How to Join the Fastest Growing Segment of the Sports Industry

It’s fair to say, nine years after the fact, that USA Track and Field was a trend-setter.

Way back in 2004 USATF was the very first business or organization to post a job related to social media on Work in Sports. OK, technically it was a ‘Website and Social Media Intern’, but these forward thinkers deserve credit as early adopters to what is now one of the fastest growing careers in the entire sports industry.

To really hammer home how ahead of the curve USA Track and Field actually was in 2004:

  • LinkedIn was under a year old, having launched in May 2003

  • Facebook had just launched in February of 2004

  • Twitter was still two years away from existing

  • There was no Instagram, StumbleUpon or even Google Plus

Maybe everyone else in sports expected social media to be a passing fad like the Harlem Shake or those lensless glasses Dwayne Wade tried to make popular, because it wasn't until 2006 that another company posted a job even using the term ‘social media’ in either the job description or the job title.

sports jobs in social media
*2013 numbers are projected based on statistics through June
Since 2009, the growth curve is impressive, with 2013 on pace to have 1,964 jobs related to social media posted on Work in Sports, a whopping 8.5% of our entire jobs database. And for all those wondering if they've missed the growth cycle and the end is near, the truth is, we've barely begun to understand social media’s true impact.

“Social media is definitely growing as we learn what it is and what it can do,” says Dr. Bill Sutton, professor and director of the University of South Florida Sport and Entertainment Management program.

“I actually added a social media strategy course at USF, because in my interactions with the sport industry this is the biggest disparity, everyone knows they want to be ‘Liked’ - but they are not sure what to do with all those people who like them or really what that means. The strategy behind social media and how that concept can be woven through the organization like a thread is the real key.”sports jobs in social media top ten employers

In the early stages of social media, the business goal was acquisition, companies asked themselves 'what do we have to do to get followers, friends and likes'. Now, the objective has shifted to maximizing this direct pipeline to customers and analyzing all the various data streams.

Skills Necessary for Sports Jobs in Social Media

As the objectives have altered, so too have the expectations of employers.

Gone are the days where bragging about your massive personal following helped you stand out from the crowd, instead employers are asking probing questions geared toward understanding your communication, business and marketing skills like:

  • How do you influence an audience?

  • What would your social media strategy look like for us?

  • What is the ROI of your plan?

  • How do you stay ahead on new technologies?

  • What can we expect our platforms to look like six months from now?

According to our research the most qualified applicants for sports jobs in social media have a background in journalism, marketing, public relations and internet marketing. You have to be able to convey thoughts with an economy of words, while still understanding business and marketing principles.

Let's take  a look at two recently posted social media jobs, and break down a few key responsibilities of each:

Example #1 (posted by a sports technology company)

sports jobs in social media on the rise

A: Define and execute a social media strategy: In the infancy of social media, organizations handed duties off to 'someone in marketing', now social media comprises it's own department within most sports organizations and businesses.

With this growth, the social team not only got a seat at the big boy table, alongside those tie wearing accounting guys, they also started having to live to the same standards of other departments (i.e. have a plan, a forecast, show a return on investment etc).

Tip: It's not enough to understand how to implement Twitter's API, you have to have business and marketing skills to create an entire business strategy.

(psst - if you've never built a social media strategy before, this is a good starting point and so is this)

B: Tracking metrics and monitoring relevant conversations: Understanding the impact of your organizations social voice, now that is the art form yet to be mastered.

"Analytics is a key element in sports management as all organizations are moving or should be moving to a data driven decision making model," says Sutton. "This is also a great employment area as opportunities continue to develop."

Understanding what works, why it works and how to make it work better is the next phase of social media.

Tip:  Some collegiate programs (but not enough) now offer social media courses, if yours doesn't or you've already graduated, consider taking a statistics class, it will help you understand some of the advanced metrics being generated around social media.

