Last Updated on August 14, 2022
Interview with Dr. Ceyda Mumcu
Bryan Haggerty of Sports Degrees Online recently interviewed Professor Ceyda Mumcu about her incredible journey to becoming the Sport Management Department at University of New Haven. They touch on subjects ranging from the future of analytics and research to advice for students just beginning their journey into sport management.
About Dr. Ceyda Mumcu
Professor Mumcu is the Chairs the Sport Management Department at the University of New Haven, where she is also the Coordinator of the Master's in Sport Management program. A former professional basketball player in her home country of Turkey, Dr. Mumcu earned her PhD in Sports Administration from the University of New Mexico.
Professor Mumcu, you have recently been named Chair of the Sport Management Department at the University of New Haven. Congratulations to you. That is an impressive accomplishment. Thank you for taking some time to speak with us. Prior to your career in academia, you had a lengthy career as a professional basketball player in your home country of Turkey. Can you talk a bit about your journey from being a professional athlete to chasing very different goals in academia?
Absolutely. I was invested in having a career as a professional athlete, and I really enjoyed my time as a basketball player. There are no collegiate sports around the world similar to the level we experience in the US. Therefore, during my college years, I actually played professional basketball. It was certainly a different lifestyle traveling all of the time, having the buzz from being on the court, playing, and competing. I really enjoyed that time.
From there, moving into academia was a bit of soul searching and finding my own path. As I was ending my professional basketball career, I actually took a job at the investment department of one of the largest banks in Turkey with my economics degree. I realized quickly that [working in banking] was not a suitable career for me. Therefore, I started searching what would merge my business-oriented degree with my passion for sport, and that is when I found a master’s degree in sport management in Turkey.
As a graduate student, in my first semester I was so lucky to enjoy the courses I had taken, which gave me a path forward to a position in academia. Some people might find it unusual, but I took statistics and research methods in my first semester, and that was when I had that “lightbulb moment”. I realized that as an academic, I would have the opportunity to remain involved in what I love, women’s sports. Maybe I am chasing different goals now. Obviously, I am not interested in the win and loss record anymore, but I think I am still pursuing a similar goal; I am dedicated to improving women’s sports.
That is a great story, Professor. One of our goals at SportsDegreesOnline.org is to help student-athletes make a transition as you did from a sports career to a professional career that they’re passionate about.
As you went through that process, which skills or traits which made you successful as an athlete have also helped you find success in life beyond sports? Are there traits you had to leave behind as you transitioned into the professional world?
As an athlete, you understand the value of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. I definitely continued to carry those traits. Looking at that transition from my first master’s degree, to the second one, eventually to the Ph.D. program, and finally to being a professor, now with a decade of experience, it is a long journey that takes many years and continued effort. With that said, I will also state being strategic as a skill– just like you’re playing a game or playing a match – and trying to strategize your win. I still strategize my next move forward.
I did strategize when I was considering studying in the US, “Where do I go for a grad program in the United States? Where do I go for a Ph.D. program? What is the ideal or suitable location for me to be in academia?” There is definitely a strategic approach just like scouting your opponent.
Finally, there is teamwork and collaboration. I work in academia, and I say it to my colleagues all the time – higher education is a team sport. It is a team effort, and it takes a village to train the next generation of sport managers.
So you mentioned strategy as being an important part of decision making especially as you are looking at comparing different degrees. Would you mind talking a bit about what exactly were some of your strategic approaches to choosing where to study and which degree to study?
For sure. I studied sport management for my master’s degrees and my Ph.D. I can also elaborate on the question as a professor with the lens of what an undergraduate student should look for.
I think some of the factors that are the most important for an undergraduate and graduate student to consider – are alumni network, the curriculum and type of approach taken to education at the particular institution, the experiential opportunities offered, and focus on career preparation.
If a student is looking into pursuing a Ph.D. program, in addition to the factors listed above, they should also pay attention to the faculty members and with whom they would be working. During a terminal degree, you are definitely in a closer learning experience with your advisor, and that is going to be about from whom you want to learn. Thus, there is definitely that connection and a deeper and more, you know, lengthier process.
At the undergraduate level, faculty members are still very important. I would like to say that, at the University of New Haven, we have expertise in different functional areas of sport and that provides a wider cast for our students in terms of the professional network [that we have access to].
I also recognize that it is important to have an alumni network that is connected and willing to give back. We have great relationships with our students and alumni at the University of New Haven, which results in alumni stepping in to help current students launch their careers.
Another area is the pedagogical approach taken by the faculty and the institution. You know, learning by doing. Perhaps various concepts are used to refer to it, but experiential learning is probably the common term used in higher education. Prospective students should pay attention to pedagogical approach emphasized when exploring potential universities.
I actually would like to take it one-step further, and encourage students to ask about the kinds of experiential opportunities available and what exactly that means for that particular institution.
I think that’s all great advice. Since we’re already on the subject, I want to give you a chance to discuss the University of New Haven’s Sport Management programs. Tell me a little bit more about why New Haven is a good place to begin a degree and to launch a career in sport management.
