The sports management field has grown tremendously in recent years, and so has the demand for qualified people with sports-specific management and leadership experience. As someone who worked in the sports industry for more than 15 years, I’ve seen the kinds of management skills and leadership traits organizations are looking for in their employees.
In the early ’70s, there were just a few programs; now over 350 schools offer undergraduate degrees and more than 175 schools have master’s level programs in a sport-related discipline. Sports Leadership is a much newer and more specialized field. We launched our program in 2005 and are one of only a handful of universities that offer this degree.
I encourage anyone wanting to succeed in sports management or sports leadership to get a master’s degree: Jobs are incredibly competitive and most now require or prefer a graduate degree.
But should you look to study sports management or sports leadership? When considering which degree is right for you, I suggest asking yourself five questions:
1. Where are you now in your career?
A Sports Leadership master’s degree is tailored to mid-career professionals, many of whom are collegiate athletic administrators and coaches or those with experience working with a sports team in marketing, communication, or event operations. Others work at fitness or wellness and non-profit sport organizations. It’s designed for people at higher levels of organizations in decision-making positions.
A Sports Management master’s degree provides a great pathway to enter or move up in the field; for example, working for a professional or minor league sports team as sales rep, marketing coordinator, or assistant coach.
2. What skills do you want to build?
Sports Management programs teach the art of managing and supervising, and emphasize learning through case studies, and analyzing problems in different areas of an organization. You learn how decisions support the strategy of an organization, which provides you with specialized training in the operations of a sports business.
In a Sports Leadership program, you learn the highly contextual and nuanced side of leading a sports organization or team. It’s also quite self-reflective, as you assess your leadership style, including your strengths and weaknesses, and analyze the process by which you influence groups of people to achieve common goal.
3. Are you a businessperson at heart?
There’s no getting around the fact that sports is a multi-billion dollar industry and a business beyond the game. Consider how much money professional athletes are paid and that the value of sports franchises are now in the billions. There is a greater need than ever for business-savvy people to focus on this aspect of the sports industry.
A Sports Leadership degree provides you with an understanding of core concepts necessary to run functional areas like marketing, finance, and corporate sponsorships. It also helps you develop the analytical abilities required to make sound business decisions.
4. Do you want understand how to inspire and motivate people?
Courses within the Sports Leadership graduate degree examine the business and social issues that are critical to effective sports leadership. It gives you the chance to assess and refine your leadership abilities so you can inspire, develop, and motivate people. Perhaps more importantly, you can understand how to develop and lead teams by fostering the appropriate culture and positively affecting change.
5. What kind of role do you want to play in your future career?
Do you see yourself in upper management, responsible for leading a staff of 25-100 people, strategically planning, creating vision, and clarifying an organization’s big-picture thinking? If so a Sports Leadership graduate degree would be a solid choice to prepare you to be a leader in the sports world.
If you see yourself being part of a sport business in a more day-to-day operational and task-related manner, then a traditional a Sports Management graduate degree would be an optimal way to steer your career in that direction.