Your Guide to a Career in Sports Management– What to Expect

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Discover what you can expect when choosing an exciting sports management career, including how to prepare for the job, necessary skills, job duties, and more.

[Featured Image]:  A female, with blonde hair and a yellow shirt, is standing in her office, preparing an event to support the local sports team.

Sports managers oversee athletic programs, ranging from amateur and high school to college and professional sports. Duties may vary depending on the level and organization, but everyone in this field has the same ultimate goal: the team's success. A sports management career is an opportunity to get involved with a sport you're passionate about being required to be an athlete.  

While you might not be an athlete, a sense of teamwork and competitive nature is still essential for a successful sports management career. Experience and knowledge are just as necessary, if not more important, as a degree in many cases. 

You could work in many roles as a sports manager—coach, agent, athletic director, facility manager, events coordinator, and more. This means good people skills and the ability to take on administrative work behind the scenes are essential. Still, most importantly, you'll need to be a hard worker to enter this exciting but competitive and growing field.  

What is sports management and why it matters

It's hard to narrow down precisely what sports management is, as it's a broad career field that covers every aspect of managing sports, teams, athletes, and sporting events and facilities. Sports managers may coach a team, or they might run an athletic program at a university. They may be in charge of operations at a stadium or manage specific professional athletes' careers. However, anyone starting this career path must have a passion for sports (or the sport in which they want to work) and understand how that sport functions as a business. Whether that means a win on the field or making sure you fill the stands with spectators, your ultimate goal is success.   

Why does sports management matter? Because, for the most part, sports are businesses, especially when you reach the collegiate and pro levels. Many sports managers have a degree or background in marketing, business, finance, law, communications, accounting, or public relations, which allows them to combine their passion with the business aspects. Winning a big game or getting to the championships is important, but so is reaching your fan base, getting people to show up to cheer on the team, making sure everything is running smoothly on game day, and ensuring athletes have what they need when they need it.   

The role of a sports manager

As a sports manager, your role can be incredibly varied. The sport, the organization, the level of the sport, the job title, the geographic location—all of this will impact your job. However, many tasks might be a part of your job. Some of them include:

  • Leading public relations between your team, coach, other staff, and the media

  • Accounting and finance for the team, including managing accounts, income, budgets, and debts

  • Arranging travel plans for the team for away games

  • Monitoring ticket sales and coming up with ways to improve them

  • Scheduling events involving the team or athletes

  • Seeking out sponsors, partners, and brands that want to work with your team or athletes

  • Making important everyday decisions for sports organizations

  • Digital and traditional marketing

  • Ensuring event facilities and stadiums are operating smoothly

  • Analyzing contracts and other legal documents

  • Hiring and managing coaches and other personnel

  • Promoting teams, athletes, events, and merchandise through digital and traditional marketing

  • Ensuring teams have the right equipment and uniforms

  • Enforcing rules and regulations set by the school, league, conference, or organization

What qualifications and certifications are required to become a sports manager?

Qualifications to become a sports manager will vary by job. Many will require a bachelor's degree, but you don't necessarily need one in sports management. Some jobs will value experience and knowledge more than a degree. Others will require you to have an advanced degree. It all depends on what you want to do and how far you want to go in the field. 

Bachelor's degree in sports management

Many sports management jobs require a bachelor's degree, even if that degree is not necessarily in sports management or a related subject. Even if the job doesn't require it, it can make you more competitive. Bachelor's degrees in business, marketing, accounting, finance, communications, public relations, or law also look good on your resume and may help prepare you for your career.

Many schools offer sports management degrees, or sport management, depending upon the school. Some programs even offer concentrations within that major, such as athlete development, sports law, organizational management, sports project management, sports media, sports marketing, intercollegiate athletics, or high-performance coaching. Some concentrations are sport-specific, such as racquet sports. As a sports management major, you'll likely study many other topics that can help your career, such as accounting, ethics, psychology, business, and marketing.  

Another thing to consider is whether you want to earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree.  Some schools offer their sports management programs through one or both. The main differences would be that a BA would offer more in the way of theory and multifaceted approaches to the top, while a BS may offer a more practical approach.

Read more: What Is the Difference Between a BA and a BS Degree?

Advanced degrees in sports management 

While they aren't necessary, many people choose to go on and earn an advanced degree in sport management. Again, this looks good on your resume and can make you more competitive. It can also help you within a particular niche. For example, if you're interested in the accounting side of sports management, you might look for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program with a concentration in sports management. If you're interested in working at the college level, you might find a master's degree with a concentration in intercollegiate athletic administration.

If you have even bigger goals, you may seek a doctorate in sports management or a related concentration. Those who achieve this level of education may work as postsecondary educators or even work as researchers who perform studies related to the sports industry. This can also help you if your goal is to become an executive or reach the highest-possible management rank within an organization. 

Another option some people choose is earning a law degree with a concentration in sports management or another sports-related topic. You might also attend law school, even if no sports management concentration is offered. This might help you get a job in the field as an agent, sports lawyer, or high-level executive, especially in professional sports. 

Read more: What Can I Do with a Business Management Degree? Skills, Jobs, And Courses

Experience valued higher 

While degrees can help you get an interview, your experience and knowledge may be what help you get hired. If you're not interested in sports or even passionate about them (or the sport where you want to work), you most likely won't qualify for the job. Internships, volunteer opportunities, and entry-level jobs can help you to make your case. If you played that sport or have some kind of other connection—maybe you coached your little cousin's Little League team, or you were a team manager for your high school track team—don't be afraid to promote this on your resume and during your job interview if it relates to the job.

