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Sports Management: Exciting Careers with Countless Opportunities

30 May, 2017

By: Kurt A. Stahura, Ph.D.

Anyone planning to enter (or switch to) a career in sports management knows it’s a competitive environment where
education and experience are prerequisites for even entry level positions.

But, as those same people know, working in the sports and recreation field can be the fulfillment of a dream, providing some of the most exciting and entertaining experiences one can have in the workplace – even if you can even call it work.

Those who pursue these fields have a passion for sport and are grateful to be earning a living doing what they love. It is a career that provides health and happiness to sports lovers the world over. The key to entry into this thriving field is to find a college or university program that meets one’s needs for the desired area of study and the necessary work/study and internship experiences.  This is essential for career placement post-graduation.

The good news is there are many opportunities within the broad spectrum of sports and recreation. Men and women who are sports management majors in college go on to become agents, managers, scouts, business reps and stadium executives specializing in sales, promotion, marketing, ticketing, facilities management and so many more occupations.

In addition to professional and collegiate sports, there are K-12 programs, parks and recreation outlets, not-for-profit sports organizations, professional sports franchises, recreational facilities, golf and country clubs, and resorts. There are also many sports (football, baseball, basketball, NASCAR, hockey, golf and the X-Games) at a variety of levels and in different parts of our country and the world. New sports that millennials enjoy (skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, inline skating, BMX, motocross) have also emerged, broadening career opportunities.

In virtually every town and city in the U.S., there are options in this field. YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, community centers, parks, fitness centers and schools provide platforms for involvement and accompanying career opportunities. For every player on the field, court and rink, upwards of 10 professionals may be hard at work supporting them — and the fans — on the sidelines and in executive offices.

Fortunately, there are just as many opportunities to get into this industry as there are to get the education that provides the tools necessary to success in the sports management industry. Students can choose from among a variety of programs offered, which include courses at different levels. As an example, here at Niagara University, the School of Hospitality & Tourism Management  includes a sports management component, and many alumni are now in positions throughout North America, and as far away as the United Kingdom, South America and Thailand.

At the undergraduate level, the school offers a Bachelor’s degree program in sport management and recreation. At the graduate level, there is an MBA in sport management and an MS in sport management, with the latter being more theoretical and the former having a prevalently business orientation.

Each school’s program will be unique. We look at the Niagara program as unique because it provides students with a sound understanding of the sports field, with a curriculum that combines a broad-based business management core with specialized emphasis on the unique technological, managerial and leadership skills required of managers and executives in the industry.

Ideally, schools should have range of classes; Niagara, for example, has classes such as facility management, policy and governance, recreation-based youth mentor, organizational behavior in sports and recreation, sales and licensing, communications and technology, negotiation and dispute resolution. Students should ask about the faculty for their desired level of education.

Another essential component should be hands-on experience gained via internships and positions made available through our extensive alumni and professional network. Almost every student completes at least one internship and all the programs have an associated study abroad experience exposing students to international aspects of the sport industry. Student clubs within each major provide another educational supplement. We host two on-campus events per year dedicated to sport management, a career-based panel in the fall, and an annual Sport, Recreation & Tourism Summit.

In terms of internships, our sport management students have gone to the Super Bowl, to spring training for Major League Baseball, to March Madness with the NCAA and we have a class that takes students to London to learn about the international soccer facilities. In addition to the pro-sports experience gained through working with the Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Bills and Triple A Baseball (the Buffalo Bisons), students work within NU’s own Division I sports program with a broad array of offerings for participating men and women on the NCAA stage.

Student interns may work in marketing, event management or on social media. Some are in game management, facility management, youth programming, sales and ticketing. We encourage students to travel and most students look for travel opportunities. They might work with a golf circuit setting up tournaments or putting materials in place or they might hold a position helping broadcasters at a football game.

Since professional sporting events have become more than just the game itself, many students work on in-between innings programs and half-time shows, some of which are entirely student-driven. There’s a need to keep fans entertained throughout their game experience. Students are involved in the planning and implementation of these activities, much of which comes under the marketing umbrella.

Another aspect is sales. Many sports organizations, in addition to selling tickets, sell clothing and accessories with team logos. Many students get involved in the sales and marketing of these items, online and via retail outlets.

Finally, there are jobs in media. They may be involved with public relations – acting as liaisons between teams and reporters covering the teams. Others Tweet and post items on other social media sites. Still more may work on a team or stadium’s web site.

Employers in sports management are looking for women and men with multiple skill sets and a great deal of drive. Whether entering the field from school or as a career change, there are common attributes sought: 1) excellent speaking and writing skills, 2) an outgoing, affable personality, 3) a solid work ethic, 4) the ability to work long hours, both day and night, and 5) computer skills. Sports management is a high-energy, multi-media, information-driven field in a fast-paced environment.

Students must be willing to learn the entire organization. All the elements that go into making a sporting event successful are varied and equally important. They need to be detail-focused, yet big-picture-oriented. Not everyone is prepared for such requirements and the robust internships uncover those wired for the field.

Students should look for the best program possible as it affords the best opportunities upon graduation.  Ask where graduates have gone and what they are doing now, and look for a school that has grads in a range of occupations in your chosen industry. Our graduates have moved on to outstanding opportunities in local, regional and national sports organizations throughout the U.S. and internationally. Currently, can find our alumni working at organizations like the Bills, Sabres, Charlotte Hornets, Daytona International Speedway and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, just to name a few.

Sport is an institution in our society. There are social, political, academic and economic dimensions influenced by those who work in the field and touching almost all Americans. Its leaders need skills and they must understand the influence sports have on society. Although professional sports are the most visible, there are career opportunities in amateur sports and community sports and recreation as well. All these careers are rewarding, as they positively impact our children, teens and young adults just as they entertain and help maintain the fitness of all generations.  SDM

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