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There may be no crying in baseball, but there’s plenty of money in it — and in football, soccer, and all the other sports that millions tune in to watch. In 2020, the global sports industry accounted for more than $388 billion in revenue (despite the COVID-19 pandemic) and should reach nearly $600 billion by 2025, according to international market research firm Research and Markets. The industry includes not only professional team sports and athletics but also individual fitness activities, running, recreational team sports, and more.
The sports industry not only needs talented athletes to sustain market growth, but also a wide range of business management professionals. As the industry grows, so does the demand for sports managers with a strong background in business, facilities management, events coordination, and data analytics. A bachelor’s degree in sport business management can help provide a solid foundation for a satisfying career in sports.
Challenges and Demands in Sports Management
Sports management positions can be found everywhere from minor league baseball teams up to multibillion-dollar football franchises. Across this spectrum, the industry faces a range of challenges brought on by rapid advancements in technology, the growing popularity of (competitive video gaming), data analytics, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with these challenges come exciting new career opportunities.
The Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic brought sports to a halt in the first quarter of 2020, according to Research and Markets. At that time, the sports industry fell from $459 billion in 2019 to $388 billion in 2020, though projected growth returned in 2021. With games canceled, companies worked to get back on the field as quickly as possible. Many of the changes put into place in 2020 and 2021 will likely remain as consumers and athletes get used to a new normal. Examples of changes made in the sports industry during COVID-19 include the following:
Technology. Tech companies rolled out innovative face shields and biometric wearables to detect COVID-19. The NBA boosted the viewing experience for fans with video boards and additional cameras.
Team bubbles and infection management. At the beginning of the pandemic, players, managers, and staff cocooned in quarantine hotels to prevent infection. With vaccines and boosters, bubbles are no longer as necessary in 2021 and 2022, but testing still is.
Online fitness. When gyms closed their doors, fitness instructors taught classes online. Sales of fitness equipment soared in 2020.
Virtual events and team sports. Runners competed in an online version of the Boston Marathon, and stationary cyclists competed in an event that mirrored the Tour de France. These activities helped connect fans to the main events and are part of the growing crossover between traditional sports and their digital counterparts.
The Growth of Esports
Researchers estimate the global esports industry will reach $1.8 billion in revenue in 2022. Even before COVID-19, esports saw extensive growth, and the pandemic only accelerated this progress.
Leagues include Riot Games’ League Championship Series, Bang Bang’s M2 World Championship, and the Ultimate Gaming League, owned by NFL players and insiders. Top esports players secure sponsorships just like their counterparts on the field.
Traditional sports leagues are taking note of the ways in which esports athletes engage with their fans:
Fan access. Players chat with fans on Twitch, providing behind-the-scenes details at tournaments.
Athlete crossover. Top athletes livestream themselves playing video versions of their own sports and others.
Digital tokens. Blockchain-based fan tokens, digital trading cards, and “cheer” buttons let fans show their support.
Esport teams. Sports franchises such as U.K. football club Manchester City and the Pittsburgh Steelers have invested in esports teams.
The Evolution of Social Media
Social media was once the province of individual players and team public relations accounts. No more. It has become an essential part of brand engagement. Fans watch games while scrolling for information about players, behind-the-scenes coverage, and highlights. Teams use social media to push additional content to fans.
The Demand for Data Analytics
The publication of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game popularized data analytics in sports. Some of the ways sports insiders use data include:
Player recruitment. As Moneyball showed, team managers use player statistics to identify the strengths they need to round out a team, rather than putting together a collection of individuals.
Coaching strategies. Coaches and managers can create match strategies that use players’ strengths to great advantage.
Announcers and color commentators include player data to give viewers additional insight into athletes.
Fantasy sports. Fans use data to put together their leagues, building engagement with the sport and the players.
Sports Management Job Outlook
The demand for sports management professionals continues to grow as the industry expands to meet consumer interest in all kinds of competitions. Even during the pandemic, when participation in some traditional activities (e.g., school sports) contracted, other activities (e.g., individual fitness) expanded. The sports industry offers many career paths for flexible, creative professionals with technical, business, marketing, and sports experience.
Sports Marketing Manager
Sports marketing managers work for teams, leagues, equipment companies, broadcasters, and other companies. They create advertising campaigns to sell tickets and boost fan engagement. They may focus on one sport or several. The marketing profession is in high demand overall. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment opportunities for marketing managers across all industries to grow 10% between 2020 and 2030. The median annual salary for marketing managers in 2020 was $141,490, according to the BLS.
Sports Data Analyst
Sports data analysts use a wide variety of data points to create strategies for teams, coaches, and managers to win games. The demand for professionals with data analysis skills is high, with projected job growth of mathematicians and statisticians coming in at 33% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS. The median annual salary for mathematicians and statisticians was $93,290 in 2020, per the BLS. PayScale reports the median annual salary for a sports statistician at approximately $60,000 as of December 2021.
Stadiums, arenas, and other sports facilities require managers who understand all aspects of facilities management, including structure, engineering, repair work, plumbing, heating, air conditioning infrastructure, and more. The safety and comfort of staff, players, and fans is paramount. The median annual salary for facilities managers was $98,890 in 2020, according to the BLS, with the demand projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030. PayScale reports the median annual salary specifically for a sports facility manager was approximately $57,000 as of November 2021.
Hosting a match, series, or tournament requires someone to coordinate all the moving parts. Event coordinators may work for teams or event management companies. The demand for meeting and event planners is high, with expected job growth of 18% between 2020 and 2030, per the BLS. The median annual salary for event coordinators was $51,560 in 2020.
Sports Management Skills
Sports managers need a range of technical and analytical skills. Some may be specific to a role, such as building management for facilities managers or social media for marketing and media professionals. However, certain skills and expertise are important throughout the sports industry. For example:
Sports knowledge. A sports manager doesn’t need to have played a sport to understand it and know what teams and fans need.
Analytical and technology skills. A manager should understand how the use of player statistics, business metrics, or other data supports decision-making. They should be able to use that data to guide strategy and set goals.
Organizational skills. Managing people, schedules, teams, and events requires top organizational skills. Being able to get things done on tight deadlines may be critical to a program’s success.
Interpersonal skills. Being able to work within an organization’s culture requires communication and empathy to work well with colleagues, athletes, and others.
Creative problem-solving. Amid the pandemic, the most effective leagues were those that adapted to the new reality and came up with ingenious solutions to keep players safe and games intact.
Manage Your Way to Success
The sports management job outlook is promising for industry professionals who are highly technical, analytical, and creative and understand the business of sports. The range of opportunities goes far beyond the careers described here. If you’re drawn to the intersection of sports, business, and technology, explore Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Rawlings Sport Business Management program. With courses in sport business management, sport data analytics, and sport marketing, it can be a great launching pad for a career in sports management.