Why a Sports Management Degree Will Separate you From the Competition

Even after the pep rallies end, you can have a career in sports if you make the right choices

Even after the pep rallies end, you can have a career in sports if you make the right choices

16,500

That is the number of professional athletes in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

313,900,000

That is the population of the United States, according to the U.S Census.

.00525%

That is the percentage of US citizens who are professional athletes, according to my calculator.

This is not meant to dash every bit of hope you have to make it in professional sports, by all means pursue the pinnacle of your dreams. But if reality sets in for you, like it has for the 99.995% of us that never got paid to light up the scoreboard, a new truth can emerge:

Even without a 98 mph fastball, working in the sports industry presents the unique opportunity to pursue your dreams, while also achieving a healthy bottom line.

According to the latest figures from Plunkett Research a reasonable estimate of the total revenue deriving from the sports industry in the US would be between $440 and $470 billion yearly.

Let’s put that in perspective with other US industries:

Just because the sports industry is thriving, doesn’t mean you can show up to an interview in your varsity jacket, professing a real love for sports and get the keys to a corner office.

So how can you differentiate yourself from the rest of the sports loving worker bees? The answer could be an advanced degree in sports management.

“The benefit of a sport management degree is that it provides the student with a basic foundation of the sport business,” says John Wolohan is Professor and Graduate Program Director of the Sport Venue and Event Management program at Syracuse University in The David B. Falk College.

“It takes the student from being a fan, and teaches them that there is more to the sports business than rooting for your team.”

First Things First:  What do you Expect From a Career in Sports?

sports management degree

These Oklahoma State sports management students hope a stadium like this can eventually be their office.

Before you declare your major, you need to understand what your end goal is. Some of the most popular jobs that sports management graduates pursue are in:

It’s a common misconception that graduating with a sports management degree means you’re on the fast track to a job as General Manager of your favorite Major League baseball team, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“I have two former students who are General Managers and a variety in various stages on that path, but I would say my involvement, and what I taught them, had very little to do with where they are,” says Dr. William Sutton, professor and director of the University of South Florida Sport and Entertainment Management program.

“Understanding Analytics, which we teach, is an important aspect of the job – but the real role of a General Manager is knowing what talent looks like, how to find it and then how to develop it. We don’t teach those skills – those come in the way of internships and experiences.”

It’s important to be realistic about your goals, and understand whether or not a sports management degree can help you get there, but the truth is, you don’t have to have it all figured out the day you complete your application.

“Nearly 100 percent of our students change their mind about their professional goal after being exposed to something new in the industry during the course of the sports M.B.A curriculum,” says Scott Minto, director of San Diego State University’s Sports Business Management M.B.A. program.

Go Where the Sports Jobs are

The success or failure of major professional and collegiate athletic programs isn’t just the product on the field of play; it’s directly correlated to the revenue generated from sponsorship and ticket sales.

sports ticket sales

Working in ticket sales is just one of many opportunities a degree in sports management can drive you toward

Sales make or break all businesses, which explains why of the 5,243 jobs currently active on WorkinSports.com over 22% are in some form of sports sales (data as of August 4th 2013).

“Sales jobs are the most plentiful because they often pose the most challenges.  You have to produce the revenue and your compensation is tied to that production,” concludes Dr. Sutton.

“Fear of failure, portrayal of the sales professional in films like Wall Street and Glengarry Glenross, the ‘no’ factor (hearing no 90-97% of the time), and frankly the demands of the profession are all deterrents. However, the satisfaction, pride and advancement opportunities for those that are successful come quicker and are more plentiful than any other aspect of the sports industry.”

Society projects a negative portrayal of jobs in sales; the lasting impression is of a high pressure world spent cold calling targets during their dinner, but that is not the sales we are talking about.

Just take a look at some of the course offerings from the Drexel University Masters in Sports Management Program:

  • Sports Budgeting & Fiscal Practicum
  • Sports Ticket Sales & Strategies
  • Corporate Sponsorship & Sales Strategies
  • Leadership in Sport Management
  • Sports Information & Public Relations
  • Consumer Behavior in Sport

The focus of courses taught in sports management programs involves statistical analysis, strategic thinking and planning, understanding behavior, marketing, promotions and more.

Sales are just one part of a sports management curriculum, and as you can see, cold calling isn’t mentioned anywhere.

The Future of Sports Management

sloan mit conference on sports analytics

The Sloan MIT sports analytics conference is one of the foremost events for the advancement of sports analytics and data driven decision making,

Most sports enterprises are advancing toward a data driven business model, where analytics and advanced statistics play a major role in decision making.

“Analytics is a key element in sport management, I think the Sloan MIT Conference has driven this home and organizations such as the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic are prime examples of organizations that are totally committed to Analytics,” adds Dr.Sutton.

Undergraduate programs can’t possibly dedicate the time necessary to understanding the intricacies of sports analytics, but the proper advanced program can, especially when they work in conjunction with a professional team.

“I am such a believer that the first curriculum change I initiated when I came to University of South Florida was to add a Sports Analytics costs course which was  co-taught with the Analytics team of the Tampa Bay Lightning – this is a great employment area as opportunities continue to develop.”

