Las Vegas’ continued ascent into a global sports and entertainment powerhouse received a boost in December with the official launch of the UNLV Sports Innovation Institute (SII).
Initially formed in 2018 as an initiative of the university’s Division of Research & Economic Development – and now as part of the Office of Economic Development – the SII is fueling Las Vegas’ pro sports surge by forging partnerships spanning industry and academia to advance sports science, business, and performance.
Led by an interdisciplinary team of faculty and staff, SII also connects UNLV students from a variety of sport-related academic disciplines with career and internship opportunities, and serves as the conduit for mutually beneficial partnerships between the sports industry and the university.
“This institute will help professional and amateur sports continue to thrive for years to come by connecting industry with the latest university-based innovation and research, and with graduates who are well-prepared to enter an increasingly competitive workforce as leaders,” said UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield. “Through coordinated growth in sport-related research and academic programs, community engagement and thought leadership, and with continued athletics success, UNLV isn’t just a part of Las Vegas’ storied sports history – we’re poised to play a vital role in its future.”
The SII, which was formally elevated to an institute by Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents during its December 2023 meeting, has become a hub for public and private sector partners to access the dozens of sports-affiliated academic and research programs at UNLV. SII hosts an annual sports research summit which brings industry together with UNLV student and faculty researchers, and next summer it will team with Syracuse University’s Falk College to host a first-of-its kind sports, entertainment, and innovation conference (SEI-Con) in Las Vegas.
With initial funding from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, SII created a catalyst grant program in 2019 that has to-date given more than $1 million in seed funding to advance sport-related research and innovation on campus. Earlier this year, the SII – with support from U.S. Rep. Susie Lee – was also awarded more than $3 million in federal funds to build university-based programs in sports analytics, business, entrepreneurship, and performance.
The rapid growth of professional sports in Las Vegas has also given UNLV a unique opportunity to educate and prepare students for careers in the industry. UNLV is currently home to more than 20 sport-related academic degree programs, and SII-affiliated faculty are collaborating on interdisciplinary experiences to inform and prepare them for emerging career paths. This includes a new Intercollegiate and Professional Sport Management master’s degree housed in the College of Education. The program, which began in 2021, has already graduated students into positions with the Las Vegas Aces, Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Raiders, and more.
The SII has also teamed with industry partners to offer valuable internship opportunities for UNLV students. As Las Vegas prepares to host the NFL’s 2024 Super Bowl at Allegiant Stadium, nearly 50 UNLV students from a variety of academic disciplines have earned fully paid internships as part of the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee.
“We see the SII as the convening place for students who dream of a career in the growing sports ecosystem, for researchers looking to advance their work, and for industry looking to partner with a top research university on the best and the next in sports innovation,” said Jay Vickers, chief operating officer of the SII. “Las Vegas is quickly becoming a global capital for sports and entertainment, and the SII at UNLV aspires to become its intellectual center.”
Learn more about the UNLV Sports Innovation Institute, including upcoming events, research and partnership opportunities, and more at sportsinnovation.unlv.edu.