Sports are a favorite pastime in America, and they engage people of all ages, abilities, genders, regions, and income brackets. People play sports, watch sports, talk about sports, collect sports memorabilia, gamble on sports, and follow their favorite sports stars.

American’s love affair with all things sports is currently valued at about $500 billion annually. Perhaps not coincidentally, business schools have recognized the importance of the professional sports industry and are now offering innovative educational experiences that focus on this burgeoning market.

The sports industry is growing at a rapid pace and gets more complex and lucrative every year. The creation of sophisticated digital gaming software, online gaming, sports gambling companies, and complex, million-dollar professional athletic contracts and endorsements all require a new breed of business people trained in sports economics. Financial community leaders like Bill E Ford, Chief Executive Officer at General Atlantic, have made note of this. Ford is the Vice Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a leading innovator in the study of and scholarship of the sports industry.

Here are some of the issues that are being explored by students currently studying the sports industry in business school today.

Find Fans, Not Customers

The traditional approach to selling tickets to a sporting event and creating interest in collectible items like t-shirts has become outdated fast. Current leaders in cutting-edge sports marketing practices aren’t thinking about customers any longer—they’re more interested in generating fans.

Fans are passionate and connected to their sports team for decades, not seasons. Fans generate long-term income for teams. Customers are fickle and inconsistent. They’re interested in the game, but they’re not passionate. You might attract their interest for a few years, but they won’t be spending a consistent stream of income on tickets, services, and products directly and tangentially related to their team. Fans bring big money—they’re the future of sports profits.

Mobile Screens Multiply Play

Mobile devices have revolutionized the sports industry. These portable screens add an entirely new way to promote, sell, discuss, watch, and engage with sports entertainment. A mobile device is in many ways a digital arena. It liberates the fan from being stuck at home, in a sports bar, or even at a stadium.

Fans use these devices at the stadium to access national and local media commenting on the game that they’re attending. The sports industry and their advertisers can access fans at the stadium with specially developed mobile content. The mobile device is designed to make purchases and become the ticket. It’s a potential gold mine in the sports industry since it so readily creates, consumes, and delivers content.

Technology Enhanced Virtual Sports

Sports industry science has improved media experience and how fans watch their favorite teams play. It has also increased way players experience various components of professional play through virtual computer games with sophisticated graphics. Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab is currently developing a mind-boggling technical innovation in sports research that will revolutionize how these games are studied and practiced by college and professional players. The technology isn’t a vector drawing; it’s built on actual films of professional teams at play.