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What Does a Career in Sports Management Entail?

Are you interested in pursuing a career in sports management? If you enjoy athletics and have a keen mind for business, then a sports management degree program might lead to an ideal profession for you. Sports management professionals often work with athletes, but focus more on behind-the-scenes elements such as finance, marketing, leadership, facility management, and event planning within the sports industry whether or not they work with professional sports teams. Because there are so many sub-fields within the sports management field, specific job titles and descriptions vary drastically depending on the industry in which a person is employed, especially outside of professional sports organizations such as college sports. There are a wide variety of different companies and sports organizations that tend to hire individuals with a background in sports management or a sports management degree. These often include amateur, collegiate, and professional sports organizations - who hire athletic directors and sport marketing professionals for sporting events, as well as sports networks, sales and advertising companies, marketing and public relations firms, and athletic apparel stores. As you can see, there's more to look forward to after completing a sports management degree than working for a major league team.


Components of a Successful Career in Sports Management

A sports management career is not for everyone. Because these professionals deal with athletics from an administrative standpoint, they must have an interest in and passion for business. They often possess a wide variety of skills in finance, marketing, and even law in order to be successful in the field. Regardless of their specific job title or position description, they must learn and hone as many relevant skills as possible. Those who seek a successful career in sports management should work to develop the following essential traits:

  • Flexibility to complete numerous tasks at a moment’s notice, as well as take on additional (and sometimes unrelated) responsibilities as needed
  • Strong time management and efficiency, especially when faced with more work than can usually be completed in a single day
  • Excellent organization of work space, files, budgeting information, scouting reports, and/or other important documentation
  • Superior communication skills that allow for clear and concise relaying of relevant information within a specific sub-field
  • An analytical mindset that is always eager to meet and address new and old challenges in unique ways
  • Creativity necessary to repackage and rebrand generic facts and figures in a way that stands out among all of the others
  • Well-developed writing proficiencies that are used to prepare memos, reports, and other important documents on a regular basis

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How to Earn an Online Degree in Sports Management

Entering the sports management field is relatively simple. While building a successful career will require significant hard work, dedication, and networking, enrolling in and completing a college or university degree program is not hard. A streamlined explanation of the process consists of the following steps:

  • Develop and hone your interest in sports management, often by participating in high school athletics

  • Determine what level of education will best suit your personal career goals (associate, undergraduate, or graduate)

  • Research possible online college and university sports management programs

  • Create, request, and organize any needed application materials

  • Submit applications to your preferred online programs (often your first, second, and third choices)

  • Decide which online program meets your objectives and will offer the best opportunities for future success

  • Enroll in courses that align with your specific interests and, if applicable, select the associated concentration

  • Graduate from your chosen college or university

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What Can You Do With a Degree in Sports Management?

Sports management professionals bridge the gap between athletics and business. They often work for a company or organization that deals primarily with sports and athletic activities, but focus on one or more of the following: planning, marketing, organizing, managing, or budgeting. Jobs are available at every level, from municipal recreation, private organizations, social organizations, and government athletic activities to amateur sports, college-level athletics, and professional sports. Some of the most common sports management jobs include:

  • Account Manager or Account Executive
  • Sports Agent
  • Public Relations Assistant
  • Event Planner or Coordinator
  • General Sports Manager
  • Marketing Management
  • Athletic Director
  • Sports Management Professor
  • Coach or Scout
  • Umpire or Referee
  • Sports and Health Club Associate
  • Camp Director
  • Youth Sports Coordinator
  • Sports Content Producer
  • Sports Mediator or Arbitrator
  • Sports Writer

Typical Sports Management Degree Requirements

At minimum, sports management professionals will need an associate’s degree. It is unlikely, however, that this level of education will provide much more than a solid foundation in the field. In most cases, a degree of this type serves to prepare students for more advanced study at a four-year college or university in the future.

