TAMPA — The next generation of sports industry leaders may have a new place to learn the trade: a two-year graduate program at the University of South Florida, mostly paid for by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The hockey team's foundation has agreed to finance the new sports and entertainment management program for the next four years. The Lightning would have the first shot at providing paid internships to the 20 students who will make up the inaugural classes.
"This is the best one-two punch," said William Sutton, a sports industry consultant named director of USF's new program.
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and USF president Judy Genshaft held a joint news conference at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday to announce the program, which launches in August. It will start with up to 20 students.
The Lightning's ultimate price tag is not yet known, but it includes two professors with about $150,000 each in annual salaries and student stipends worth about $10,000 a year, said Joel Momberg, CEO of USF's Foundation.
University officials calculate the value of the Lightning's contribution at more than $2.5 million over two years. They were unable Thursday to provide USF's costs for the program, which will rely on existing classroom space.
The program will emphasize "the business fundamentals" of the sports and entertainment industry and provide graduate students with paid internships in the field. Students will complete typical MBA courses, such as accounting, as well as elective courses, such as sports communication. Graduates will earn master's of business administration degrees in sports and entertainment management.
Officials say they will evaluate the program at the end of four years and decide on future funding options.
Vinik said the program would make Tampa Bay a "living laboratory."
Vinik said he approached Genshaft about a year ago to discuss a joint educational partnership. Genshaft said the new degree program "builds on the strengths we have in our region" and "will draw some of the best business students in the country."
She spoke after the news conference about the ongoing controversy embroiling the university this week: massive budget cuts to USF proposed by the Senate. She and other USF officials are scheduled to meet Monday with Sen. JD Alexander, the chief budget writer who has been accused of singling out the university.
Genshaft said she'd been heartened by the outpouring of support from the Tampa Bay community, including its state lawmakers, but did not believe the university's fight was over. Asked whether Alexander had ever thought the budget cuts to USF had a chance of passing, particularly over the objections of a powerful Tampa Bay delegation, Genshaft demurred.
"I don't participate in … Tallahassee insider politics," she said.
Vinik said he hopes lawmakers reduce the size of the proposed cuts. If they stand, he said, "it's unfortunate for the community."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.