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Making a Career in the Business of Sports

Sports at all levels are about management. That might seem obvious when you’re watching New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick yell coverage indicators to quarterback Tom Brady from the sidelines, or when Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon orders his infielders to position themselves in non-traditional places on the field.

Yet, these examples are only a fan’s superficial view of sports management. The sporting events we see on television – the athletes, the facilities, the strategy and the outcomes – are supported by an unseen foundation made up of the worldwide, multi-billion-dollar industry of sports.

A report published by Price Waterhouse Coopers in 2017 provided insight into the business side of sports. Over the last 20 years, for example, more than $55 billion has been spent on facility construction for professional and intercollegiate athletics. The strategy behind ticket sales has transformed and evolved into flex-based and subscription-based plans. Cable TV bills, video games and merchandise are changing the way fans consume and are entertained by sports.

It’s a lot to manage.

The industry spans continents, and there is significant opportunity for business-minded professionals seeking a role in sports management. But these roles are rarely categorized under a “sports management” umbrella. They all have different names, they have different expectations, and they influence the sports industry in unique ways.

Here are a few examples of sports management positions:

  • Marketing and sponsorship for professional, collegiate, or community-based sports teams
  • Business intelligence or analytics management
  • Accounting or financial management
  • Event planning and management
  • Public relations and fundraising management
  • Administrative services management

To demonstrate how far-reaching and broad sports management positions can be, let’s delve deeper into those last two bullet points.

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

What do public relations managers do, day-to-day?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they have one primary goal – they must enhance the public image of their sports team. They oversee the design and implementation of any materials that can positively or negatively influence the public perception of their organization, and they approve or revise strategic direction.

Depending on the organization, a public relations manager might write press releases, design advertising and promotions, or vet public-facing spokespeople for the organization.

And what about fundraising managers?

An organization’s fundraising manager also has one primary goal – bring in donations for the organization. They’re measured on how effectively that can inspire and motivate the community to fund their cause. In the academic world, fundraising for college programs often is referred to as “development,” and job titles related to raising money might include that word.

Day-to-day, a sports management-focused fundraising manager might identify and contact potential donors, apply for grants, and plan events to drive donations.

Both of these roles are office-based professionals who spend a lot of their time traveling and meeting with influential individuals. And, in 2017, the median annual wage for these roles was north of $111,000, according to the BLS.

Administrative Service Managers

The duties of administrative service managers vary by organization. It’s a context-driven position, and the day-to-day responsibilities might look very different, depending on the nature of the industry. The same holds true in the context of sports management.

A sports management-focused administrative service manager might spend his or her day designing a new upkeep plan for the team’s stadium, or keeping record of ticket sales for November home games during which the temperature fell to below 40 degrees.

Seems variable, right?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, administrative service managers plan, direct, and coordinate whatever services are in support of an organization. Looking through a sports management lens, this could be anything from team equipment needs, to stadium repairs, to the team’s travel schedule, to public speaking appearances and more.

The annual wage for this role was heavily dependent on the industry, but the average administrative service manager earned around $94,000 in 2017, according to the BLS. Salary and job availability varies by geography and economic conditions, and job seekers should conduct independent research.

Breaking into the Business of Sports

For many people, zeroing in on a position isn’t the hard part. Actually breaking into the industry is the most significant obstacle. But, according to sports attorney and Forbes contributor Jason Belzer, there’s never been more opportunity for those individuals who want to start a career in sports management.

But where do you start?

  • Network with other sports management professionals at a conference. Events like the National Sports Forum, the Sports Industry Networking and Career Conference, the Ivy Sports Symposium, and the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference are full of sports management professionals looking to add to their ranks. They’re also packed with industry experts and the top-notch insight that an individual needs if he or she aspires to sports management.
  • Seek out a sports management-focused leadership program. Conduct a search of sports management degrees available from reputable institutions. Some MBA programs also offer a sports management concentration.

It’s easy to forget, but football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and the rest are driven by sports management – and not the signal-calling, high-strategy, Xs and Os management we see on the sidelines every week.

Sports are driven by marketers. Fundraisers. Accountants. Organizers. Event planners. It’s all sports management, and it’s the cornerstone of every home run, every three-point shot, and every touchdown scored. Because without sports management, there are no sports.

Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business offers aspiring sports executives the chance to improve their career possibilities with a 100% online MBA or a business master’s. These prestigious degrees prepare graduates to understand the nuances of business that can help sports organizations thrive.

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