Business Development

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Hitting the Books

31 Oct, 2009

By: Amy Henderson

It might be considered a new trend in higher education. More colleges and universities are branching out their business programs to include sports marketing, sports law and sports event planning in their curriculum.

We've heard time and again - when it comes to your career choice, do what you love and you'll be successful.

The majority of us love sports, but chances are good that we are not going to make a living by becoming the next LeBron James or Peyton Manning. More likely, our love of sports will put us in the front office rather than on the field.

That's not to say that there aren't opportunities within the sports industry. Take sales, marketing or promotions. Each one offers a great career without earning a Heisman Trophy. And pursuing higher education only enhances your rise to the top.

It's Not Just Underwater Basketweaving
We've all taken "the easy class" to boost our GPA, but courses offered within sports management are no cake walk.

There are currently 265 schools of higher education in the United States that offer Bachelor of Science degrees in specific sports programs; 139 of those offer Master programs and 24 offer Doctoral programs.

The Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) was jointly established by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) in July 2008. Their website (www.nassm.com) provides a listing of schools that offer Sport Management Programs.

One of the leaders in Sports Management is the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, offering bachelors, masters and doctoral programs.

Professor Glenn M. Wong at UMass Amherst has been a pioneer in the sports industry for three decades and touted as one of the 100 Most Influential Sport Educators in America.

"We are one of the leading (sports) institutions because of both the academic reputation and the graduates in the field," said Wong.

His book, The Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Sports, provides valuable information based on Wong's extensive career within the sports industry as attorney, dean, athletic director and arbitrator for professional and amateur sports.

"It's a very competitive market. In this field a degree is not required, but I'm finding in the marketplace that there is a tremendous amount of competition and a sports management degree is an asset for that person applying for that job," Wong continued.

Katie Brock, interim director of MBA Admissions with Auburn University agrees, "We are in a globalized world now that we weren't in 20 years ago," she said. "We are competing not only with Americans for jobs but worldwide. Graduate degrees are almost required to stay competitive. An MBA offers great flexibility because you can cross over in business."

"An MBA hones your leadership and management skills," Brock continued. "I look at it as a refining degree. Management classes are great for anybody and Logistics and Supply Chains are also great classes because you can be moving things all over the world and it allows you to learn how to maximize the process."

Robert Morris University is also a leader in the field. "Sports Management degrees were more of a novelty 10 years ago because there weren't as many," explained Artemisia Apostolopoulou, associate professor in Sports Management at RMU. "Today, if I am an employer, I am looking for someone who understands business. At RMU, there is a heavy emphasis in business and students who specialize in sports management."

For those unable to commit to a full-time classroom curriculum, online degree programs offer flexibility. The University of Phoenix - the largest online private university in North America - offers an Associates of Arts in Sport Management with access to online courses, e-books and an online library.

"I see more and more courses developing on an online basis," said Wong. "I also see more educational programs that are more of a certificate basis instead of a degree program and that is an important distinction."

Work, Work, Work
Opportunities abound when considering the sports field as a profession. But like anything, you must have proper qualifications. Not all of us can be on the sidelines coaching a national championship team or treating injured athletes.

Each year we see athletes breaking records with increased performance as a direct result from extensive training. Athletic Trainers and Nutritionists play a key role in those performances and the popularity of employment in this field is growing each year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for fitness, recreation professionals, physical therapists and athletic trainers will grow faster than average over the next decade.

But what does the future hold?
"I tell students to look where the market will be in a few years," explained Wong. "Short term, it is sales. Given the recession and the economy, sales positions are very important because ticket sales are lagging. The other area I recommend is the technology side of things, relative to the new media - internet, social communications. Technology is where I see growth coming."

Sales and Corporate Partnerships are a smart path according to Apostolopoulou. "I often tell my students, make yourselves so equipped in business that you can work the corporate side and become a sponsor of the team. You will be paid twice as much and treated like royalty."

Apostolopoulou also recommends higher education or training in the following areas: Database Management & Marketing; Social Media; Market Research and Global Sports.

She explains the importance, "Research is behind everything. What am I doing to measure the ROI? Shifts and trends are also very important. There is a strategy behind the decisions to spend money."

"With Global Sports there is a majority of U.S. based sports that make a lot of money on things that take place outside of the U.S.," she continued. "A number of resources of revenue happen outside of the country, it's being able to identify resources of global growth."

Money, Money, Money
Once we've accepted that we won't be making millions of dollars on the field, we can settle for a lesser piece of the proverbial pie.

Most people who work in the sports industry will likely tell you that they don't do it for the money.

Professor Wong offers this advice, "Know what you are getting into and take the stars out of your eyes, the hours are longer and the pay is less."

Salaries within the sports industry range from the mid $20,000's to over $100,000 depending on your skill set and market.

"As much as you love your job," explains Apostolopoulou. "You have to be realistic. They always mention the long hours and small pay, but for a student that doesn't sink in until they really get into it. Students don't leave class thinking they are going to be millionaires."

Brock shares that sentiment, "I encourage students to be willing to start at the bottom," she explains. "We encourage them to do internships and require internships for students that don't have any experience. You don't walk into a sports job cold turkey. Students have to realize that they are going to start at the bottom. Unless they are complete rock stars and the most connected people on the planet."

"For every comparable market you will get less in the sports world than the business world," explains Wong.

Networking also plays a part. We've all heard the old adage, ‘it's not what you know, it's who you know.'

According to Apostolopoulou it doesn't stop there. "It's also who knows you and how they know you. Are you the first person that comes to mind for a job?"

Brock concurs, "We try to network our students as much as we can, we try to show them that you don't have to always work for a team," she said. "You can work in apparel, marketing or the business side. It's an entertainment industry at the end of the day."

"You have to figure out where you are comfortable and where you are authentic when it comes to networking," adds Apostolopoulou. "You have to be strategic and smart."

She also reminded us that the harder you work the luckier you become.

About the Author

Amy Henderson

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