This past weekend, Yale’s School of Management played host to the inaugural Yale Soccer Conference. The School of Management student-led event focused on the sustainable commercialization and professionalization of soccer in the world and featured an array of notable speakers, ranging from World Cup-winning Argentine striker Mario Kempes to Chairman of Relevant Sports Charlie Stillitano, whom ESPN named as one of the most influential names in global soccer.

Themes of the conference included advances in sports science, the culture of the game and the importance of raising the profiles of other top European leagues beyond the English Premier League. Seminars featured the CEO of La Liga North America Boris Gartner, who talked about growing La Liga in the US, and the author of Soccernomics, Stefan Szymanski, who discussed the future of soccer analytics. Yale’s own Nils Rudi, professor of operations management, presented on how the gender barrier in sports reflects on the global economy, health, peacekeeping and stability and how soccer can be a tool to address these global issues.

“I really enjoyed being able to attend a soccer-specific conference at the prestigious School of Management,” Yale men’s soccer forward Aldo Quevedo ’21 said. “The speakers brought a wealth of knowledge, and I believe they are all doing their part to improve the game.”

The first day opened with a keynote speech by Fernando Palomo on how soccer can become the number one sport in America. Palomo is an ESPN Spanish-language analyst and also EA Sports’ FIFA video game commentator alongside Kempes.

FC Barcelona board member Marta Plana then followed with a speech on Barcelona’s efforts to innovate and her hopes that the Barça Innovation Hub could become a Silicon Valley for soccer. Pierre Moossa, NBC Sports coordinating producer for its coverage of the Premier League, capped off the first day with a talk on television coverage of the most marketable soccer league in the world. Yale’s Director of Athletics, Vicky Chun, also spoke at the two-day conference about the “ins and outs of college athletics.”

“It was a terrific conference, and I enjoyed it from both a speaker and participant perspective,” Chun said. “People came from around the world to attend and the solid attendance indicated to me that the SOM students filled a need in the sports and athletic industry. It also shows the impressiveness of the Yale name in academics and athletics. I hope this can be an annual event.”

Sunday’s highlights included two talks focusing on the negative political and social aspects of the game. University of Southern California associate sociologist professor Ben Carrington presented on the issue of racism in European soccer cultures. Paul Tuchmann, a partner of the New Haven office of the Wiggin and Dana law firm, discussed combating corruption in the sport and focused on his experiences as a former prosecutor.

The conference secured the support of major companies within the soccer world. Broadcaster ESPN signed up to be one of its two media partners, and Yale Athletics and the MacMillan Center also sponsored the event.

“The soccer conference was really impressive,” Yale women’s soccer goalkeeper Alyssa Fagel ’20 said. “Being surrounded by so many soccer pundits is an amazing experience in itself. But the fact that this happened at my school was truly incredible. I am so thankful to Yale SOM for putting this unique event together, and to Yale Athletics for allowing me the opportunity to attend and to learn from some of the most knowledgeable people in the sport.”

Two of the largest names involved in the event were Kempes and Stillitano. Kempes held a Q&A session entitled “With the Legend” to kick off Saturday’s proceedings. The Argentine won the World Cup in 1978 as top goalscorer. Stillitano, who facilitated manager Carlo Ancelotti’s move to Chelsea in 2009 and who organized the International Champions Cup, spoke of his experiences both on the athletic and financial sides of the sport during the closing keynote session of the conference.  

In organizing the event, the SOM soccer club — SOM United — followed the path set forth by the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2007.

Harvard also hosts a yearly conference on soccer.

Bill Gallagher | william.galagher@yale.edu

Correction, Feb. 13: While Mario Kempes was the top scorer in the 1978 World Cup, a previous version incorrectly suggested he had outperformed Maradona, who did not play in the tournament.