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

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


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


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.how to prepare for your sports job search ebook

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.
By Brian Clapp | November 16, 2015
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