The Man Behind the LSU Sports Communication Summit

As students, alumni and reporters filled the Holliday Forum, Manship Professor Leonard Apcar stood in the background, astonished by the overwhelming success of the LSU’s first Sports Communication Summit.

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Photo of Leonard Apcar taken by Nicole Jones at the LSU Sports Communication Summit. 

From an outsider looking in, the transitions between events seemed effortless. Panels were abounding with speakers from local news outlets along with ESPN broadcasters. Keynote speeches were made by Tim Brando of FOX Sports and Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA.  But even though the conference seemed undemanding, it took plenty of time and effort to make this event run smoothly.

Jerry Ceppos, Dean of the Manship School, and Apcar met in April to discuss hosting an event during the fall for the Manship community. In the beginning, the ideas being tossed around were more geared toward politics and the upcoming election. But, as time progressed, they began to brainstorm about other event-worthy subjects, and the urge to have an event focused on sports arose.

“We knew it was clear that many of our students are interested in sports communication and sports journalism,” Apcar said. “We had a need to serve and that is what we set out to do.”

After the theme of sports was agreed upon, Apcar and Ceppos reached out to Dan Borné, alumni and board member of the Manship School; Kent Lowe, Athletic Department Communications Director; and Peter Kovacs, editor of The Advocate.  As a group the men began meeting at Louie’s Diner once a week to discuss their ideas for the event.

During the summer Apcar went to Washington D.C. to visit public relations firm Sanderson Strategies Group and met with the president of the corporation Len Sanderson, an alumni of LSU, and Senior Vice President Denise Michaels.

Apcar says his meeting with SSG was extremely helpful. “They knew plenty of people,” Apcar said, “many of whom came today.”

Something else Apcar said SSG helped with was making sure the panelist for the event were all unique and different.

“They helped us flesh out the panelists so they just weren’t all LSU and all alums,” Apcar said.  “We wanted diversity. Diversity of careers, diversity of people, geographic diversity. We didn’t want this to just be an alumni gathering.”

Planning for a sports communication event to be during football season was proving to be harder than it seemed. To make this event happen, it would all come down to perfect timing.

“A lot of these people travel during football season,” Apcar began. “It was very hard to figure out when was the right date. We first thought about doing it before football season even started and that would have been impossible to do anything on this scale. We maybe could have done a panel or two. But at the time I knew I wanted to do something bigger.”

As this problem became more and more apparent, the summit committee came together to brainstorm a way to solve this date dilemma.

“Something dawned on us,” Apcar said. “The biggest event of the year is this week. That would make it so much easier. It gave us a date in the sand. We could just say, ‘We are doing this event the week of the LSU vs. Alabama game,’ and everyone would know what week we meant.”

After this issue was resolved, everything else seemed to fall neatly into place. The plans were finalized, and everyone involved knew that this summit would be a success. They just didn’t know how great the impact would be until the event came to a close.

As the event ended, Apcar reflected on his favorite events: the first panel, Curve Balls for Front Office Managers, and the Lightning Round of Advice panel.

“The first panel led up to my expectation that it would set up the tone and theme of the meeting: Sports is bigger than games,” Apcar said. “Sports is bigger than strategy. It is about society and a lot of societal issues now are in sports. This conference was made to look at sports in society and give students great career advice.”

Additionally, Apcar ended his interview with four lessons, of which were all common themes of the day, that every potential mass communications major should know.

“Passion is number one,” Apcar began. “Journalism is not a business that rewards people in a lot of ways. You have to be willing work menial tasks just to get your foot in the door. Number two is to get out of Baton Rouge or get out of your comfort zone. Three, have a goal. Where do you want to be in five years? And finally, have an exit strategy. Don’t stay too long. If you don’t look for the next challenge, you get stale.”

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