Most people choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sports management from the start. Undergraduate degrees in sports management usually consist of 120 credit hours of required coursework that is comprised of both general curriculum and specialized major classes. Students with an associate’s degree or college credits from another institution may complete graduation requirements early. Students who are unable to attend classes full-time may take as many as 5-8 years to graduate.

Graduate degrees in sports management usually consist of 30 to 36 credit hours of coursework that primarily centers on major content. While a graduate degree is not required for sports management professionals, earning one can provide an edge when competing for jobs, especially higher level ones. The field is extremely competitive and employers often give preference to individuals who have a more in-depth understanding of basic and advanced concepts.

Typical Sports Management Certifications Needed

Once a degree in sports management has been attained, there are no field-specific certifications required in order to work professionally within the field. There are, however, certification programs that may be beneficial. A few options include:

  • Sport Management Specialist Certification via the International Fitness Professionals Association
  • Certified Sports Event Executive (CSEE) via the National Association of Sports Commissions
  • Fitness Facility Manager via the International Fitness Professionals Association

Other professional organizations that offer professional certifications include SHAPE America and Sports Management Worldwide (SMWW).

Academic Standards for a Sports Management Degree

Every online college and university sports management degree program is a little different, but they often share several basic academic standards. Common expectations for admittance include:

  • High School Transcripts
  • Application Fee
  • College Admission Tests (ACT or SAT)
  • Letter(s) of Recommendation
  • Application Essay
  • An Interview

While most institutions have set standards for GPA minimums and test scores, they can vary significantly from program to program. You should research these factors thoroughly and confirm that you meet all of the necessary requirements before selecting and applying to a college or university.

Exam / Experience Needed for a Sports Management Degree

Most four-year institutions that offer sports management degrees expect those who enroll to take a college admission test prior to admittance. Most colleges and universities accept either the ACT or SAT. While these examinations are similar, there are several minor differences.

sports_management_exam_experience_needed The ACT is longer than the SAT. It includes more questions but does not extend the allotted time to answer them, meaning test-takers have less time per question. It also does not provide a list of common mathematical formulas. The test does, however, allow students to use calculators for all of the math questions. There is also a science section. Carefully consider your personal strengths and select the exam that will best suit your personal preferences and testing style. It is also recommended that you verify your intended sports management program scoring requirements. This will provide you with a minimum score to strive for.

Those who intended to enroll in a graduate sports management degree program may need to take and pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

As previously mentioned, individuals who are interested in a sports management career have several academic options to choose between. Every degree level offers some form of sports management program.

Online Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree in sports management is a good option if you are interested in learning more about the field before pursuing entry-level employment or enrolling in an undergraduate program. They generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take approximately two years to complete. Associate degrees are meant to provide students with the basic skills needed to succeed in the sports and business world. After graduation, many students decide to transfer their credits to a four-year undergraduate institution. Every college and university is different, but coursework frequently covers:

Associate degree sample courses

  • Public Relations
  • Event Planning
  • Sports Management
  • Sports Marketing
  • Business Law
  • Public Speaking
  • Accounting
  • Business Ethics

Online Bachelor’s Degree

While it is possible for graduates with an associate’s degree in sports management to find entry-level positions, most professionals in the field have a bachelor’s. These degrees usually consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students about four years to complete. Curriculum consists of both major-specific and general liberal arts coursework. After graduation, many students either join the workforce or use their degree to enroll in a graduate sports management program. Every college and university is different, but coursework frequently covers:

Online bachelor’s degree sample courses

  • Management for Organizations
  • Sports Events and Facility Management
  • Public Relations Practice and Promotional Writing
  • Sports Marketing
  • Sociology of Sport
  • Sports Accounting and Finance
  • Operations Management and Quantitative Techniques
  • Organization and Administration of Sports and Recreation Management
  • Contemporary Issues in Sports Marketing and Management
  • Sports Media

Because there are many sports management sub-fields, colleges and universities frequently offer students the opportunity to specify a concentration. This ensures that students not only graduate with a broad understanding of the field, but with specialized knowledge in a particular area as well. Popular concentrations include:

  • Event Management
  • Organizational Management
  • Sports Law
  • Sports Media

It is also worth noting that some institutions offer a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in sports management. These programs include similar curriculums and are sufficient for many positions. You should, however, verify that a degree like this will provide training in the specific skills you plan to use most in your career.

Online Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in sports management may not be required for most jobs, but it can be very beneficial. Common degree options include the Master of Arts (MA) and the Master of Science (MS). Examples of degree program titles include the Masters of Business Administration and the Master of Science in Sports Medicine.

Most sports management graduate programs consist of about 60 credit hours of coursework and take two years to complete. Some colleges and universities have requirements that take longer to complete, however. This degree often qualifies sports management professionals for more advanced positions, higher pay, faster promotions, and better job security. Every college and university is different, but coursework frequently covers:

Master’s degree sample courses

  • Sports Ethics
  • Advanced Sport Psychology
  • Finance for Sport Organizations
  • Sociology Principles of Sport
  • Risk Management and Legal Issues
  • Research and Evaluation Methods
  • Athletic Training and Development
  • Psychology and Physiology of High-Performing Athletes

Career and Salary Information

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual wage for agents and business managers of artists, performers, and athletes in 2017 was $62,080. The median hourly wage in 2017 was $29.85. Salaries can vary quite drastically depending on the sports management sub-field you choose to pursue.

Earning Potential for Sports Management Degree Fields and Occupations

The earning potential for sports management professionals is good. In fact, agents and business managers in the top ten percent of highest paying jobs can expect to make more than $194,810 a year. People in these positions typically have, at minimum, an undergraduate degree; most, however, likely have graduate degree. Conversely, professionals with associate’s degrees are more likely to remain in entry-level positions that provide fewer benefits and smaller salaries. Professionals in the bottom 10 percent of the field can make a median annual salary that is less than $27,290.

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Sports Management Median Salaries by Field of Study

Field of Study Entry Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Career Median Annual Salary
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing $93,590 $106,130
Public Relations and Fundraising $101,750 $111,280
Financial Management $110,610 $125,080
Agents and Managers for Athletes $39,560 $62,080
Sales Management $89,380 $121,590

Athlete Management

Sports management professionals who work as agents or managers for athletes are responsible for representing and promoting their clients’ interactions with current and future employers. They often handle contract negotiations, as well as work with their client to develop career strategies. These professionals frequently collect fees, commissions, and other payments on behalf of the athlete.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing

Sports management professionals who deal with advertising, promotions, and marketing are responsible for generating interest in their client, associated products, or a specific sporting event. They often plan promotional campaigns, negotiation advertising contracts, and provide marketing advice. These professionals are frequently in charge of social media.

Public Relations and Fundraising

Sports management professionals are responsible for planning, directing, and creating materials that are meant to maintain and enhance a company or individual’s public image. They often write press releases, designate spokespersons, and assist in promotional program development. These professionals frequently help their clients communicate more effectively.

Sports Management Salaries by Occupation

Just as every sub-field of sports management has a different earning potential, so do the specific professions available. Education also plays an important role. Not only does a person’s degree level dictate which jobs he or she is qualified for, but it also impacts salary ranges.


Coaches teach important skills to athletes at both the amateur and professional level. They often plan, organize, and conduct practice sessions, as well as analyze athlete strengths, strategize for upcoming games, direct physical conditioning, and call plays. These professionals frequently provide instruction on athletic technique, game strategy, sportsmanship, and sport rules.


Scouts are responsible for finding new players by evaluating skill level and the likelihood of future success in the sport. They often attend games, review game tapes, talk with athletes and coaches, report findings, and read relevant newspaper articles. These professionals frequently arrange and offer incentives to potential athletes as well.

Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Umpires and referees are responsible for presiding over a specific athletic competition or sporting event. They often officiate games, judge overall performance to determine a winner, inspect sports equipment, and track event times. These professionals frequently enforce rules, signal when infractions occur, and settle disagreements.

Occupation Entry Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Career Median Annual Salary Late Career Median Annual Salary
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers $44,700 $62,700 $67,500
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $44,500 $72,300 $75,400
Coaches and Scouts $34,500 $75,000 $161,300
Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials $20,000 $29,200 $32,700
Athlete Agents and Managers $45,000 $57,000 $60,000
Statisticians $65,900 $84,300 $109,400
Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners $47,700 $56,200 $81,800

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

Individuals interested in a career in sports management should ask the following questions before committing to the field or a specific online program:

How long does it take to earn a sports management bachelor’s degree online?

Generally, it takes a full-time student approximately four years to complete a traditional bachelor’s degree in sports management. This timeframe is usually the same for online undergraduate degrees. It is important to realize, however, that most online programs are ideal for students who are unable to attend courses on campus and require more flexibility due to work schedules and other personal obligations. If this is the case for you, it will likely impact the number of classes you can complete each semester and may result in a later graduation date. It is not uncommon for non-traditional students to require 5-8 years to complete an online bachelor’s degree in sports management.

How much does an online sports management bachelor’s degree cost?

It is difficult to determine the exact cost of a bachelor’s degree in sports management. Every institution sets its own tuition amount based on operational expenses and location. Comparing the cost of public and private colleges and universities is even more challenging. As a result, you will have to spend time researching each institution separately. Fortunately, tuition and fee information is usually provided prominently on the institution’s website.

While the specific cost of a sports management degree is hard to calculate, the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series did report that students spent an average of $9,970 on tuition to attend in-state, four-year public institutions during the 2017-18 school year. Private educations, on the other hand, were more expensive. Their students spent an average of $35,260 during the 2017-18 academic year. Keep in mind that the numbers reported by the College Board refer to tuition only; the actual out-of-pocket cost of attending a college or university for a bachelor’s degree in sports management may be much higher or lower after fees, room, board, grants, and scholarships are calculated.

What does coursework look like for an online sports management bachelor’s degree?

Sports management course titles will vary a lot from institution to institution, but topics commonly include:

  • Sports Management
  • Marketing
  • Public Relations
  • Business Administration
  • Accounting
  • Communications
  • Writing

Does the school have the major(s) you are considering?

Many colleges and universities offer a major in sports management, but there are some institutions that do not. If you plan to pursue a career in this field, it is imperative that you choose a school that offers it as a major. You should also pay close attention to which concentrations are offered.

How many students graduate “on time,” or within four years?

It is important to research an institution’s graduation timeframe. While most full-time students can expect to complete coursework requirements within four years, this is not always the case. Some colleges and universities gain a reputation for programs that take more time to finish. Knowing this ahead of time will save you potential frustration and money in the future. You should also research the school’s overall graduation rate, as well as the rate of graduation for the sports management program specifically.

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What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How it is regarded in the field?

Most reputable colleges and universities choose to have their institution or sports management degree program accredited by either an international or regional agency. This is not a requirement, but it does prove that the school meets certain, pre-established, academic standards.

The most prominent international accreditation organization is the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). A college or university can also choose to become accredited by a regional agency. While these organizations do not accredit the sports management program, they do confirm that the institution as a whole meets certain standards. Regional accreditation organizations include:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCACS)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS COC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools (WASC ACS)

Sports Management Scholarships

There are many scholarship opportunities available for individuals interested in pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in sports management. Keep in mind, however, that most individual scholarships will not provide enough financial assistance to cover your entire yearly tuition and fees. Some popular scholarships for sports management majors include:

  • Linda Riddle / SGMA Endowed Scholarship
    The Linda Riddle / SGMA Endowed Scholarship is administered by the Women’s Sports Foundation. It consists of $1,500 in aid that is provided to a student who intends to participate in intercollegiate athletics or has an interested in a sports-related career. .

  • David J. Stern Sports Scholarship
    The David J. Stern Sports Scholarship is sponsored by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the National Basketball Association (NBA). It consists of $10,000 in aid that is renewable for up to three years. It is intended for a student who has an interest in sports.

