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From research to Rio

Rule 40 has drastically affected the marketing landscape when it comes to Olympic Sponsorships. For sport and entertainment management major Anthony Carson, it has become the focal point of his experience with undergraduate research and has helped to shape what he sees himself doing after college.

"I've had some experience in the industry actually working with sponsors and my research experience has been invaluable. I never thought—coming in—that I had any opportunity to do research. I didn't know what research looked like in a sport management context and I didn't really think there was any opportunity to do research that wasn't career related. I was certainly wrong about that."

What Anthony's experience highlights is that research isn't something reserved and beneficial for science majors. At USC, it is a way to gain valuable experience within and beyond the classroom.

How did you come to be involved in researching Olympic sponsorships?

I went to convocation, literally, the first day I was on campus. I met Dr. John Grady, a professor who works in the Sport and Entertainment Management Department and with the South Carolina Honors College.

I am pretty sure, to this day, I'm the only person who has ever taken him up on the invitation. I decided to stop by his office the next week. We just got to talking and I found that I had become interested in what he studied. Over the past couple of years we've developed a great relationship. He has been my mentor for all of my research. His specialty is athletic sponsorship, especially around the Olympics.

Dr. Grady is a leading expert on rule 40. He has written countless articles for the Sports Business Journal with other colleagues. There may not be a person in the country that understands the Olympic athlete and sponsorships as well as he does. It was a great opportunity to work with him.

What led up to your trip to Rio?

As a freshman, Dr. Grady introduced me to the idea that it was possible for the two of us to embark on a project that was going to take us to Rio last summer, but I was skeptical at first.

There was a lot of stuff we could do beforehand, because they actually revised rule 40 for Rio to try to make it easier for athletes. That is what we were looking at, the Olympic athlete marketing landscape under a revised rule 40. I have a lot of sponsorship knowledge now which is really applicable to my career path. It's something that I've used in my sports management experiences.

I got funding through the Exploration Scholars Program. As we continued our research, I applied for a Magellan Scholar award and I was awarded a mini-grant ($1,000). In the spring, I reapplied. I had tinkered with my proposal and got great feedback on this proposal. Our research proposal was accepted for Magellan in spring. I received another $2,500 in funding.

We actually were able to go to Rio completely funded by the university, which was cool. We bought our flight tickets last September, a year before we left. We were pretty much dead set on finishing the project in Rio. Leading up to Rio, I thought about our work extensively. We did a lot of research and predicting what we thought it would look like once we were there. Once we were there we saw a lot of events and got to see the Olympic Village. We saw firsthand what sponsorship and marketing looked like on-site.

When did you really begin to feel that what you were doing was going to be a meaningful experience?

Once we got down there and really saw — what I would call the marketing landscape in action — it was amazing. We had considered so many variables, but there was really no way to predict what was going to happen. We were in a country that has never hosted an Olympics. There were a lot of different rules for an Olympics. It was just an entirely new landscape.

When I saw all the marketing and sponsorships in place, it was like: “Wow! One, what we are doing is obvious. You see it everywhere. Even if the people don’t maybe see it themselves, they are subconsciously taking all of this in. Two, and more importantly, is that our studies back home are meaningful and relevant.”

The Olympics one of the highest revenue sporting events in the world- if not the highest. We are doing meaningful research that really has an impact on the business of sponsorships.

What's next? What do you hope to do after you graduate?

After I graduate, I hope to pursue a career in the media world and something related to sports. I have some great opportunities to work in sports media. The thing I love about it (my research) is that it touches everything from a marketing perspective. One of the great parts about this research project was the opportunity to go to Rio and see team USA play basketball, to watch volleyball on Copacabana Beach and to see Novak Djokovic play tennis.

All of that stuff was incredible, but most importantly the research really was helpful in a practical sense and has helped me see my career path more clearly.