Ivey Sports Management Conference

Ivey's Inaugural Sports Management Conference

Greg Bowman

There’s no questioning the Richard Ivey’s Business School’s reputation as one of the top institutions in the nation, continually being ranked as such year after year. They consistently churn out some of the top business minds in the world, with the net worth of esteemed alumni likely way too large to fathom.

One of those esteemed alumni is John Chayka, who is now the General Manager of the Arizona Coyotes. Not only is a former member of the school in one of the 31 most sought-after positions in hockey management, he is the youngest general manager to ever lead a major sports franchise, taking over the position at 26 years of age in 2016. Chayka’s seemingly improbable rise to success sees him come back to his alma mater quite frequently to give talks to inspire current students in their paths. After these talks, the Coyote’s GM would often be swarmed by eager students who want to probe him for his secret to success and ask for advice on how to get into sports management.

Upon seeing this frenzy on one of their guests, a handful of Western students recognized that there is a lot of interest amongst Ivey students on how to get into sports management. From there, the idea of an Ivey Sports Management Conference was hatched.

Western University students Kate Taylor and Quinn Thompson spearheaded an idea nine months ago, and assembled a team which included Ivey students Greg Marks, and Anthony Bozzo. They had the vision of holding an event to bring some of the industry’s finest minds together to help select delegates navigate the world of sports management.

Along with Chayka, Toronto Maple Leafs’ General Manager Kyle Dubas was also in attendance, as the two young GMs engaged in a discussion mediated by Radio Western alumnus and Sportsnet hockey insider Elliotte Friedman.

Dubas, just 33 years old, took over as the Maple Leafs’ GM in early 2018. He made his biggest mark when he signed mega-free agent John Tavares in July, essentially turning Toronto into a Cup contender. Prior to his current role in Toronto, Dubas served as assistant general manager under Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello. Dubas attributed a large part of his success to Lamoriello’s influence in the two years he spent underneath him. Dubas’s story to the big club is one of hard work and seizing of opportunities. With his playing career cut short by concussions, Dubas became fascinated with scouting and player development, which earned him the job as a scout for his hometown Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL first as a scout, then as their GM. He went to university at Brock for Sports Management, wherein he was a scout for the nearby Niagara Ice Dogs. Dubas gets praise for being one of the brightest young management minds in sports, getting recognition by Forbes Magazine. Much of his talking was done on how to handle people. GMs are tasked with interacting with countless people on a daily basis, from players, to agents, to coaches to media. He underlined the importance of transparency and clear communication to all parties to ensure that everyone within the organization is on the same page all the time.

To his right was John Chayka, who not only is the youngest GM to ever be named to a professional sports team’s front office, but may have revolutionized the game of hockey. He is the founder of the platform “Stathletes”, which provides in-depth hockey analytics for players all around the world. Players were getting measured in ways never done before, which provided analytical data which scouts, and managers can look at to get a sense of what a skater may do for their team in the future. Chayka’s innovative company earned him the attention of the Arizona Coyotes, which eventually propelled him to his current role. Chayka took a particular interest in the analytical questions, and was well-versed in the topics surrounding scouting and analytics and seeking a balance between the two when building a team.

Elliotte Friedman returned to Western University to mediate a discussion between the two young-stud GMs. Friedman was a student in the 90s (though didn't graduate, which he frequently joked about) where he was involved in the media on campus including Radio Western and the Gazette. He was the editor-in-chief for the latter organization, which led him into his job at 590 the Fan in Toronto. Working his way through the industry, Friedman is one of the most-respected hockey insiders in the media and has won countless awards for his excellence in journalism.

These three, plus a handful of agents, management and media will be entertaining the over-100 delegates of the conference through smaller panels so students can get personal with people in the sector of their interest.

Organizers say that a majority of the tickets bought for the conference were purchased in the final week of availability, at which point they quickly sold out. After the initial panel discussion on Friday, Saturday will be a full day of panels and discussions for delegates. Also, there will be a case competition, with summer internships with the Arizona Coyotes, Golf Canada and other sports organizations offered to the winners.

Organizers are hoping that with the anticipated success of the inaugural event, that it will be able to be held annually. The connections already made with the Coyotes and Maple Leafs, as well as connections with the MLS should translate into more panelists more expert opinions.

Ivey Business School continues to be a factory of success, and conferences like this will only create more networking opportunities and avenues for students to pursue.