Recently, I attended the 3rd edition of the annual On Deck sports conference at the beautiful Bohemian National Hall in the Upper East Side. The one day conference brings together top leaders and entrepreneurs in the sports tech industry. It was an action packed day with two stages full of interesting content and networking opportunities with the best in the business. And this is where the predicament lies – should one listen and learn, or network and build contacts? Conferences are not cheap, they lure you in with content and connections and so getting the best ROI means figuring out how to split your time.
The content that is interesting but not directly relevant to one’s own industry.
The discussion on drones, for example, featuring Matt Higgins, Vice Chairman of the Miami Dolphins and CEO of RSE Ventures and Jon Ollwerather from AEROBO. They predict that we are close to seeing drones delivering food to our seats in stadiums and the furthest holes on golf courses. Higgins also suggested that drone racing could be the next e-sports, with us sitting at home watching others competing half way across the world. Interesting topics, but not for the world of sponsorship. There was definitely an element of FOMO hearing all the voices outside of the main room connecting with contacts old and new, over coffee and pastries.
The content that is directly relevant to your own career path.
The session ‘How They Did It: Scaling a Sports Tech Startup’ provided an interesting debate between three successful founders Russ D’Souza of SeatGeek, Rob Jones of FanDuel and Vasu Kulkarni of Krossover. All three operated in very different industries, had differing personalities but all shared the issue of the ‘pivot’. Seatgeek started out a forecasting site for sports and concert tickets and Fanduel as Hubdub, a news prediction game. Key lesson – it takes time to get to where you are going, just stick in, listen to feedback and keep innovating.
Connecting with old friends in the industry.
Deepen Parikh, VC at Interplay ventures, over a 15min catch up gave me his macro level take on the funding scenario in sports. Over lunch, William Mao of MP&Silva, the fastest growing media rights group in the sports industry, shared their ambitious US plans. Joe Favorito, a veteran in sports PR and communication, caught me up on what great things Columbia Sports Program is up to at the moment.
Meeting new friends.
I was fortunate to get some one-on-one time with Andrew Ackerman of Dreamit Ventures. We spoke at length about the sports startup scenario, accelerators, getting introductions and many other helpful topics. Connecting with new people at a conference could be likened to meeting a potential date a party. It’s likely to be more successful than a tinder swipe; its more natural then a blind date and the common link that has you both at the same place already promotes you above stranger status.
So my tips for conference goers wanting to achieve the highest ROI – spend 10% of your time in topics that interest but aren’t relevant, 40% of your time in topics that help you, 20% of your time with people you know from before and 30% of your time making new connections.