If you have a love of sports, don’t give up on it just because you’re glory days of pep rallies and buzzer beaters are in the rear view mirror, there is a whole world of opportunities out there and a sports management degree can help you find your new truth.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

Comments

  1. A very nice article. Sports Management education is a wonderful place to to learn many practical tools and tactics for a successful career. Frank Cuzzi, Prof Sports Management, Berkeley College,NYC

  2. Alyssa Bosley says:

    This is the second article of yours that I’ve read over the last few weeks and both have been on point. As someone who has previously worked in the sport industry (MiLB and intercollegiate athletics), but is now on the academic side, I can certainly appreciate your perspective. I strongly believe every prospective and current sport management student should read your articles.

    Please keep up the great work.

    - Alyssa Bosley, professor in the James Madison University Sport and Recreation Management program

    • Alyssa, I’m humbled. Thanks for your kind words, I work pretty hard to have a point of view that is accurate and informative, I’m glad you found that to be true. Lets talk – I’d love to learn more about the JMU program, maybe we can do a profile article for the site! – brian email me if you are interested: bclapp at workinsports.com

  3. Hey Brian, I have read some of your articles and I am at Florida State as a sports management major. I am having many concerns about this major, and job availability and what I should do so I would appreciate it if we can talk as I am having doubts- Thanks Jordan

    • Jordan – I completely understand, when you approach graduation things start to get real and when they start to feel too real, panic can set in. Don’t let doubters put doubts in your head! So lets break this down a bit… for one, your major is just one piece of the puzzle of getting hired way more important is what skills you have and what experiences you have gained on internships. Just to put it in perspective, I’ve hired a bunch of people in my career I rarely looked at where they went to school or what they majored in… I was more concerned with what they knew. As for job availability, we have 5,554 jobs currently open in our database, all you need is one. Think of it like the NFL draft, you only need one team to love you to become a first rounder. I really want you to read my most recent article http://www.workinsports.com/blog/get-jobs-in-sports-when-internships-networking-arent-working/ and start creating a plan. Also, sports management is a relatively general degree, start to get a little more focused on what you want… do you ant to go into sales, marketing, analytics, financial etc. Start to hone in and it’ll start to seem easier.

      Last thing… I went to the University of Delaware and had a communications degree. That is not impressive. BUt I got a job, got my foot in the door, and worked my tail off. I didn’t let that opportunity slip through my fingers. Make the most of whatever opportunity you get….and you will get one. – stay in touch, Brian

      • Awesome article!! I was just curious if you knew of any masters programs that were sport analytic specific and if not, would you recommend a Masters of science in applied statistics or masters in analytics?? For a degree path in basketball analytics as an assistant coach or GM!

  4. Tim SCitti says:

    My son is in a Sports Admin. major. How does that compare in your professional opinion?

    • Tim – very similar, both degrees should focus on the business side of sports and managing operations, events, facilities, organizations etc – what I would suggest is that when he gets to elective part of his curriculum that he makes sure he takes classes in marketing and analytics. There are many many great opportunities in marketing so that is important to have a background in, and analytics is one of the fastest growing fields in sports. More and more jobs are requiring the ability to analyze not just statistics, but revenue models, ratings, performance indicators etc. While of course the goal is to work in sports, you want to have skills that translate to other fields as well and these both will! – Brian

  5. Our son is very interested in a career in sports in some way. We are just beginning the college process. Is it better to go with a marketing and management degree or possibly a communications or media degree and then do a Sports MBA program or should we be looking at schools that offer it at the college level as well?

    Thanks!

    • Johanna – this is a great question, the choice of college is a big one and even more important is the major you choose to pursue. I’m actually going to write a blog post on this tonight and publish tomorrow – I’ll use your question as the launching point, so check out the blog tomorrow morning (1/17/14) for a very in-depth answer! – Brian

  6. Philip Barofsky says:

    I am about to begin my college education at the University of Florida and would really like to talk to you about your ideas on a few different majors. I have had multiple ideas about a major in the business field but wanted to double major with a degree in the field of sports. My email address is philipbarofsky123@gmail.com. A few moments of your time would be greatly appreciated.

  7. kaitlyn pham says:

    Hi Bryan,
    I am just getting started on my masters program in sports management. I am thrilled yet also nervous due to the fact that I don’t know where I can start my career. I hope this degree will help me choose a career path in the sports industry. You are so knowledgable and have worked in so many different aspects of the industry. I would love to talk to you more so you can help me understand the different paths I can go. Thanks

    • Kaitlyn- thanks for writing in, ask away with any questions you have – always glad to help. You can also join our LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=125140 which is a great way to talk with all kinds of people in the industry, not just me ;)

      The biggest piece of advcie I can give you is to do as many practical internships as you can, volunteer at events that come to your area (any PGA tour events? Basketball tourney’s, College showcases? find opportunities and be aggressive) and do things that can show up on your resume. Learns skills, gain experience – the classroom is great – but the real work gets done on the outside.

      Congrats on your masters program, I think it’s a great step for you! – Brian

  8. I’m currently an undergraduate student looking for some advice. My goal career is to do something in the area of sports marketing/promotion. I am at Texas A&M in which I will be able to go into the business school and get a marketing degree, but I do not really enjoy the school itself. I want to transfer to the University of Texas, but it would be virtually impossible to get into the business school, in which case I would go the college of education route with a sports management degree. When applying for jobs do you think that the difference in majors will make a significant different as far as opportunities go?

Trackbacks

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