Kai Nip

Moving away from simply playing the sport, SOM United — the School of Management’s soccer club — is focusing on a new goal: establishing the first U.S. business school conference focusing on the soccer industry.

SOM United scheduled the student-led two-day Yale Soccer Conference for the second weekend in February 2019. Conference co-president João Lacombe — a co-captain of SOM United and a student studying for a master’s degree in sports management at the University of New Haven — said the conference will approach the industry holistically by bringing together professionals to address all aspects of the sport. According to the other conference co-president Thairo Arruda SOM ’19, the event will feature over 23 speakers from the industry, including club managers, sports journalists and analysts.

“It’s a hub in a sense [that it will be a place] where a lot of [soccer-related] issues can be discussed across different disciplines and fields,” said conference organizer Diego von Vacano, a former visiting associate professor of political science at Yale.

According to Arruda, SOM United has been solely focused on playing the sport since its inception over 25 years ago. But recently the group has “started thinking about the club as a means of exploring soccer overall,” including its business-related aspects. The group brought its first speaker — ESPN Deportes commentator Fernando Palomo — to campus this past spring to discuss the development of the soccer industry in the United States. Following that event, the group developed the idea of hosting a conference.

Von Vacano said that soccer as a sport reflects many aspects of globalization, including diversity, market power and political relationships. He noted that the conference could be “an interesting way to discuss different aspects of globalization through a practical and popular medium.”

Arruda said that the conference will also work toward the goal of establishing Yale as the American “soccer school.”

“Whoever thinks about Yale, we want in the future to think, ‘Oh, that’s the soccer school,’” he said.

According to Arruda, the SOM United team had to strategize on how to get prominent figures to come to campus for free. He said that much of the strategy came down to asking already committed speakers to reach out to their own industry contacts.

Now, Arruda added, potential speakers are reaching out to the conference team on their own to ask if they would be able to speak.

“It’s a really good lineup,” von Vacano said. “It’s been a little bit surprising to get positive response from well-known people.”

But despite having attracted a globally diverse pool of speakers and organizers, SOM United has had trouble enlisting women as speakers and as members of the organizing team, Arruda noted.

Out of the 12 group members, he said only two are women. Out of the 23 guests listed on the event’s website, just three are female. Arruda said the group is working to improve the numbers, especially considering the prominence of women’s soccer in the United States.

“In the U.S., soccer is more of a female sport,” he said. “I was hoping to have more women interested in our team to work with us, but it didn’t turn out to be that way … One thing that we want to change in the future is that we want to be more diverse in terms of gender as well.”

SOM United has big hopes for the future of the conference. Lacombe said this year, the soccer conference has 300 tickets available, and the group aims to sell them all. He added that this goal was “audacious,” but achievable with the tools the group has available.

The inaugural MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in 2007.

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu