Education Degree Programs | Sports Destination Management

Education Degree Programs

An Evolving Education
Mar 31, 2012 | By: Dr. Bonnie Tiell


Karen Foley -

Sport management curriculum has been offered in colleges since the mid-fifties when a class in Baseball Ticket Sales was offered by Walter O'Malley, then owner of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. O'Malley was vocal that the sport industry was on the verge of an economic explosion and in need of developing professionals with specialized skills to manage ball parks, stadiums, arenas, marinas, and race tracks. O'Malley also advocated that training was also necessary to fill executive position for teams and leagues at all levels.

Ohio University was the first to answer O'Malley's call in 1966 by offering a graduate degree in sport management. By the mid-eighties, only 80 institutions listed a graduate or undergraduate major related to the management of sport. The appeal of the sport management degree was slow to catch fire until sports were accepted and promoted as a multi-billion dollar global industry. Hundreds of colleges and universities around the world have entered or sustained a foot-hold in the marketplace and today, programs from Singapore to San Francisco are in the business of training sport industry professionals.

The abundance of sport management programs has prompted universities to find the way to differentiate and stand above the competition. Colleges that used to attract students easily with a common sport management program are finding they need to be more creative and flexible to attract the same volume of students. One of the approaches to adaptation has been to modify the title of the program and offer a specialized curriculum.

While Sport Management degree remains the traditional catch-all major that applies to a myriad of professions ranging from an aquatics director to a pro team scout, specialized programs are becoming more prevalent across the US and around the world. Examples of specialized degrees at accredited institutions include Motor Sports Management (Belmont Abbey, North Carolina), Sport Media (Ithaca College, New York), Golf Course Management (Ferris State, Michigan), Professional Tennis Management (Methodist University, North Carolina, and also at Ferris State),Martial Arts Management (Horizons University, France), Sport Communication (Ashland University, Ohio), Sport Announcing (Centralia University, Washington), Extreme Sports Management (Southampton Solent University, England), and Sport Business (Saint Leo University, Florida), to name a few.

Beyond crafting uniquely focused curriculum or degree variations, institutions are employing modified delivery methods to differentiate themselves and adapt to market demand. Administrators and educators recognize that advancements in technology and changes in American labor habits have impacted a social consciousness that now expects convenience and flexibility when earning a degree, especially at the graduate level. A growing number of universities around the world offer sport management programs completely online or through distance learning which was virtually non-existent for the major before 2000.

Credit Dr. Robert Hisrich, Director of the Walker Center for Global Entrepreneurship at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, for encouraging institutions to be innovative in their delivery modes and approaches to higher education. Hisrich advocates a hybrid delivery model rising in popularity in Europe whereby students attend classes for a long weekend and complete the remaining coursework virtually. He also advocates the rise in popularity of non-degree training certificate programs which increases the marketability of someone looking to break into or move up in the ranks of the sport industry. A carefully designed and executed three- to six-course program allows individuals to receive a certificate from an accredited institution in areas such as Inside Ticket Sales, Ballpark Management, or Racetrack Operations.


Robert Kneschke/

In addition to offering unconventional delivery modalities, another tactic to create differentiation has been to form some type of partnership with a sport agency, association, or league. Founded in 1972, The United States Sports Academy in Daphne Alabama partners with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) for certifications in intercollegiate athletic administration. The University of Idaho's sport management program partners with the PGA. Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio is partnering with the World Olympian Association for a humanitarian project in conjunction with the 2012 London Olympics. Similarly, the International Academy of Sports Science and Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland has close ties with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The partnerships may include financial incentives, exchanges in intellectual property, or contractual service agreements combined with the benefit of increased market recognition.

Of significantly greater importance than the title of the major or the method of delivery, or the partnership and networking opportunities, however, is that institutions are providing the competencies necessary to lead, supervise, plan and organize sports. The academic preparation necessary to develop specific competencies in managing sport properties and activities requires both a multi-disciplinary and applied approach to learning.

Traditionally, sport management degrees are housed in a School of Education or a School of Business. Education-based Sport Management programs are geared toward coaching, physical education, and recreation type jobs and typically emphasize theoretical concepts, teaching pedagogy, or the sciences. Popular courses include kinesiology, exercise science, sport psychology, or coaching team sports. The business-based curriculum, however, typically broadens the field and includes courses in general management, law, financial management, human resource management, leadership, facility management, sales, marketing, and promotions.

Regardless of whether an institution offers a business or education based sport management major, however, practical experience is the one common component vital to sustaining programs that produce entry-level employees that can fit almost any sport organization. Just as 'Location, Location, Location' is the mantra for the real estate industry, 'Experience, Experience, Experience' is the key to preparing for the sport management profession.

Sport management academicians advocate the need for hands-on skills training and interaction with industry professionals to truly become proficient in planning and supervising sports. Technology allows for speakers from anywhere in the world to visit online classes through teleconferencing, gotomeeting, Skype, podcasts, or virtual dialogue rooms embedded in learning platforms such as eCollege, Moodle, or Blackboard. Certified sport agents, sport media personalities, league executives, or sport merchandising executives are more accessible than ever before.

Access and information from these and other sport professionals still can't replace the hands-on learning through field experiences designed to develop important supervisory or technical skill sets. Students need to engage in opportunities that allow them to pitch a discounted ticket package, organize and conduct a pre or post-event meeting, manage a game day crisis, or execute a fan-friendly promotional campaign.

Even if students are learning the trade through an online program, sport practicums can be successfully be incorporated into degree requirements. While supervision is remote, supplemental materials such as a work plan, learning goals worksheets, and check point evaluations can assist in formalizing and monitoring a field experience across time zones or zip codes.

To become competent in working in a field that involves planning and supervising sports, students need to learn the nuances of human resource management, communication, marketing, financial management, budgeting, legal concepts, and decision making. Properties such as the Orange Bowl, Indianapolis 500, New York Marathon, or the Detroit Tigers utilize the skills of veteran sport management and marketing professionals with well-developed business competencies to generate an enormous profit. These entities also need to tap into the energy of far less experienced sport professionals to ensure the essential manpower is in place to execute successful sport ventures.

Those who are interested in one day managing, planning, promoting, or selling sport related services or products are well served through engaging in an advanced education related to sport management. While institutions create the means to make their programs attractive through sexy degree titles or unique delivery modes, the bottom line is that capitalizing on programs with established connections, built in field experiences, and a strong business curriculum will best facilitate employment success in the exciting sports, recreation, and entertainment industry.

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