Absolutely. We have the flexibility to package the degree program in a way that is serving students’ career ambitions. We advise our own students. My colleagues and I sit down with each student and provide them with one-on-one advising. We are faculty members who have experience in the sport industry. We guide students on career preparation and how to get their feet at the door.
While the curriculum definitely demands some required courses, we also have flexibility. We also design students’ schedules with courses that will allow them to prepare for the jobs they aspire to pursue. For example, a student can pursue a marketing minor or a communications minor while also focusing on the area they are interested such as production or media relations or perhaps PR, right! There are opportunities and flexibility. We can help students acquire not only the skills, but also the experience and knowledge in a more focused way depending on their interest. I also would like to state that our priority is our students’ success. I am proud to say that anyone attending an open house sees and feels that intention authentically.
We develop opportunities for our students, whether it is a volunteer opportunity to work at an international friendly game, regional and national championships, NFL Pro Bowl, College Football Playoff, networking with industry executives. Thus, the opportunities are definitely there, and we are making our students’ development and preparation a priority.
BH: Looking at some of the published research you’ve done, it’s clear that you have an affinity for analytics and marketing. Can you please talk about some of the more interesting projects in these areas that you’ve worked on over the last few years?
Professor Ceyda Mumcu: Sure absolutely.
A few years back, when WNBA pushed out their pride campaign, I worked on public perception and fan reactions to the campaign with the league’s collaboration. I am really excited about making an impact in the industry. When I said I found my path from playing times to academia, this is what I meant. I am still pursuing a very similar goal – advancing women’s sports.
So with that said, I intentionally pursue practical research. My research on WNBA’s pride campaign presented positive outcomes. Both heterosexual and LGBTQ fans evaluated the campaign positively, and there were no adverse effects on the league or their fan base. Since our research, further developments have taken place in the sport industry, and many sport properties target LGBTQ fans more directly.
Another research I recently completed examined social media reactions to the inclusion of WNBA players in NBA2K which was published earlier in 2021. While video games present an opportunity to overcome gender segregation in sport, general public still hangs on to the gender stereotypes.
I have done another collaborative research with a professional softball league: National Pro Fastpitch. NPF has been a growing league especially considering the popularity of college softball. We worked on consumer segments of the league and proposed marketing tactics towards those segments. These are some of the projects I have completed recently and I am excited about.
Those are very interesting. Can you provide a little insight on how you came to be involved in any of those three projects? Are you reaching out to the WNBA, the softball league, or the video game companies, for example, or are they reaching out to you because they know you do this kind of research? Can you provide some insight into that?
Absolutely. For the most part, I initiated these research projects. Obviously, the NBA2K research was through social media and it was done independent of the league. For the WNBA and NPF projects, I initiated the connection and actually showed value. This is an example of how I act strategically. I investigate and observe the industry, recognize the needs of a potential industry partner, and approach them with a proposal for a collaboration. I fostered those relationships and landed myself in research projects.
That makes sense. For students out there who are very interested in this type of work – Do you get paid for doing this type of research, or are you just doing this because you’re interested in the research?
It depends on the project. Some may pay and some may not pay. There is the give and take and the win/win. How can we form a win/win? I was paid for some of the projects and I haven’t been paid for some others.
There may be people out there reading this and trying to imagine, “Could I make a living out of being a researcher like that, and providing really good data for these big organizations?” So the answer would probably be yes, right?
Yes! Nowadays, there are many organizations focused on the research component. Agencies have insights and strategy departments. The leagues have their own research departments. They do employ folks to generate insights and form solutions upon them. There are definitely many research-focused positions within the sport industry and data and analytics are growing aspects of the industry.
My current position as an academic puts me somewhere in the middle. I have the expertise and the research skills through my terminal degree. On the other hand, I have limited time to devote to research. Luckily, a part of my job requires research and I like that my research actually benefits the sport industry. My institution is focused more on practical research, thus I am in a suitable setting.
You certainly are, I respect that a lot. And like you said you’re still working toward the same goal that you were always working toward, which is very honorable.
It’s clear that analytics is changing sports in myriad ways ranging from strategies, scouting, fan engagement, fantasy, legal gambling, all these things. Are there any aspects of analytics that you feel might be particularly important in the next five to ten years?
I do. The areas that you listed will not go away. Frankly, they will still use [analytics] for performance purposes, scouting, and strategy.
To me, the fan engagement component will become more and more important. If we look at the industry closely, we recognize that the business model is evolving. Industry’s reliance on traditional media will decline and streaming and digital media will provide more opportunities.
Even a decade ago, when high quality televisions hit the market, enticing fans to attend games became a challenge. Folks have the opportunity to watch the games on their high-tech TV at the comfort of their homes. That affected the attendance to a degree, and now there are even more opportunities. I think the fan engagement component will become more and more important so that we can keep folks engaged at the venues, and they will have the desire to go to the events. I think that component will become more and more important.
It seems like in terms of fan engagement and the way that younger fans are consuming games, these days it is almost always highlight form. Do you think that the games are going to have to change – or something drastic like that – if this trend continues? What are your feelings on that?
