The Business of Sports: Sports Management vs. Sports Marketing

The United States sports industry has gained $13 billion in value between 2014 and 2019, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change anytime soon. The “Big Four” sports leagues –– the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Hockey League (NHL) –– are the dominant forces in the marketplace, each bringing in billions of dollars every season. Increasingly, collegiate athletics and smaller leagues, such as Major League Soccer (MLS), the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and the Arena Football League (AFL), have found their space in the market.

Businessmen watch soccer match.

Sports have grown from mere pastimes and hobbies into a crucial part of the U.S. economy. Some individual teams and franchises, in addition to the leagues themselves, have grown into billion-dollar operations, with hundreds of full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees. No longer is the sports industry a niche; it’s now a desirable career path for aspiring business professionals who enjoy the team atmosphere. Organizational and marketing roles are common careers in sports, but what are the differences in sports management vs. sports marketing? Read on for details on these dynamic, sports-centered fields.

Sports Management Overview

Teams in the major American sports leagues, as well as those in some of the smaller circuits, are run by experienced executives who typically have backgrounds in operations, management, marketing, or finance. Some former athletes also pivot into these roles after retirement. Depending on the team, franchise, or league, those in sports management serve as team presidents, executive vice presidents, general managers, vice presidents, or directors. They can focus on a range of departments, from ticket sales and marketing to human resources, finance, and legal issues. A major difference between sports management and sports marketing is that management involves internal day-to-day operations, while marketing emphasizes work with the public.

Sports Management Salary and Job Outlook

According to PayScale, those with bachelor’s degrees who pursue jobs in sports management earn, on average, $47,000 per year. This salary varies based on specific jobs in the field. For example, an associate product manager earns about $53,000 per year, while an assistant athletic director earns $59,000 per year. Annual salary can also shift based on experience, tenure, geographic location, and employer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t keep data on sports management, but the overall field of agents and business managers for artists, performers, and athletes employed more than 15,000 workers in the United States as of May 2017.

Sports Marketing Overview

While victories typically drive success in the sports world, teams can do more to boost revenue and public awareness. Successful marketing campaigns can change the way cities and towns feel about local sports teams. They can drive ticket sales, creating better game-day atmospheres and possibly drawing better players and more interest to the team and having a real impact on game-day performance. For example, minor league baseball’s Savannah Bananas have sold out their stadium for multiple years in a row. This isn’t due to their athletic prowess; it’s the result of their marketing efforts. Instead of focusing on winning games, the Bananas turned their attention to making the games as ridiculous and exciting as possible. Each event provides a different form of live entertainment, and fans turn up in droves to see what will happen next.

Sports marketing professionals can also utilize their players and staff to create goodwill through community service, charity events, and other positive-message outreach initiatives that encourage interactions between the team and the community. Modern sports marketing professionals also need to understand the impact of social media as well as traditional advertising, such as billboards, television and radio spots, and newspaper ads. A key difference between sports marketing and sports management is that marketing has more specific focus, addressing the many facets of public outreach.

Sports Marketing Salary and Job Outlook

The BLS indicates that the median annual salary for all advertising, promotions, and marketing managers across industries is $132,620. The bottom 10% earned below $57,150 annually, and the top 10% earned more than $208,000. Salary may vary based on education, experience, and region. This field anticipates overall growth, with the BLS predicting a 10% increase in jobs between 2016 and 2026 (more than the 7% average for all jobs during the same time frame).

Similarities Between Sports Management and Sports Marketing

Despite differences in daily responsibilities, both career paths offer the opportunity to work in a nontraditional environment. Most sports professionals do not work typical 9 to 5 jobs, with games often taking place at night, on weekends, and on holidays. Both fields rely on strong interpersonal, decision-making, and analytical skills –– all of which translate well to other areas.

Differences Between Sports Management and Sports Marketing

Aside from similarities in workplace culture, there are a number of differences between working in sports management and working in sports marketing.

Educational Path

To begin a career in sports management, candidates need an education that demonstrates their leadership skills and industry knowledge. They can benefit from a program specifically tailored to their needs, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sport Business Management. This immersive program is one of a kind, leveraging a passion for sports with unparalleled industry knowledge. The curriculum includes courses in sports finance and legal aspects of sports business, as well as an internship in the sports world. Those seeking further education often pursue MBAs.

A more general degree in communications or marketing will prepare students to enter a wide variety of industries, including sports, and many go on to pursue master’s degrees in marketing. But while working in sports marketing doesn’t require a sports-specific degree, the core curriculum of Maryville’s Bachelor of Science in Sport Business Management provides general and sports-specific marketing instruction that makes it a useful degree for those aiming for careers in sports marketing as well.

Message vs. Management

The day-to-day work in sports management and sports marketing differs as well. Marketing focuses on developing a coherent, cohesive message to connect the sports franchise or league with the public. Working in sports marketing involves a mastery of the written word and the ability to craft meaningful messages, as well as to innovatively use different channels, such as social media, television, and radio.

Those in sports management spend less time working specifically in promotions and more time addressing the administrative and leadership needs of their organizations. They may work in a number of different departments in a sports franchise, such as finance and human resources, or they could be in the front office of the franchise, as a president or general manager.

Sports Management vs. Sports Marketing: Which Is Right for You?

If your goal is a career in sports, it’s essential to get a degree that gives you an industry-specific education as well as an opportunity to build professional connections before you graduate. See how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sport Business Management can prepare you for a role on the business side of sports.


Ballpark Digest, “Savannah Bananas Sellout Streak Continues”

Forbes, “Sports Industry to Reach $73.5 Billion By 2019”

Houston Chronicle, “The Importance of Communication in Sports Marketing”

Maryville University, Rawlings Sport Business Management Online Bachelor’s Degree

PayScale, Bachelor’s Degree, Sports Management Degree

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes

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