Students Take on Celtics Management

The NBA labor disputes are over, and the Celtics were back at training camp this past weekend. But while basketball was on lock-down throughout the fall, a group of young business execs were busy keeping the lights on at the Garden: Making trades, selling tickets, and determining the price of concessions. They weren’t some bright shiny new sports management gurus out of HBS, they were sixth and seventh graders from Orchard Gardens K-8 school in West Roxbury.

Orchard Gardens' sixth and seventh graders pose with Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca

Okay, so these kids weren’t actually running the business side of the Celtics while the season was on hiatus. But through the “Managing the Celtics” after-school program, coordinated through the local nonprofit Citizen Schools,* they spent the last 10 weeks learning how to manage a professional sports franchise. Citizen Schools creates programs that extend the school day for inner-city middle school kids, giving them a few extra hours of tutoring to help them stay on track with their classwork and stay out of trouble. They work with local companies to create apprenticeship opportunities, and partnered with volunteers from NewStar Financial and law firm Edwards Wildman to create a program to let the students see the business side of basketball.

The students were split into groups then given real player stats and salaries and told to build a team (some opted for an all-star lineup, a la the Heat, only to quickly learn that a superstar team doesn’t pull in the strongest returns). They were told to sort out how much to charge for tickets, hot dogs, and sodas to turn the most profit. They learned about revenues and expenses. They considered the trade-offs of signing more and less expensive players. And they mastered the difference between fixed and variable costs.

Last Wednesday, each of the student teams presented their business plans to Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, giving a five-minute presentation about how they’d run the team, from tickets to trades. If we can teach these kids some arbitration skills, we might have a full season next year.

*Full disclosure: I’m a volunteer with Citizen Schools, and my sister-in-law works there. But if you’re in the market for a New Year’s resolution, I can attest that volunteering with the program is quite rewarding.