Pursuing an advanced online degree in an accredited sports management program is a steadfast means to leverage relationships that can fulfill dreams of connecting with some of the most influential decision makers in the industry. Since a majority of graduate students are already employed, a master’s degree generally is a means to improve competencies, gain a competitive edge in the marketplace, and possibly be rewarded with a promotion or pay increase.
The added incentive of enrolling in an online program – especially for anyone working untraditional or long hours in sports industry - is the convenience and flexibility of the learning platform. An often overlooked advantage is that online education opens doors to a vast spectrum of industry contacts that are not as accessible in a seated program.
The field of universities offering an advanced online degree in sports management has steadily grown as technology has evolved and an oversaturated entry level market has made a graduate degree more desirable. The improved sophistication and user-friendliness of internet based platforms has helped the popularity of online classes for home schooling, training programs, certificate programs, and in higher education.
There are numerous institutions getting into the niche market of offering online advanced degrees in sport management or a related field such as American Military University, Drexel University, Laselle College, Liberty University, Tiffin University, Saint Leo University, Fresno Pacific University, Southern New Hampshire University, Ohio University, and West Virginia University, to name just a few.
When “shopping” for an online advanced degree in sport management, considerations should include academic credibility through accreditation, whether the university is tied to a physical location, the experience and expertise of the faculty, technical support systems, resources for research and job searching, cost or tuition reimbursement, program length, program structure, curriculum, and industry connections.
Many of these factors are important to consider in selecting a seated graduate program, but those students already employed or anticipating being employed in the diverse field of sport and entertainment or recreation management should highly consider the added value of an online graduate program.
The online graduate student in a specialized sport management program is positioned to take networking to new heights by capitalizing on a much wider network that transcends regional boundaries. In a seated program, the primary pre-established network of sport industry specialists are typically located within a 100 mile proximal radius which makes travel feasible for speakers to present on campus or for students to gain on-site experience. In the online environment, the possibilities are much broader since a wider net allows for interaction on a national or global scale.
Academic internships, informational interviews, speaker series, shadowships, and attending conferences are fabulous stepping stones to begin networking with industry specialists in the sports field. The relative inexperience and emotional intelligence level of the traditional 18-22 year old undergraduate student, however, limits networking compared to the potential return on investment for graduate or adult students. When adding the online learning platform to the maturity of a graduate student studying the business of sports, the professional network widens and relationships improve significantly.
Directors of Sports Management programs are able to connect students with a variety of industry specialists such as a certified sport agent, a professional franchise executive, a conference commissioner or a park and recreation director. The online environment significantly increases that web of contacts and the likelihood that a graduate student will be enrolled in classes with an experienced sport professional in the role of their instructor, a guest speaker or a fellow student.
Online programs have the advantage of being able to recruit or attract qualified instructors from anywhere where the internet is accessible. Rarely is it difficult for a quality online program to attract terminally degreed faculty with significant industry experience. Graduate students may be surprised their instructor was once affiliated with the International Olympic Committee, the NCAA, a professional franchise, or even the World Karate Association.
In addition to diversifying the instructor pool, online education also diversifies the student pool with an ability to generate national and international interest. Since most graduate students are already employed in the field, online sport management programs benefit through the industry experience and contacts that many of the students automatically bring to the program from all corners of the United States or abroad.
Students in programs that require mentorship or internships have approached fellow classmates to connect (locally and internationally) with sport business personnel. When a graduate student posts their autobiography or shares with a group member that they are employed by the NFL, PGA, ESPN, college athletic department or other group, fellow students have a direct network that may lead to an internship or job opening.
The online environment also leads to opportunities for virtual mobility so that students can take advantage of specialized training or even a dual degree. The European Council of Business Education (ECBE) has assisted in fostering unique partnership opportunities with member institutions who offer advanced online degrees in sport management. Administrators are exploring how students can earn a dual MBA degree in Sport Management from a university in Europe and one in the United States.
A certificate option is also possible by combining coursework in an articulation agreement. Students at two accredited universities across two continents can share the virtual learning platform and benefit from the expertise of a larger pool of qualified instructors with incredible backgrounds in the industry. The benefit of these types of affiliations is an environment fostering international awareness in the sports arena which satisfies the primary competency of globalization for accredited business schools and programs.
Another example of the capabilities online education provides is the "Olympic Academic Experience" offered through Tiffin University, a private institution in Ohio with an online MBA in Sport Management. The Olympic Academic Experience combines class work with a cross-cultural experience at yes, the Olympic Games. Through an application process, sport management students are selected to enroll in a hybrid-style course, “Theory and Organization of the Olympic Games.”
The program is open to graduate and undergraduate sport management students, with preference given to graduate students earning a degree in the field. A total of 17 students from 13 universities traveled to the Athens (2004 Greece) Olympics and 16 traveled to the Beijing (2008 China) Olympics. All were required to use the online platform to communicate with other students and submit assignments to earn academic credit.
These unique global partnerships and extensive network of specialists in the sports industry can largely be attributed to capitalizing on available technology in education. There is no doubt that an advanced online degree in sport management provides the flexibility for students to continue to do their job while providing the knowledge and understanding that could result in gaining a competitive edge in a truly exciting field.