Educational Programs for a Smoother Career Path: An Interview with Robin Ammon, Ph.D. | Sports Destination Management

Educational Programs for a Smoother Career Path: An Interview with Robin Ammon, Ph.D.


Fueled by the proliferation of events offered, the ever-exploding numbers of athletes participating and the competition to host travel teams and major events, sports tourism has been called a 'recession-proof market.' It has created a positive economic impact on cities, particularly those investing in the facilities and infrastructure that sports tourists find attractive.

But ironically, since its growth as an industry has elevated the managing of those events to an art and a science, hiring the right staff has become its own challenge. It's not enough any longer to hire happy, positive people who can give a positive impression of your event and the city. After all, that's why you have volunteers. To succeed in the business of sport and in the execution of events, organizations need professionals with a specific knowledge base and skill set.

This is not the same as party planning, meeting organization or convention management. Those in the business of sport -- meaning individuals who work in venues, for teams and clubs, for sports commissions and convention and visitors bureaus -- are expected to understand everything. Financial management, marketing, legal issues, facility management and media awareness will all come into play, as will on-site management and logistics.

Individuals who want to enter the industry, or to advance in it, are similarly in search of avenues, and the correct educational background can make a significant difference. Better salaries, more opportunities, heightened career visibility and increased upward mobility are all excellent reasons to pursue a sport management-specific degree program -- or to pursue an advanced degree. 

The demand for a better education, fueled by the need for professionals who are ready to handle the challenges the sport industry can offer, has led to an increase in the number of academic programs offered both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), of which Dr. Robin Ammon is the current Business Office Manager, have identified nearly one thousand programs in more than two dozen countries. (Want a list? Go to NASSM's website,, and click on "Sport Management Programs" on the left side of the page).

Dr. Ammon graduated with and EdD in Sport Administration from the University of Colorado. His areas of research include legal liabilities in sport, recreation and physical education, risk management in sport and premises liability. Currently, he is associate professor the Sport Management program coordinator at the University of South Dakota. He has written extensively for professional journals, presented at meetings, and written chapters for textbooks on subjects relating to sport management.

Sports Destination Management: How long has sport management been around as an academic major, and what contributed to its development?

Robin Ammon: Our culture as a whole has become aware of the business of sport, but this has been a process rather than an event. We all enjoy the commercials that come with the Super Bowl, and we can't miss the hype around college basketball starting in March. We follow the Olympics, Daytona 500 and more, and we now realize there are people who work behind the scenes, who literally make those events happen.

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The emergence of sport management as a unique major goes back more than 40 years. Many of the original workers in this industry received their education through M.B.A. programs, or through majors in physical education or kinesiology. There simply was no educational program combining sport and business. It wasn't until the field expanded and grew more complex that employers -- and with them, educational institutions -- became cognizant of the need for individuals with specialized skill sets.

SDM: How have programs evolved over those four decades?

Ammon: There is much more variety within the specialized programs at the undergraduate level. NASSM is aware of programs that concentrate on sport marketing, facility and event management, sport tourism and more. This type of specialization used to be found strictly on the graduate level, but these days, we're seeing it in baccalaureate programs as well.

SDM: Obviously, all sport management programs are not equal, and even among programs that offer a bachelor's, a master's or a doctorate, there may be wide variances. For potential students, or for employers who may be checking references of potential hires, what are signs of a quality program?

Ammon: The best body of knowledge comes from a program that offers courses specific to sport management as well as opportunities for hands-on experience. These are different from marketing, business management and communications classes, although those are, of course, useful to have taken during one's time as a student.

There is a distinct difference between general marketing and sport marketing. General marketing may deal with the promotion of a specific product. Problem is, that product never changes. A brand of canned baked beans is always going to be the same product. Sport marketing, meanwhile, is dynamic. If you are marketing a team, your angle on promoting the team and selling tickets can change from game to game, depending upon your team's record (or the record of the team they're playing), the relative importance of the game as well as any specific promotions built around that game and other factors. A good sport marketing course will emphasize this fact, and will discuss strategies used in making marketing decisions.

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SDM: What else sets apart a good program?

Ammon: Over the past 10-12 years, there has been an explosion of programs in a variety of universities across the United States. A number of these programs were created as a knee-jerk reaction to the growth of the sport industry. The faculties who staff these programs have absolutely no practical experience. They secured a bachelor’s degree, a masters and a doctorate and now they feel qualified to teach sport management. To compound this problem, university administrators hire these neophytes. So now you have faculty members with a lot of “book knowledge” but absolutely no “hands-on” experience or industry connections. As a result, their graduates enter an oversaturated marketplace with little chance of being employed in the sport industry. To counteract this problem, many of the well-established programs now provide a diversified curriculum. For example, a good sport management program will offer a variety courses in sport marketing, facility and event management or sport law. This type of coursework to be a requirement for any well-developed program.

Something else to ask about is the availability of internships, which should be offered as part of the curriculum. A school should have a working relationship with sports teams, clubs, cities and other organizations for this purpose. A 12-credit, 480-hour internship with a professional organization will give a student essential hands-on experience.

SDM: If a job candidate has a good education in sport management, are there specific personality traits that will make them even better at what they do?

Ammon: We tell employers to look for real go-getters, the individuals who are passionate about their profession. We tell them to look for individuals who not only have a have a love of sport business, but who excel at customer service. You want people who are good in the field, who enjoy travel, and, very importantly, who can think on their feet.

Just as significant, we encourage graduates to keep seeking out opportunities for education and professional development -- and we keep encouraging employers to make these available. In the evolving industry of sport management, employees should always be on the hunt for more knowledge. 

Students who are looking for a program should know they can get a degree through in-class and online learning formats. The NASSM website can help locate programs in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India, Africa and Asia.