  • Ethnic Minority and Women’s Enhancement Graduate Scholarship
    The Ethnic Minority and Women’s Enhancement Graduate Scholarship is administered by the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics and the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee. It consists of $10,000 in aid that is provided to 13 ethnic minorities and 3 female college graduates who are entering their first year of graduate studies. It is intended for students pursuing a career in intercollegiate athletics.

Professional Organizations

There are many opportunities for sports management professionals to join organizations and associations within their field. Members usually receive great benefits, including access to various resources, support, networking, and idea-sharing. Some of the most popular options include:

  • SMA

National American Society for Sport Management (NASSM)

National American Society for Sport Management (NASSM)

The National American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) provides a place for students involved in sports, leisure, and recreation to meet and interact with like-minded individuals, look for employment opportunities, and network with current sports management professionals.


National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA)

National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA)

The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) strives to provide networking, information exchange, and training to sports management and leadership professionals. As the largest association for collegiate athletics administrators, it also hosts an annual convention and manages a scholarship program.

SMA Logo

Sport Management Association (SMA)

Sport Management Association (SMA)

The Sport Management Association (SMA) seeks to promote professional, academic, and student interaction within the sport management field. It also offers an annual conference, networking opportunities, and a career fair for students.

Next Steps

If you think a career in sports management is right for you, you should begin preparing for your future now. Start by participating in athletic activities, either as a player or as someone working in the background. Keeping the following tips in mind will also help you to select a college or university program that suits your personal and career goals.

Choosing an Accredited Online College

As previously established, accreditation is important. It is strongly recommended that you avoid any college or university that is not international or regionally accredited. It may be difficult or impossible to transfer credits, enroll in further educational programs, or earn a suitable salary. In fact, some employers do not acknowledge degrees provided by unaccredited institutions at all.

Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid Degree Programs

You will also need to choose a degree type that fits your individual situation. While traditional on-campus sports management programs are popular, they are not the only option. If you work full-time, an online option may be a better solution. These programs offer more flexibility with scheduling. The major drawback to distance learning, however, is the lack of networking opportunities. If you want more professor and peer interaction, a hybrid program may be more appropriate. These often require short, on-campus residencies that allow for more networking.

Post-Graduate Job Placement Assistance

It is also a good idea to enroll at an institution that offers job placement assistance to students before they graduate. While a college or university cannot guarantee employment, many offer assistance with interview preparation and resume creation. Some even provide career coaching.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why earn a sports management degree?

There are plenty of business management and administration degrees available across the US. So, why should you earn a sports management degree, specifically? Well, if you didn’t realize, it’s important to understand that there are many unique parts of running a sports organization that are not involved in running a regular business. Additionally, you might end up working with a sports department that is part of a school, which is an entirely different beast than working with a business. So, the reason why it might be a good idea to earn a sports management degree is that it is a unique field which, while it might have some similarities to other fields, requires special knowledge that you will not have access to if you earn a degree through a different major.

Is sports management an easy major?

Due to it’s focus on humanities, education, and people management rather than math or the hard sciences, sports management is often considered to be a relatively easy major. However, those who don’t have a passion for sports are unlikely to do well with a sports management major despite its apparent ease. As this major is singularly focused on the sports industry, those who are passionate about sports in general are likely to enjoy courses focusing on the business aspects of the field more than those who are just looking for an easy course.

What are the highest paying jobs that you might gain access to with a degree in sports management?

Obviously, athletic directors at large schools that are part of popular leagues are going to have the chance to make a lot of money. After all, these programs make schools as much as millions of dollars a year. However, not everyone with a sports management degree is going to be able to land one of these limited positions. If you’re wondering what your other options are to make money in this field, then you might consider working as a sports promoter, sports marketing manager, or an athletic trainer. These positions require some knowledge and other skill sets in related areas, such as marketing or athlete training, but a minor in these fields can be enough to shore up your credentials.

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