To Master's or Not To Master's, That is the Question - Work in Sports Podcast e45

By Brian Clapp | February 02, 2018

If you want to work in the sports industry, should you get your Master's? The data looks obvious, but it's never that simple.

Hi everybody, I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for and this is the Work in Sports podcast…Friday QA session!

On our private Facebook page there has been a great deal of discussion about Master’s programs lately. In doing some research, since 2002 there has been a 43% increase in the number of people getting their Master’s in the US, which makes it the fastest growing college credential.Your Sports Career Questions Answered

To get even more specific – master’s in the Leisure and Fitness studies category, which the education department says is where Sports Management degrees are considered, have increased 173% between 2002-2012.

That a big jump.

The typical total debt has also gone up – with the average master’s costing $57,000 compared to 40,000 in 2004.

Now I’m hoping many of you are saying – whew – mine cost a lot less than that! But even if it did, this is an expensive choice, so you want to make sure it is the right one.

OK, let’s take a break from the numbers – your head is probably swimming already and we still have a lot more to cover.

Let’s make some early conclusions: Master’s degrees are more popular than ever before, and they are also more expensive. Which puts the onus on – is this a smart choice for you?

Break time is over, time for more data.

I’m privy to a lot of information about the job market, because at we’ve been collecting sports job data since 1999…so let’s dig in to some recent numbers.

We currently have 6102 active and available jobs in the sports industry. Of those jobs just 153 mention the word Masters or Master’s – which is 3%.

Those number sound grim, and you are probably wondering about the validity of a Master's – but stick with me, we’re not done yet. Although, the numbers get worse before they get better.

So 153 available jobs referring to the word masters – to get the real picture, I went through each job one by one – here’s what I found:

70 of those jobs – 46% of the 153 - said Masters Preferred

There were college head coaches, compliance officers, athletic directors and then many business development type roles at sporting apparel and lifestyle brands like Nike and Under Armour, and league jobs in the NFL and NBA.

Just 6 of the jobs said Masters required.

Just 6.

15 of the jobs said – Bachelor or Masters required

Less of a distinction was made, and no real benefit to the latter.

26 of the jobs preferred a Masters that was not related to Sports

Library science, chemistry, computer science, MBA.

6 of the jobs were actually internships saying “you must be enrolled in a Bachelor or Master's program to apply”

Again, that's not an indication a Master's has value, rather just a requirement to be an active student for this internship.

And finally 30 of the jobs that came up in my keyword search were not for Master's at all, instead they used the word Masters in a different format – i.e. Longines Masters, The Masters, Masters Swim Class etc.

This data paints a pretty rough picture of a master’s degree being highly sought after.

Let’s have a real conversation, because I think data can tell us a lot, but it also has limitations.

Getting your Masters is neither a mistake, nor a trip in the fast lane to immediate success.

There are three points I want to make about getting your masters and framing your expectations.

1: Climbing the Career ladder

2: Overall Ceiling

3: Areas of interest

Lets’ start with the career ladder:

I believe there is a perception that if you get your masters you get to jump past the early stages of your career, maybe enter mid-stream in a management role, bypassing the entry level.

This is false.

When you graduate with your masters you will still, more often than not, start on step one like everyone else.

BUT, and here is the major distinction, you can climb the career ladder faster than someone without their masters.

Maybe it takes you one year in an entry level role before you jump to a mid manager. Then, another 2-3 years your headed to Sr manager or director and so on. While the person without their master’s may climb that ladder a little slower.

2: Overall Ceiling.

There isn’t one. Once you have your master’s there are very few jobs you aren’t, eventually, qualified for. CEO, VP, running a team, running an agency, being a top flight athletic director. Those are all in your reach as you build your way up the ranks.

3: Look at your Areas of Interest: If you want to work in college athletics, a Master’s makes sense. If you want to work in sports apparel and goods – Master’s might make sense. If you want to work on the business side of an operation, or finance…a master’s might make sense.

If not those areas, take a deep deep look into whether acquiring that additional debt is the best thing for your future.

Final point – just getting any Master’s makes little sense. You have to be selective in your program and make sure it fits you needs and has an organizational philosophy that stands up.

What I mean by that is – are you gaining classroom and work experience while in their program, because that is the best of both worlds.

Let’s use The University of South Florida as an example – and no I am not getting paid to say this… but if you know someone there who wants to pay me… I’m listening.

Anyway, back to USF

The students work 3 days a week while going to school two days a week. During the first year, a majority work for the athletic department or school in some capacity. In the second year, they’re working three days per week again with a professional sports team/organization (Lightning, Rays, Bucs, Lakeland Magic, MiLB headquarters, etc.) and they’re treated like full time employees.

Next year, I’d like to go through the TB Lightning Sales Academy, which is typically a full time, entry level position, but we get to do it while still in school.

NOW that is a stand out program. You’ll graduate with layers of experience.

See that’s the thing with data, it looks cold and rigid, sometimes you need to inject some instinct and humanity into it.

So let’s conclude – A Master’s isn’t a magic wand that helps you jump up three rungs on the career ladder. In fact. A vast majority of employers don’t even look for it. But, they notice it if you have it, they know you are committed to improving yourself, they know you are dedicated to the sports industry and they know you’ll have a higher ceiling.

Just remember – you’ll start at the beginning like everyone else.

That’s it for this week – if you have questions email me or join our private f\Facebook group… or connect with me on linkedin. I’m available – heck I feel like I spend all day answering questions!

Then again, I love that part of the job so keep em coming!

For I’m Brian Clapp…and I’m done.

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