Licensing and certification 

In most cases, you don't need any type of licensing or certifications to work in sports management, but there are some exceptions. Certain leagues and geographic locations may require you to become licensed to be a sports agent. Athletic trainers at most levels may also be required to be licensed by their state. In some cases, a school may offer various certifications you can earn just to pump up your resume or if there's an area you'd like to concentrate on within your career. This could range from event management to social media communications.  

What skills do I need to work in sports management?

As with all other aspects of the job, the specific skills you'll need to bring to the table depending upon the job that interests you most. However, some human skills are universal across all sports management careers.  

Ethics 

As a sports manager, you'll need a strong sense of ethics. Ethics in sports are essential. From cheating scandals to using performance-enhancing drugs, teams and athletes sometimes do things they shouldn't to win. Still, a team or athlete's character can significantly impact a community of fans. As a leader in an organization, you'll want to set an example, create a positive reputation, and make just decisions as they arise. 

Decision-making

Speaking of making decisions, you'll make many of them as a sports manager. Many require quick, confident answers. Others will require you to analyze data and develop the best possible solution. You must be comfortable doing both. 

Communication

Almost every sports management career will require you to have excellent written and oral communication skills. You might interact with athletes, coaches, stadium staff, organization personnel,  the media, lawyers, agents, other sports managers, vendors, and other people daily. You may be required to persuade others to make decisions, so you must also be confident in your communications. 

Teamwork 

You may not be an actual athlete or player, but you're still an important part of the team. It takes everyone to make game day a success, especially at the college and professional levels. Everything you do professionally should be done to advance that organization. 

Positive image of sports 

It may seem like a no-brainer, but being a sports fan is highly beneficial if you want to pursue a career in sports management. Not only do you need to be passionate about the particular sport in which you work, but you need to see how sports benefit society. 

Drive to win 

Once again, you need to be a competitor, even if you aren't competing on the field. You need to want your team, athletes, and organization to win as much as they want. 

What other roles are there in sports management? 

In most cases, becoming a sports manager encompasses multiple career options. Each one requires unique degrees, experience, and skills. Each one also has special requirements when it comes to education and skills needed.

Athletic director 

Athletic directors typically work at the collegiate level, though some may work for high schools with extensive sports programs. A bachelor's degree is generally required; for some larger programs, you may need a master's degree. As an athletic director, you might hire coaches, set budgets, coordinate with the school's academic departments, raise team funds, and ensure a team has everything it needs, including equipment, uniforms, and transportation to away games. 

You'll also ensure that your school follows all rules and ethics set by the conference in which your teams play. You’ll also ensure all facilities and venues are in top shape for games and practices. People who work as athletic directors must have a mind for numbers, be organized, and be able to communicate with coaches and other staff.  

Facility manager

Rather than manage a team or organization, facility managers are in charge of the actual venues where teams play and practice. That means keeping up with day-to-day activities at that location and ensuring everything is ready for game time. You'll likely manage facility staff, make decisions about new designs, maintain facility upkeep, ensure the facility stays clean, and possibly even handle ticket sales. 

Facility managers must be good leaders with excellent decision-making and strategic skills. This is one area where experience can matter as much as your education. 

Event coordinator 

While facility managers take care of the actual physical facility, an event coordinator arranges the events that will take place there. Some of these job duties may overlap, depending on where you work. Responsibilities might include marketing, ticket sales, scheduling, contacting the media, and coordinating with the facility manager to ensure everything is ready for events. Depending on where you work, you may also be responsible for some non-sporting events. Event coordinators must be great problem solvers and multitaskers. People skills are also a must.  

Sports agent

Sports agents represent individual athletes as they navigate their careers. They might help them get drafted, help them negotiate contracts, handle sponsorships,  and handle their public relations. Essentially, you are your athletes' guide through their careers. Your ultimate goal is to help them achieve as much success as possible. Sports agents must be team players who want to win. They must be great negotiators and excellent communicators. Many have advanced degrees, or even law degrees, and may be required to become licensed to work in various sports and leagues.  

What do sports managers earn?

Sports managers have unlimited earning potential, ranging from entry-level positions to highest-level executives for professional sports. It all depends on which area of sports management interests you and where you land a job.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2021, coaches and scouts made a median pay of $38,970 annually, and the majority worked at state, local, and private colleges, universities, and professional schools. The BLS expects this field to grow 20 percent between 2021 and 2031, a much faster rate than average [1].

Agents for athletes made a median annual pay of $123,720 in 2021. The median hourly wage was $59.48 [2]. 

Meeting, convention, and event planners made an annual median pay of $49,470 and hourly median pay of $23.79 in 2021. This career path is expected to grow 18 percent between 2020 and 2030, a rate much faster than average [3]. 

The BLS reports that facilities managers made a median pay of $99,290 annually and $47.73 hourly in 2021. This career path is expected to grow 9 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is an average rate for most jobs [4].

Get started 

Explore the exciting world of sports management by visiting Coursera and exploring some of the classes offered by the world’s top universities. Online courses like Becoming a Sports Agent, which Case Western Reserve University offers, or Sports Marketing, which Northwestern offers, can help you determine if this is the field for you. A course can also help you find a niche within the sports management field or even help make your resume more competitive. 

Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. "Coaches and Scouts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/coaches-and-scouts.htm." Accessed September 21, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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