Students, faculty attend Applied Sport Management Association Conference

Led by Assistant Professors of Sport Management Alex Traugutt and Khirey Walker, five Elon University students traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, to participate in the three-day conference.

A group of Elon students gather on Tennessee's campus.
Elon students gather together while visiting Knoxville, Tennessee, for the 2024 Applied Sport Management Association Conference. Pictured (from left) are Anthony Bamford ’25, Lena Gunn ’25, Sarah Dawkins ’25, Teddy Morgan ’25 and Celsey McMahon ’25.

With five undergraduate students in attendance at last week’s 2024 Applied Sport Management Association Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, Assistant Professor Khirey Walker felt a sense of pride – and validation.

The annual gathering held Feb. 14-16 attracted top college students interested in sport management to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus, and Elon students captured first- and second-place finishes in the conference’s Undergraduate Research Competition.

Elon student Lena Gunn holds up an ASMA trophy.
Accompanied by her research mentor, Alex Traugutt, assistant professor of sport management, Gunn (left) poses with her first-place trophy awarded in the conference’s Undergraduate Research Competition.

Lena Gunn ’25, a strategic communications and media analytics double major, earned the top prize for her research project, titled “Promotions and Themes: An Empirical Analysis of Attendance Factors in the National Women’s Soccer League.” Gunn evaluated the impact of themes and promotions on attendance, offerings marketing and fan engagement strategies that might enhance the league’s growth and sustainability.

Anthony Bamford ’25, a media analytics major, earned second place for his research, titled “At What Cost?: An Analysis of NCAA Reclassification between Division II and Division I.” The project examined whether the transition from Division II to Division I was worthwhile and positive for a university from an institutional standpoint.

“Our students shined in speaking passionately and professionally with faculty from other institutions regarding their research ideas,” Walker said. “This conference was a huge step forward for really showcasing the quality of students we have here at Elon, and I am extremely excited to see participation in undergraduate research continue to expand within our program.”

Elon student Anthony Bamford stands against a poster stand.
Bamford stands with his poster presentation that highlights the benefits – or lack thereof – of universities transitioning from Division II to Division I athletics.

In addition to Walker, Gunn and Bamford, the Elon contingent in Knoxville included Assistant Professor Alex Traugutt and students Teddy Morgan ’25, Sarah Dawkins ’25 and Celsey McMahon ’25. All five students participated in the inaugural The Sport Experience cohort, spending fall 2023 in the university’s sport management immersive semester in Charlotte. In total, 12 students lived in the South End, enrolled in Elon faculty-led courses, and completed internships with organizations such as the ACC, NASCAR, Fox Sports, and Make-A-Wish® Central and Western North Carolina.

“Attending ASMA was an amazing experience,” said Gunn, who worked closely on her project with her mentor, Traugutt. “Presenting my research to professionals, touring the University of Tennessee athletic facilities, and networking was extremely rewarding to my academic career. I am very grateful to Elon and my professors for providing me with these opportunities.”

Bamford, who was mentored by Walker, echoed Gunn’s sentiments, acknowledging the benefit of receiving feedback on his research from experts. The process allowed him to “see my project in different ways I had not previously considered,” he said.

For Dawkins, Morgan and McMahon, this was their first academic conference presentations. But Dawkins has conducted extensive research in the past.

Elon students tour UT football field.
While on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus, the Elon group toured the athletic facilities of the Southeastern Conference school, including the indoor football facility. Pictured (from left) are Dawkins, Morgan, Gunn and Bamford.

Morgan said he appreciated gaining the perspectives of others on his work, as well as an opportunity to think critically about what other students are studying and researching. “It was not as intimidating as I expected going into the conference and was nice to get a comfortable first experience at a conference like this to prepare me for potential opportunities in the future,” he said.

Dawkins added, “I received valuable feedback on my research project and made many new connections. I now feel more confident in my project and am incredibly grateful for how Elon’s undergraduate research program is helping me shape my career.”

While on Tennessee’s campus, the Elon group attended the Lady Volunteers basketball game against the University of South Carolina, toured the university’s athletic facilities – thanks, Brandon Lane, senior manager of digital operations at Vol Network – and visited the city’s downtown area. And what road trip would be complete without a visit to Bu-cee’s? So, they stopped at the mega gas station and convenient store.

“Attending the ASMA conference was a really rewarding experience,” Traugutt said. “Seeing the students engage with industry professionals and absorb new ideas demonstrated their commitment to learning and growth. Their hard work was a testament to their dedication and exemplifies the value of experiential learning that is embodied in the Elon experience. I look forward to continuing to support and guide them in their academic and professional endeavors.”