounding his job: an NHL player agent. Owning probably the greatest job in the world short of General Manager or Athlete, Rolland deals primarily with less-touted and European prospects, and one of his partners is the former back-up of the greatest goalie of all time, Vladislav Tretiak. He told the entire Nik Zherdev story (his biggest client), where he defected from Russia in mid-season to come to Columbus, and he told a lot of smaller stories about draft days and bringing players ‘across the pond.’ It was really interesting, but pretty devoid of career advice.

Main Message: Nik Zherdev is probably a pretty funny guy.

J.E. Skeets and Tas Melas, Founders, Writers, and On-Air Personalities (and a bunch of other stuff), The Basketball Jones
I was extremely lucky to have my boy Trevor (ODC writer and Speakers Coordinator for QSIC) hook me up at our coffee break with an intro to The Jones boys. I’ve been a fan of their daily podcast for some time now and was really excited to find out Thursday night that they were coming to the conference. We shot the shit a bit before they gave me some topical advice for this site right here. After they spoke, I got a chance to have a serious one-on-one with Tas about developing the site and how to move forward, and both guys encouraged me to e-mail them to talk more (I did, and they’ve been great with some advice and pointers). These two are genuinely great guys, and if you’re a basketball fan you should check them out at The Basketball Jones. Also, check Skeets out on Yahoo Sports now, and Tas throws down behind the scenes for TSN clipping highlights from games which is sick.

Anyways, off of their dicks and on to their speech. They were very laid back, funny, and charismatic, and even the non-basketball fans seemed to really enjoy them. They sounded exactly like in their PodCast, and it was an entertaining session. They talked about growing their site but primarily focused on growing technologies and the unmet demand internationally for online content. From frequent and focused blogs to audio PodCasts to the yet-to-hit-the-mainstream video PodCasts, they were emphatic in their belief in emerging technologies providing opportunities in the sports industry. Obviously, I took a great deal of this to heart and, needless to say, this was the most relevant speech to me all weekend. I can’t really review it objectively, so ask around to other delegates. Oh, they also gave away t-shirts (ouch, nothing for Blake) and were interupted by someone blowing their nose really loudly, and he didn’t even realize it. Unintentional comedy at its best.

Main Message: I’ve got an uphill climb with this site. For everyone else, there is a lot of unmet demand for online content, providing plenty of opportunities to get ahead of the curve from a business stand point.

Cesar Velasco, Marketing Manager, Communications & Community Relations, Toronto FC (and Pumas of Mexico and Barcelona of Spain)
I missed this speaker to take a pre-dinner nap. The schedule was such that it was break-Cesar-break-dinner, and I opted for one long break and a serious and much needed nap. It also gave me time to get looking fly for the night ahead (and I did, you know how your boy does it). Anyways, Richie gave me an account of what went down, and basically Cesar talked about trying to implement the European/South American soccer marketing system with Toronto FC, giving specific examples and speaking to how much better fans have responded than expected. I regret missing Cesar, as it sounds like he was an awesome and engaging speaker, but the nap was probably worth it.

Main Message: Save your heavy drinking for the last night of a conference.


So that was the conference. Overall, it was an excellent time. A lot of friends did the conference with me, including ODC writers Paul O’Neill, Jack Forsayeth, and Stu Wilkinson, plus Trevor Smith and Kyle Norton were around as part of the executive all weekend, so ODC had some serious presence. I managed to drop the site to a few other delegates, because I’m a hustler like that.

Anyways, the weekend was fantastic, and big ups to the entire executive on a great weekend. Speakers, socials, food, and drink were all great. The only bad points were the hangovers and the extremely lame Pro Kids charity contest (but maybe that’s a necessity as per Queen’s regulations, I have no idea). The only other criticism I would offer is that the theme, “Strength as One,” did not fit the weekend. Foremost, only one or two speakers really emphasized teamwork or the necessity of teams in the industry, and most focused on what an individual can do to get ahead. Second, I guarantee everyone there was looking for individual advice and not about team initiatives. A theme surrounding passion, drive, ambition, etc, would have been more relevant but really, this is just nitpicking because the whole article can’t be pole-riding.

Trev, Kyle, and others did an awesome job of getting a good variety in the list of speakers. There were different careers covered, different styles of speakers, and every single one was pretty interesting or entertaining. The night events were also awesome, mainly because of the number of free drink tickets. The exec also adapted well in the face of weather adversity. As a three-time delegate, I can safely say that the conference has come a long way since Jonathan Lithwick and Christian Alexander hatched this brain-child a few years ago (they, along with Ryan McDermott, showed up this weekend, and it was good to see them all again, enjoying themselves as delegates and sponsorship representatives).

I’d give the weekend a solid 4.5 out of 5, just shy of perfect because there are always ways to improve. If you are not in fourth year (even if you don’t go to Queen’s, because there are external delegates), I would highly recommend hitting up QSIC in 2009. For more information on the conference or the speakers, hit me up or visit The QSIC Website, and again, I’ve got a lot more details in my notes from the weekend if you wanted to hear more stories or career advice from the speakers.

What I learned from the conference: Pursuing a career in the sports industry is difficult. It is tough to break in and the pay sucks initially, but there are always great opportunities to advance. If you are really passionate about working in sports, you can do it and move up, and it’s well worth the effort and wait. The best thing you can do to take advantage of opportunities is to perform the best you can, distinguish yourself, and get your name out there. Two speakers said, “it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you,” and I took that one to heart and you should too.

Best Speaker: Jama Mahlalela
Most Useful Speaker: The Jones guys for me, Dave Hopkinson otherwise
Favorite Moment: Winning two free drinks as Lesnar tapped out, being reminded of Nightmare Ant, picking Tas and Skeets’ brains
Speaker Quality: 4.5/5
Logistics/Organization: 4/5
Night Events: 4.5/5 (10/10 on drinks)
Free Stuff: 3/5 (10/10 on drinks)
Overall Rating: 4.5/5