The Rugby World Cup, which happens every four years, is one of the biggest sports business events. When it was held in Tokyo last year, it contributed some $2bn to the Japanese economy by some estimates. Over 20,000 hours of coverage was broadcast to 205 territories — an advertising windfall was virtually guaranteed.
The commercial significance of sports events such as the Super Bowl and Olympic Games highlights the big job opportunities in the business of sports management. Jean-Philippe Danglade, at Kedge Business School in France, says that sports teams and leagues are applying the kind of management principles taught in business schools like his.
Kedge runs an MSc in International Sport and Event Management program. Danglade, its director, says: “Some sporting organizations — the NBA, FC Barcelona, Nike — are now considered as powerful as brands such as Apple or Google.”
The program has trained more than 500 managers in 20 years, who work for major global sports organizations as stadium managers, marketing chiefs and sponsorship bosses. “They align sporting goals — to have the best team possible to win competitions — with corporate objectives,” says Danglade.
The program is run on a full-time basis in Marseille. Taught in English, students learn about business strategies for sports organizations, legal frameworks for sports competitions, fan experience and stadium management, as well as commercial sponsorship and mass communication.
The Kedge MSc in International Sport and Event Management program is one of a number of similar programs all over the world — including various sports management master’s programs at ESCP Europe Business School, Columbia Business School, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and George Washington University’s School of Business in the US.
Several business education programs are targeted at elite athletes, such as the MSc in Sports Industry Management at EMlyon Business School in France. Participants must play sport at a national level — demonstrating excellent decision-making, resilience, perseverance, teamwork and adaptation, traits that can translate very well to business.
“High level athletes make great students and excellent future executives,” says Mickaël Romezy, director of the EMlyon program.
Graduates of the program take up middle or top level management positions in sectors as diverse as finance, marketing, banking or consulting. Others want to become entrepreneurs, drawing on their leadership mindset to start a company, create a team and lead it to success — a process which reflects their playing experience.
Given that competing is a narrow window of an athlete’s life, Romezy says it’s important that they prepare for the next phase. “When you realize that an athlete's sports career will last a maximum of twenty years, it is essential to ensure an ambitious post-career” phase, he says. “Especially as many athletes live below the poverty line because their sport is not remunerative. And that no-one is safe from a career-ending injury.”
Indeed, not all athletes bring home millions of dollars per year. Even though the highest paid athletes globally play in the US National Basketball Association—where the median salary is £3.28m—the lowest paid are in the women’s NBA, where median pay is £48,813, highlighting the obvious gender gap in many leagues. Numerous famous athletes have gone bankrupt within just a few years of finishing their playing careers.
On the Sport Management Program at Southern Methodist University in Texas — a course run jointly by its business and education schools — most graduates become managers in the billion-dollar global business of sport. They work in professional leagues and teams, media and broadcasting, marketing and sponsorship, facilities, sports equipment and apparel, intercollegiate athletics, or athlete representation. In addition to blue-chip corporations heavily invested in sports sponsorship.
The course attracts many undergraduate business majors, and demand among this segment is rising. This is due to the continued globalization of sport and the management complexities associated with it, as well as the phenomenal growth of sports — which in most countries exceeds GDP growth and has spurred job growth, says the SMU program director Peter Carton.
“Because of the competitive nature of the sport industry, specific knowledge is needed to gain entry,” he says. The program gives this to students — athletes and non-athletes with leadership potential — through internships and practical learning experiences with top sports executives in Dallas, the fifth largest US sports market.
Students on the Masters in Sports Administration (MSA) at Ohio University’s College of Business pair the degree with the school’s MBA program, a general management degree that is usually for experienced professionals. Students take the MBA in their first year and the MSA in the second, learning about topics ranging from revenue generation to finance.
“Sport is a business,” says Jim Strode, associate professor and chair of sports administration at Ohio University. “Those that graduate with degrees in sport management have the business acumen that students who come from a marketing or general management program have.”
He notes that sport has become a top industry in the US, generating billions of dollars for organizations and communities, and raising demand for managers to run sports teams and leagues. So why are there so few sports management programs at top business schools?
At Kedge in France, Danglade says there are scant professors who are true specialists in the field with research experience, which informs the teaching.
He adds that the job opportunities in sports management, while growing, are still limited in comparison to other sectors like banking or technology. “To build a successful sports management program, you need to combine academic excellence, a strong external teaching network, and a strong global alumni network,” he says.
Prospective students interested in the business of sport should look for all three of these factors when considering programs to take advantage of a growing and exciting global industry.