Conference audibles

Ninth annual QSIC eyes new perspectives on sports industry

Co-chairs Vaanan Thiru and Russell Reeves will oversee this weekend’s conference, with 130 delegates on hand.
Co-chairs Vaanan Thiru and Russell Reeves will oversee this weekend’s conference, with 130 delegates on hand.
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Like the star athletes they want to work alongside, Russell Reeves and Vaanan Thiru are game changers.

They’re the co-chairs of this year’s Queen’s Sports Industry Conference (QSIC), an annual three-day event run by the Commerce Society that attracts delegates from across Ontario and speakers from the business of professional sports.

This year’s conference kicked off yesterday at Goodes Hall and runs until tomorrow. While much has stayed the same from previous years, Reeves and Thiru have spearheaded a number of tweaks — all in line with the weekend’s omnipresent motto.

“Right from the get-go, we adopted the slogan and mantra, ‘Change the Game’,” said Reeves, Comm ’15. “We’re not just bringing the exact same experience every year. We want to give [delegates] different perspectives on the sports industry.”

Reeves is in his second year on QSIC’s organizing team; Thiru, Comm ’14, has held an executive spot since he arrived at Queen’s. The conference dates back to 2006, making them the ninth set of QSIC leaders tasked with providing a unique glimpse into the sports industry.

Recent conferences have followed a standard format: two to three speakers per day, with a sponsored case competition on Friday and socials each night.

That hasn’t changed this year, but certain features are new, including a panel discussion on the professional hockey industry and a mock NBA free agency period, with all 130 student delegates assigned the role of player, agent or team executive.

Ever since Reeves and Thiru hired their 19-person executive team last March, every decision has revolved around the same goal: maximizing the conference’s value for all delegates that attend.

“We want to get as many people into the sports industry as we can,” Reeves said. “We understand it’s a different industry to get into, so if we can help out in any way, that’s something we want to do.”

The biggest addition they’ve made, according to Reeves, is “Simulation Saturday,” in which delegates will be split into agencies, relocate to various rooms around Goodes and embark on a two-hour free agent frenzy.

Agencies and teams will only be able to communicate by phone or the personalized emails set up for them by the QSIC executive. As deals are arranged, players and teams will walk to the Goodes lobby, pose with a QSIC jersey and sign a fake contract, as the executive breaks the news on Twitter.

“It’s really difficult to mimic a real free agency in sports, since there are so many variables, but we think it’s a pretty fun exercise,” Thiru said.

The simulation was the brainchild of third-year executive member Christian Alaimo, who also helped coordinate today’s case challenge, sponsored by Labatt.

The case, a staple of the annual conference, gives delegates the chance to design a business endeavour for whichever corporate sponsor is heading the event. The mock free agency, meanwhile, offers something new.

“I think everybody that comes to QSIC that really has a passion for sports really wants to be in a front-office position,” Thiru said. “The case, while it’s related to sports, it doesn’t really allow you to experience that kind of role.”

Presenting a broad scope of roles within the sports industry was another objective. While last year’s QSIC featured multiple speakers from the Toronto Blue Jays, according to the co-chairs, this year’s slate includes representatives from the UFC, NBA Canada and the Ottawa RedBlacks football franchise.

Several recurring sponsors have returned, including Chubb and CI Financial, while Labatt is newly on board. Thiru said attracting speakers and sponsors requires the same components: a database chock full of contacts and months of persistence from the executive.

Ten months removed from the start of their hiring process, they’re finally seeing their plans — and changes — come to fruition.

“Our exec team has been killing it all year long,” Thiru said. “Everybody has played a really big role in helping this develop, and it’s something we’re just excited to see unfold.”

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