In 2016, San Francisco Executive MBA student Dan Morse and Philadelphia Executive MBA student Emily Smith chose the leisure industry in Spain as their subject and destination for Global Business Week, a capstone event for second-year EMBA students.
Leisure itself is something EMBA students don’t usually have much of, but experiencing Spain’s culture, sports, and travel together allowed them to create deeper connections. Students learned about the business opportunities and challenges in that region from Prof. Mauro Guillen, a native of Madrid and professor of international management.
“He provided an excellent framework for the week by discussing Spain’s history, economy, and role in the European Union, as well as Spanish sports and the leisure industry,” Dan said. It gave him and his classmates a “a pertinent lens” through which they viewed Spain for the rest of the week.
Unique Challenges of Leisure Industry
Emily: My experience with the leisure industry is primarily as a customer/consumer. The trip made it possible to closely examine this industry from a business perspective, looking behind the curtain at operations considerations and strategy. Hotels, restaurants, wineries, and professional sports clubs can generate great revenues, but all must be careful with regard to experience and cultural awareness in ways that other industries may not.
Dan: I wanted to go to Spain for a few reasons. First, studying the leisure industry sounded not only interesting, but enjoyable. Second, I’m a huge sports fan and having an opportunity to learn about the business behind some of the largest fútbol clubs in the world was exciting. Finally, the program allowed us to experience world-class Spanish hotels, wines, and restaurants while providing us access to the individuals behind these local and global brands.
Key Lessons from the Trip
Dan: The night before the program began, a group of students from both coasts attended an exciting La Liga match at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s stadium. During the program, we returned to Camp Nou to speak with a club executive and tour the stadium. These clubs are well known for their professional teams, but they also have very impressive development programs in which they train youth players from all over the world.
Lionel Messi is an example of a current FC Barcelona player who moved from Argentina to Spain at age 13 in order to join Barcelona’s youth academy. Sixteen years later, he continues to play for the club and is one of the top players in the world. These clubs are not just businesses; they are communities. This is reinforced by both their commitment to developing youth talent and their fan membership program that keeps ticket prices affordable for local supporters. This business model differs greatly from that of professional sports teams in the U.S.
From wines to hotels to restaurants, Spanish businesses focus more on the experiences they provide than the revenue they generate. This seems to be a solid platform for the leisure industry to remain stable in times when the rest of the economy experiences ups and downs.
Emily: I really enjoyed visiting two vineyards in Barcelona that produce cava — a sparkling wine native to Spain. The first, Caves Gramona, was small and intimate. Gramona still utilizes older methods of bottling and preparation that are labor intensive, resulting in a smaller overall production and a more exclusive product. We toured the winery as well as the wine caves below, which was an incredible experience.
Next, we visited a much larger producer of cava, Freixenet, whose marketing involves positioning cava as something to be enjoyed more regularly as a celebration of life. Freixenet’s storage and aging processes are far more modernized and large-scale, involving massive warehousing. Both of these wineries are focused on producing cava to enhance an experience or event, but they are on varying ends of the spectrum with regard to exclusivity vs. accessibility.
Another highlight was our visit with Wharton EMBA alumnus Ignacio Aguillo, WG’03, who now leads corporate finance and strategy for Club Atlético de Madrid. Ignacio spoke to us about Atlético’s strategies for growing revenues, including increasing awareness of the Club by founding academies and clubs in regions with large populations who are becoming interested in soccer and increasing Atlético’s sponsorship revenues.
Cross-Coast and Cross-Cultural Connections
Dan: School weekends are short and intense sessions where you have one night to “speed bond.” You’re often weighing how much sleep you need against how much socializing you can cram in during your limited time on campus. Spain was a great opportunity to enjoy each other’s company in a more relaxed setting. Every night, groups of East and West Coast students bonded over long dinners (tapas and wine) together without the pressure of finishing homework.
Emily: There were plenty of people from my East Coast class whom I had not had a chance to get to know well amidst the busy class weekends, and the week brought us much closer. I also enjoyed meeting West Coast students and experiencing Spain with them. We set up a Whatsapp group and students frequently arranged outings such as gathering on a rooftop in Madrid for a sunset or exploring after dinner.
This was a very unique trip. I could have eaten at the restaurants, stayed at the hotels, visited the wineries, or attended fútbol matches without Wharton, but the EMBA program offered a behind-the-scenes view with high-level leaders in the leisure industry. I would never get that kind of access or insights about business strategy on my own.
Posted: December 22, 2016