That is a tough one. Every aspect of the game is focused on monetizing the assets, so we have to be very careful when altering the games. I do not think the duration of the games will be shortened, but rather there will be added components to engage the fans at the venues. They may not have to pay attention to the entire duration of a football game; perhaps they will pay attention to different areas within the game or at the venue. There will be ways to monetize those behaviors and interests. Maybe there will be diversification of what ancillary products are available at the games rather than collectively changing the game.
Thank you for those insights.
It’s no secret that finding a career in the sports industry is more competitive than in other fields. What advice do you have for students who are just beginning their sport management degree for this fall’s freshmen, for example, about how to get the most out of their degree program – what can they do for the next four years to prepare themselves for success when they graduate?
Absolutely. Network, network, network, and gain experience. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of experience and networking with professionals. When I say networking, it is not about, “Oh I met with a guest speaker today and it was pretty cool.” That is great, but it is not really networking, right? Networking requires dedication of time, investing into the relationship, and those components are important at the end of the day.
It becomes not whom you know, but who knows you and what they would say about you when you are not in the room. That is actually, what gets you the job. If people think about you, talk about you, they [are likely to] sponsor you. You have to network and you have to get comfortable talking to individuals you may have just met five minutes ago. Moreover, you have to foster that relationship. Thus, networking component is very important.
The second area is gaining experience. Even if you are a freshman just starting this fall, it is not too early to look for opportunities. Maybe you are not going to get the most competitive internship, but you can still start building your resume in your first year. You can certainly look for opportunities to work on campus by reaching out to your athletic department or recreation department.
Over the summer, you should definitely do something even if it is your freshman year. Moreover, every experience builds on top of each other. With that said, it may not be the most glorious internship you will have, but it will build on each other and will make you more competitive for the high-caliber internships available.
In addition to that, I also advise students to gain experience just so they can identify which area they want to pursue when they graduate. When students come to a sport management major, they think that they are going to be near the athletes, interacting with them, and it is going to be fun. I am not saying it is not fun, but you are not going to be around the athletes. It is far from the reality.
There are different functions that one can pursue in the sports industry within different segments, and finding your path requires some trial and error. Through experiences students identify what they like and what they do not like. Most often, you find the things you don’t like which helps you identify what you like, eventually. I definitely recommend networking and gaining as much experience as possible to build up a strong resume to be competitive for the sport industry.
Awesome. What about volunteering? Let’s say that you are in the shoes of someone who has asked professors or coaches about internship opportunities, and they’re getting a lot of, “No sorry, you’re young or you don’t have experience.” Should people seek out unpaid volunteering opportunities if nothing else is available? What’s your opinion on that?
In the sports industry, most internships are unpaid. Unfortunately, it is creating further systemic issues into who can gain experience and who could not. Let’s put that aside [for now].
I am not supporting unpaid labor, but I do support volunteer opportunities to gain experience. Especially if it is for a short period of time. Sometimes internships require extensive hours of work, and if it turns out to be the type of job or opportunity that is not ideal for you, it is easier to find that out through a volunteer opportunity.
For example, if I send you to volunteer at an event, you will have a glimpse of what it means to work in event operations. That may give you a sense of whether you like event operations or not during a weekend. In my opinion, that is a good insight for a student. You can quickly identify, “Yea, this is something I like. No, this is something I don’t like.”
Similarly, involving some of those experiences within your own institution/university would be insightful. For example, as a Ph.D. student, I worked at an NCAA regional championship and I did not get to choose which role I was put into. I was happy to volunteer and work over the tournament. I was assigned to the media room helping solve technical issues for the media members, which was not my strong suit. Thankfully, there were not many issues. This experience allowed me to determine an area I would not want to work in the industry. I do recommend volunteer opportunities as ways to explore which functions are more suitable for students.
I think that’s a great approach.
My last question for you, Professor Mumcu – are there any books, podcasts, or other resources that you’d recommend for students who are trying to stay ahead of the curve in the sports industry?
Sure, absolutely! Well not so much the books. But I do recommend reading the trade magazines or the sources that are following day to day the business side of the sports industry. I recommend subscribing to Sports Business Journal. If you are able to read it through your library, that is definitely something to do. If you are not finding the content interesting, then I think that’s also eye opening for students.
In addition, I would suggest Sportico and Front Office. They do have newsletters that actually pop in your inbox if you sign up. That is something students look for these days. The news comes to you instead of you chasing the news. Those are two good resources that I read and spend some time looking at every day to be informed of what is going on.
When it comes to the podcasts, for the folks who are interested in the analytical components, MIT/Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has a podcast covering different areas.
Bloomberg has a Business of Sports podcast. Likewise, Sports Business Journal has a podcast called Morning Buzzcast, as well. For the marketing side, I also follow the Fluid Fan podcast coming out of the Sports Innovation Lab. There are many resources available. My advice would be to really focus on the business side and do not get lost in who won or lost the game and what happened last night.
Awesome. Professor, thank you so much. You’ve been so generous with your time. I really appreciate all of your insight. Great story. And I wish you all the best in your position at New Haven. It sounds to me they’ve made an excellent choice and you’ll have a very bright future there. I wish you the best of luck
Thank you so much.