C: Leading a company-wide Social Media Council: I found this fascinating, this is the 'belief of concept' so many social marketers have been waiting for. This particular company not only has a social media department, they see it's impact as so vast they want a Council established to unify and align the outward messaging!

Power, prestige, organizational importance...and just think, social media barely existed 10 years ago.

Tip: Having a career in social media isn't like being a blogger in your mom's cliche basement (in case your wondering I have my own house and a real family that I actually helped create... but my office is in the basement). Employers are expecting leadership skills, the ability to present with confidence, to communicate in more than 140 characters and sometimes, by actually talking. If this makes you weak in the knees, just remember the key to public speaking is practice, practice, practice. (The old 'picture them in their underwear' idea never worked for me)   

Example #2: (posted by a professional team)

sports jobs in social media on the rise

A: Understand how paid, earned and owned social media involve and amplify one another: When my career first started I thought all I needed was advanced knowledge of box scores to succeed, but it became clear if I really wanted to grow, my business knowledge had to increase. This skills statement just goes to prove, it takes more than creative whimsy and an encyclopedic memory of sports events to thrive in sports social media jobs.

Let''s explain what this statement actually means.

Every successful company’s marketing mix should have three distinct parts—paid, owned and earned media. Paid includes search engine results, display advertising (banner ads etc) and other networks. Owned media includes a company website, blog and social presence. Earned is when your customers are out advocating your brand to anyone who will listen.sports jobs in social media by industry type

 Tip: A high percentage of earned media is what all companies strive for, since positive reputation and word of mouth is the most convincing way to build community and a consistent business. If you understand this overall concept you will impress anyone you interview with.

B: Develop presentations, proposals and case studies: The ability to present also came up in example #1, I'm re-emphasizing it here so you realize how important being able to convey your thoughts and plans in a professional setting is.

C: Analytical expertise in assessing social media trends and experience using social media analytics tools: Further proof that the goal now for social media is not just acquisition, but to understand and analyse what to do with all of those acquired.

There are many social media analytic tools, here are few worth familiarizing yourself with:

  • - Analyse followers by various demographic measures and schedule posts at times when they'll be most effective

  • - creates reports on how engaged people are by your activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google Plus.

  • - Generates reports and data delivering information such as where your friends and followers are located, how popular they are and what they talk about

Social Media Education

sports jobs in social media on the rise
Social media has become a huge part of sports, but colleges and universities are slow to integrate social media into their curriculum
Jobs in social media are clearly on the rise, but the skills necessary to thrive aren't being taught in enough colleges or universities.

The Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE, 2010) surveyed 4,600 faculty members from 50 U.S. colleges and universities and as recent as 2009 found that over 80% of the surveyed faculty did not know or never used social media technologies such as blogs, wikis, Google docs, video conferencing, video games, or virtual worlds.

According to, in 2012 36% of the top 25 business schools did not have a single social media or social business focused class.

Until colleges, universities and even high schools catch up to social media and make it a more integral part of curriculum, there won't be a one-class-covers-it-all solution.

Gaining all of the necessary skills will require a multi-faceted approach emphasizing journalism, marketing, statistics and public relations. The onus is on you to carve out a social media education, don't wait around for colleges to figure it out.

Final Thought

In the wild west days of social media (2009 ish?) you could send a Tweet out about the mayo on your sandwich seeming a little green and you'd get 20 followers in return. Post on Facebook semi-regularly and you'd be up to 10,000 fans in no time.

The audience was anxious to watch their 'network' grow.

Not so much anymore, as millions of people worldwide have adopted social media into their normal routine it has become more cluttered. Getting a voice heard, no matter how intriguing it may be, is harder now than before. Measuring the impact of the voice is even harder.

Social Media jobs in sports are on the rise, but that doesn't mean they're an easy get. To be an attractive candidate takes real skill.
By Brian Clapp | July 22, 2013
Sign In or Register to access all articles and insider tips for help in your job search.

Search for Sports Jobs