On the heels of the NFL’s first Super Bowl in Los Angeles in nearly three decades followed another highly anticipated contest: the Media and Entertainment Case Competition at UCLA Anderson.
And still to come, at around the same time that college basketball’s top-ranked teams duel in the NCAA Final Four tournament, is UCLA’s Game Day Sports Case Competition, co-presented with Villanova University’s Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law.
Call it an Anderson double play.
Sponsored by Paramount Studios and hosted by UCLA Anderson’s Center for Media, Entertainment & Sports, the Media and Entertainment Case Competition pits student teams from Anderson against student teams from USC, Wharton, Harvard, Columbia and other top-rated MBA programs in a showdown with real-life stakes for the winning team: a highly sought-after summer internship at Paramount, a cash prize of $4,000 and lifetime bragging rights.
Beyond the financial reward and the internship possibility, the case competition offers a prime networking opportunity. The contest takes place during the annual Pulse conference, the center’s signature event, when executives and decision-makers from major entertainment companies, sports teams and Hollywood studios gather to discuss trends and challenges facing the ever-changing business of global sports, entertainment, media and technology.
“It’s an opportunity to provide our MBA students here at UCLA and from other schools with a competitive learning experience,” says Jay Tucker (’09), executive director of the Center for Media, Entertainment & Sports, “while at the same time helping them gain exposure to challenges that are currently affecting the media and entertainment space in the real world.”
February’s media- and entertainment-focused case competition is one of two student contests hosted by the Center for Media, Entertainment & Sports. The other is the Game Day Sports Case Competition, co-presented with Villanova School of Law’s Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law. The host site alternates annually between the UCLA and Villanova campuses; the eighth annual Game Day Case Competition will be held at UCLA on April 2, 2022.
The Game Day competition adds a twist to the case competition rubric by requiring MBA and law school students to team up and take a multidisciplinary approach to analyzing, presenting and negotiating solutions to legal and business issues in contemporary sports. Teams compete for a total of $10,000 in prizes.
“Our business school, their law school — there’s nothing else like it because it’s focused exclusively on sports,” Tucker says. “Forcing business school students to work with law school students is a very realistic component of working in the sports space, where media rights and other things are just as important as what’s happening on the field.”
The idea of holding an entertainment case competition originated with UCLA Anderson alumnus Howard Hsieh (’09), vice president of strategic planning and business development at Paramount Pictures. A conversation that Hsieh had with summer intern George Chan (’15), who now directs business strategy at Nickelodeon, led to Paramount’s sponsoring the first event eight years ago.
“It started very small that year,” Hsieh says. “I wrote a straightforward case prompt: ‘This is the problem, how would you solve it, and what would you pitch us based on this information?’ George and some of his fellow students reached out to other MBA schools across the nation, and we got a dozen or so different schools interested in coming to do it.”
The pay-off was immediate. “Students got a chance to flex their muscles thinking about what the future of media entertainment could be, and the judges loved hearing all these new ideas from young people,” Hsieh says. “It was win-win.”
Since its debut, the event has grown so much in popularity that organizers have to limit the number of eligible teams. No school may enter more than two teams; the teams are composed of three to five students. Each year, Hsieh releases a new case prompt two weekends before the competition, based on current events and consumer trends within the media entertainment landscape.
In 2021, the case prompt concerned OTT streaming as Paramount prepared to launch its own service, with two pricing tiers and content from BET, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and CBS. “The prompt was, ‘If you were in control of Paramount Plus, what would your launch strategy be?’” says Hsieh.
In 2022, the case focused on the metaverse and NFTs, asking teams to consider how ViacomCBS/Paramount might strategically enter the metaverse in an authentic way and differentiate itself in the space while leveraging assets to maximize monetization of the content it creates. Teams were told, “Your idea must be socially minded. Think about areas where media, interactivity, gaming and content consumption will converge.”
The two-weekend window of prep time gives the students enough time to brainstorm the idea and explore potential angles before they arrive on campus. “We want the students to provide their own independently generated strategic direction,” Tucker says. “We want them to take the case prompt, go out and do some research, and then define a potential set of solutions that they own.”
The competition begins soon after the students arrive on campus (or log on virtually, as was the case in 2021) and have the opportunity to mingle with their peers. For the first round, the teams are separated into several different rooms. Each team makes a 15-minute presentation to the judges in their room, followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer session.
“It’s like Shark Tank,” Tucker says. “It’s an exercise in understanding the value of preparation and being able to present your best ideas as effectively as you can in the allotted time. Which is much, much more realistic than an academic setting. In the business world, if you’re lucky, you get told on Friday at noon that you’re going to have to be ready for a meeting first thing Monday.”
Hsieh recruits some 20 professional peers from Paramount as judges for the competition, including “people who are product-focused and understand product development and product strategy, as well as new business development folks, legal people, marketing executives and finance folks,” he says. “We want a diverse set of judges who cover an entire spectrum of disciplines.”
The judges evaluate each team’s initial presentation based on several metrics: Did they understand the business problem and are they offering a solution that’s practical, has merit and is well thought-out? Did they do enough research to outline a comprehensive and innovative plan that addresses every issue? And, did they present well? (To prevent any alumni bias, the teams are assigned numbers so that the judges don’t know what school the students attend.)
