What is a Sports Management Degree?

Sport is a multi-billion dollar industry. Degree programs in sports management focus on the business aspects of sports and recreation and prepare students to work as sport managers in various sectors.

Whether you dream of working for a major league football or basketball team, bringing recreational programs to low-income communities, developing a sports marketing program to attract new audiences, or running your own athletic gear start-up, you’re going to need a strong foundation in business. You’re going to need skills in business communications, marketing, information technology, human resources management, leadership, entrepreneurship, accounting, law, facility operations and event management, media and public relations, and the economics of sport. If you love sports, this degree can equip with you those skills and help you make it your career.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Sports Management – Eighteen Month to Two Year Duration
Associate degree programs in sports management provide students with foundational business knowledge and skills. Courses span accounting, management, marketing, information technology, and writing and presentation. Students are introduced to the fundamental concepts of these subject areas in the sports context. Upon graduation, they generally qualify for entry-level roles. Some students continue their studies in a bachelor’s program.

Here are some sample associate level courses:

  • The Essence of Sports and Fandom – the history of organized sport, social issues in sports, overview of the digital transformation happening in sports
  • Sports Media and Marketing – the marketing needs and digital innovations impacting events, teams, players, and endorsements
  • Sports Data and Analytics – how data-based decisions are driving the future of sports; the impacts of these decisions on team efficiency, player profiles, and player movements
  • Global Sport Ecosystem – examination of the intricate ecosystem that supports sports, from economics to organizational behavior to urban planning and relationships with local communities
  • The Transformative Power of Sport – the transformative impact sports can have for individuals, communities, and society
  • Sports Innovation – recent innovations and emerging sports technology

Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s programs in sports management prepare students for a variety of roles in the business of sport. Some schools offer specialization options, such as sports marketing, sports administration, athlete management and representation, and player development.

Here is a snapshot of the core curriculum of a typical sports management bachelor’s program:

  • Contemporary Sports Management – a look at the range of career opportunities that exist in professional sport, collegiate athletics, sport events, community sport, non-profit management, facility operations, public and community relations, and sports marketing, sales, and promotion
  • Facility and Venue Management – how to plan and manage successful facilities and venues that shape the experience of fans and participants; topic covered include operations, policy, financing, crowd control, risk management, customer service, and budgeting
  • Research Methods in Sports – the importance of research and critical thinking in sports management functions; students apply research methods in sports management settings, through the development of research techniques, information gathering, proposal writing, and analysis of results for decision making
  • Sports Law – examination of pertinent legal issues in sport, including contracts, personal and product liability, risk management, discrimination, and human resources; a review of policy development and governing bodies such as the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the US Olympic Committee
  • Sports Marketing – overview of how to effectively market facilities, programs, and events; subjects include strategic sports marketing, consumer behavior, market segmentation and selection, the marketing mix (product, price, place, promotion), and the implementation and control of sports marketing activities
  • Sports Sales and Promotion – best practices for ticket sales, sponsorships, sales training, sales management, promotion, branding, advertising, public and community relations, and the use of technology and social media to create deeper consumer relationships
  • Internship in Sports Management – real world experience and application of knowledge, skills, and abilities in a professional interest area
  • Sports Finance – exploration of the financial and economic issues within sports management; analysis of financial and economic policies, concepts, and theories and their application in professional, intercollegiate, community, and commercial sport industries
  • Event Management – application of the principles of organizational leadership and management as they relate to event planning in sports management; students administer and manage a professional event using skills developed in the curriculum
  • Sports Leadership and Ethics – students produce a project on a contemporary issue in the sports management industry, demonstrating ethical leadership principles and critical thinking and decision-making skills
  • Public Speaking – the structure and effective delivery of ideas, use of language, supporting evidence, reasoning and emotional appeals, diction, pronunciation, and nonverbal communication
  • Principles of Accounting – overview of the fundamental concepts of financial and managerial accounting; how to prepare, read, and use corporate financial reports for making decisions concerning investing and lending, budgeting, and cost control
  • Business Communications – oral and written communication principles; methods for organizing ideas, formatting information, understanding audience needs, and developing a professional communication style; practice in writing business reports, letters, e-mail messages, and memoranda; individual and group oral presentations
  • Sports Information – focus on the writing and organizational skills essential for journalistic / media and public relations functions related to collegiate, professional, and Olympic sports coverage
  • Principles of Management and Organizational Behavior – the central role of management in the effective productions of goods and services; topics include strategic and operational planning, job design, organizational structure, human behavior, leadership and ethics, motivation and rewards, communication, and teams and teamwork

