Jarrod Barnes joins the NYU SPS Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport as a clinical assistant professor from the Emerson Collective and Unshackled Ventures, where he was involved in investing in early-stage startups at the intersections of education technology, the future of work, gaming, and web3, the next iteration of the World Wide Web.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, a passionate entrepreneur, and a former football student-athlete at The Ohio State University, he has led corporate innovation efforts for the Los Angeles Rams and founded multiple startups, including Compass, a web3 health platform providing tokenized rewards for improving mental fitness, and Prime U, a learning and development platform for sports teams.
He recently talked about how his friendship with the Tisch Institute’s Daniel Kelly led him to become part of the NYU SPS faculty, the evolution of esports, gaming, and web3, and his enthusiasm for working with the program’s associate dean Vince Gennaro on an initiative to bring the use of NFT’s into the NYU SPS student experience.
What attracted you to joining the NYU SPS Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport?
I’ve spent most of my career in and around the sports industry and began my career as a college football coach at Ohio State University. I’ve found that the best coaches are the best teachers and discovered my passion for helping individuals get from where they are to where they want to go. At Ohio State, I met Daniel Kelly, academic director of graduate programs at the Tisch Institute, where we shared our passion for teaching the business of sports.
As I considered the next step in my career, the opportunity to join a department that’s at the forefront of innovation in sports business education was an opportunity I could not pass up. More importantly, the chance to work alongside a world-class faculty and students eager to push the boundaries is what gets me excited to come to work each day.
Where do you see the evolution of esports/gaming and web3 heading? How will it impact how we consume sports entertainment in the coming years?
Web3 is a tool that is advancing how we purchase, own, share, connect, and experience with one another. As the underlying infrastructure has become more accessible, we see some compelling use cases across sports and entertainment. Whether it be Fan Controlled Football or Paris St. Germain giving fans a voice in decision-making (through social tokens or membership NFTs), web3 is shifting what it means to be a fan from passive to active, creating more ownership for consumers over their experience. Similar to what fantasy sports did for the industry in the late 90s/early 2000s, web3 technology is doing that for the industry today.
That said, we are still in the early innings of overall adoption. Even though NFL All Day and NBA Top Shot are leading the NFT ecosystem in sports, for web3 to truly become mainstream in sports, my perspective is that it will come through seamless integration opportunities with more approachable language – for example, issuing commemorative tickets for sporting events as an NFT. Teams have the opportunity to operate as ecosystems, and leagues will have a vested interest in rolling out best practices to maximize the depth and reach of fan engagement.
What are some of the industry challenges and opportunities you see?
The way we as a society are consuming information is changing. TikTok is the most visited website in the world, passing Google to become the go-to outlet for native search. One of the key trends in sports media is segmenting games, matches, and events into “moments.” The average fan no longer watches full sporting events – Buzzer is tackling this opportunity head-on by creating a platform that features short-form, live content where users only pay for moments that matter to them.
That said, maintaining the attention of Gen Z and the average fan, in general, is still a challenge for sports media and OTT platforms. We live in an “attention” economy, where the average attention span of a consumer is less than 8 seconds. While the groundbreaking media rights deals from the NFL, NBA, and Big Ten Conference are driving unprecedented revenue to the sports industry, maintaining fans' engagement, loyalty, and attention is more challenging now than ever.
What are you most excited about sharing or teaching your students this academic year?
I’m most excited to interweave foundational ethical decision-making frameworks throughout our courses this year. The amount and range of decisions an executive in the sports industry has to make daily is often overlooked and underappreciated. As the commercialization of sports continues to expand, so do leaders' considerations and decision frameworks. From integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into the fabric of one's thought process to understanding the weight of social responsibility sports organizations have in our country are all key aspects interwoven throughout our courses.
What are some of the initiatives you are working on?
I’ve been thrilled to partner with Associate Dean Gennaro and the Tisch Institute on our innovation initiatives, specifically the integration of NFTs into our student experience and providing exposure to blockchain technology for our students. We’re planning to facilitate an Emerging Issues in Sports course around NFT creation, which will include the development of a comprehensive NFT strategy for a sports organization, along with the opportunity to mint an NFT project as a capstone. In addition to the academic experience, students will also have the opportunity to earn their NFT with tiered rewards for attending events and participating in experiential learning and serve as a unique collectible “moment” of their time at NYU.