The top performing teams from each room advance to the final round. All of the participants — students and judges — meet in one room to watch the finalists in action. They deliberate, and the winning team is announced the following day during the Pulse conference. The 2022 competition was particularly exciting, Hsieh says, because the teams pitched ideas about a realm whose future even experts can’t anticipate yet. The more ideas, the better. “The way the judges see it,” Hsieh says, “if we agree with the thesis, then the solution is actionable right now. The best teams painted us a picture of what the future could look like and gave us actionable solutions we could test today.” Relevancy and immediacy are key.
“Between rounds one and two is where the real improvement happens,” Hsieh says, “because the teams adjust and become much better at the Q&A section. They’ve got a sense of what some of the judges might ask — like, if they had a hole in their presentation about customer acquisition or about the supply chain issue, they realize, ‘Oh, I could’ve answered the question differently.’”
“There is no right answer,” Tucker says. “It’s not a cut-and-dried, ‘Well, this is what you have to do to win the case competition.’ I’ve seen a mix of presentations, styles, strategies and points of emphasis that have worked. Knowledge of subject is one key element. Preparation and the quality of the presentation are others. Originality or novelty is not always the thing the gets a team over the top.”
In 2022, the team from USC Marshall School of Business claimed first place with a proposal to take Paramount into the metaverse using the Roblox play platform, in a way the studio could apply it going forward — leading up to live concert experiences and more. Amid the competition, Marshall’s presentation distinguished itself with excellent speakers and high-quality audio and visual components.
Tucker credits sports executive Jeff Moorad (B.A. ’78) with spearheading the prestigious sports competition. “Jeff wanted to create an experience that would set Anderson apart and set the Center apart,” Tucker says. “Jeff provided the funding for the prize money, connected us with Villanova and helped to conceptualize the competition. And, Jeff’s been the guy who gets the panel of sports industry judges for the competitions.”
The Game Day competition follows a similar format to the Entertainment competition, with each student team comprised of up to five students. What sets the Game Day competition apart from the other contests is two-fold: each squad of MBA students must also involve at least one law-school student, and the sole focus of the competition is on sports industry topics such as sponsorship and naming rights, sports betting, stadiums and facilities, labor negotiations, or anti-trust issues.
“I’m excited to see the continued enthusiasm for the Game Day competition each year,” says Moorad, “It attests to the passion for the sports industry among MBA and law students across the country, a passion that I get to engage with every week in my Business of Sports class at Anderson. Both Anderson and the Moorad Center do a fantastic job organizing the event each year, and we tend to bring a pretty cool group of industry veterans as judges. I always learn more from my students than the other way around, and the brilliant presentations and negotiating sessions in the Game Day competition are no exception.”
Tucker points out that, in addition to the first presentation round, a round of timed negotiations takes place. “If folks don’t come up with a term sheet by the end of the time, both teams lose,” he says.
For competing MBA students, the challenge goes beyond the case prompt. Tucker notes that it’s often difficult for MBA students to recruit law-school students for their teams because the aspiring legal eagles tend to have little experience with case competitions. “They need to learn to work with one another,” Tucker says, “because that’s what they’re going to do in the real world.”
According to Tucker, the Game Day Sports Case Competition is unique in the U.S. “There’s so much competition for employment in the sports space, but it is very, very difficult to get practical experience,” Tucker says. “Even internships are hard to come by. The Game Day Case Competition allows students to get some practical experience in a way that is very challenging to acquire otherwise.”
Hsieh emphasizes the benefits for the student participants because “they are able to share their point of view in a practical way,” he says. “Here’s a real-life problem, versus learning about something theoretically in the classroom. You can actually build your proposal and pitch it to an executive team that’s doing this work on a day-to-day basis. That’s why we always choose a current topic or problem within the ecosphere. The students get immediate practical feedback, in the moment, from players in the space.”
In return, Hsieh says, the judges benefit from the students’ distinct perspective. “I always say that the best part of the case competition is that these students are ultimately our customers. They’re well educated, they’re on the younger side, they love entertainment. So, if they’re telling us that this should be the solution, we should be listening to them.”
Hsieh points to last year’s case prompt, which was focused on streaming. “Four or five teams pitched us the exact same idea about Paramount Plus,” he says. “It validated the solution that we had already been thinking about.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the conditions of the case competitions, with UCLA pivoting to a virtual option for teams that are unable to travel to campus. The real-world hiccup “is an example of something they might have to deal with going forward,” Tucker says. “It’s part of the developmental experience, and having to weather that builds character and gives students some experience to tap later on if they encounter other disruptions.”
That said, Tucker noted that 70,000 fans gathered to cheer on the Rams and the Bengals during the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium, an in-person trend that he hopes to afford all the students who come to UCLA for the case competitions.
“Our preference, obviously, is for the center to deliver these kinds of experiences in person, where students have a chance to meet, engage and network with their peers from other schools as well as with leaders and decision-makers in the sports and entertainment industry,” he says. “Ultimately, that’s the purpose behind these case competitions: to showcase our students and to give them a sneak peek at what it’s like to solve a problem for an actual company.”