Master’s Degree / Master of Business Administration in Sports Management – Two Year Duration
Master’s programs in sports management typically provide extensive industry networking, internship, and – in some cases – employment opportunities across a wide variety of sports. The graduate level curriculum develops skills in areas including digital sports media, sports analytics, business intelligence, sports entrepreneurship and innovation, global sports management, sports marketing, athlete activism and social justice, finance, sponsorship sales and activation, negotiations, facility and event management, sports law and ethics, and intercollegiate athletics.

Many schools offer specializations and both a thesis and non-thesis track. Graduates are prepared for leadership roles in the sport industry. Some schools also run joint programs leading to a sports management and law degree.

Sample Core Courses

  • Foundations of Sports Management
  • Leadership in Sports
  • Sports Accounting and Finance
  • Sports Law and Ethics

Sample Sports Marketing Courses

  • Sports Marketing
  • Sports Media
  • Sports Sponsorship and Sales
  • Sports Business Communications and Public Relations
  • Digital Sports Media and Marketing

Sample Sports Analytics Courses

  • Fundamentals of Sports Analytics
  • Sports Revenue Strategies and Analytics
  • Business Intelligence in Sports
  • Applied Business Intelligence in Sports
  • Baseball Analytics
  • Soccer Analytics
  • Basketball Analytics

Sample Sports Projects Courses

  • Internship in Sports Management
  • Sports Management Independent Study
  • Supervised Research Projects

Sample Global Focus Courses

  • International Sports Management
  • International Comparative Sports

Sample Sports Elective Courses

  • Football Business Management: The Inner Workings of the NFL
  • Negotiation and Dispute Resolution in Sports
  • The Business of Professional Sports Leagues and Franchises
  • Athlete Activism and Social Justice in Sports
  • Sports General Management
  • Sports Facilities and Events Management
  • Intercollegiate Athletics Administration
  • Emerging and Niche Sports Leagues

Doctoral Degree in Sports Management – Four to Five Year Duration
The objective of doctoral degree programs in sports management is to ground students in critical knowledge, research tools, and teaching experience. Doctoral candidates must pass both a qualifying and comprehensive examination as well as research, write, and defend a dissertation. Graduates most often go on to careers as sports management professors or senior executives.

Possible areas of focus include:

  • Sports Marketing
  • Sport Consumer Behavior
  • Sport Organizational Theory and Behavior
  • Sports Finance
  • Sports Economics
  • Sport Leadership
  • Sociology of Sport
  • Legal and Policy Issues in Sport
  • Sports Media and Culture

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Recreation and Leisure Studies
The recreation and leisure studies curriculum combines classroom instruction with real-life experiences through community engagement. Students learn how to assess recreation and leisure needs within communities, develop and administer programs and events that respond to those needs, and evaluate the success of their responses.

Courses explore topics like the history and philosophy of recreation and leisure, the sociology of well-being, and recreation for special populations such as children, the elderly, and the physically or mentally challenged.

Sports Communications
This degree field encompasses sports journalism, broadcasting, marketing, advertising, public relations, and new media.

Skills You’ll Learn

  • Communication and presentation
  • Creativity
  • Data analysis and interpretation
  • Decision making
  • Ethics
  • Finance
  • Flexibility
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Media relations
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Writing

What Can You Do with a Sports Management Degree?

A sports management education leads students to a variety of careers in these sectors:

  • Professional sports / major league sports and entertainment franchises
  • Collegiate athletics / elite amateur athletics
  • Event and facility operations
  • Corporate sport management and marketing firms
  • Community recreation and leisure agencies
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Health and fitness clubs
  • High school athletics
  • Golf and tennis clubs
  • Campus intramural sports and recreation
  • State and national sports associations
  • Athletic gear

Specific roles and titles include:

  • Assistant General Manager / General Manager / Vice President / President
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Director of Player Personnel
  • Event Sales Associate
  • Facilities Manager
  • Manager, Community / Player Relations
  • Manager, Major Games and Event Operations
  • Manager, Strategic Partnerships and Commercial Rights
  • Player Agent / Sports Agent
  • Senior Client Manager
  • Sports Event Planner
  • Sports Marketing Specialist
  • Sports Scout
  • Stadium Operations Assistant


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