Last Updated on August 13, 2022
Interview with Alex Traugutt, PhD
Sports Degrees Online had the chance to interview Dr. Alex Traugutt, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Elon University. In the interview, Dr Traugutt shares advice about how to choose the right sport management program and areas of growth within the industry. He also discussed his research interests and why North Carolina is a great place to pursue degrees and/or careers related to sport management.
About Alex Traugutt, PhD
Dr. Alex Traugutt is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Elon University. He holds his PhD in Sport Administration from the University of Northern Colorado, and his research interests include sport consumer behavior and the economics of sport wagering.
Professor, you hold a PhD in Sports and Exercise Science with a sports administration. Can you please share your academic journey and how you found your way to focusing in this area?
Dr. Alex Traugutt: When I was an undergraduate, I got a history degree with the intention of going to law school. When I finished my collegiate athletic career, I realized I wanted to stay involved with sport in some way. At that point, there weren’t as many sport management master’s programs as there are now.
I was really looking for ways to stay involved but wasn’t sure what that looked like, so I actually decided to continue with education and go get my master’s degree [upon graduation]. After my time in my master’s program, I went on to work in the industry for three years for the Aspire Group, which was a really great experience and it allowed me an opportunity to learn the industry, to become a little more well-versed in some of the operations on a financial side, specifically, any kind of college athletics.
And then, I realized that I love the education side. I obviously love to learn from that perspective, and wanted to bring that passion for sport and that passion for learning to students. I also [wanted to] use that knowledge that I had gained in the industry to help students become better prepared for what their roles would look like once they entered the sport industry.
“I obviously love to learn from that perspective, and wanted to bring that passion for sport and that passion for learning to students. I also [wanted to] use that knowledge that I had gained in the industry to help students become better prepared for what their roles would look like once they entered the sport industry.”
One thing I think that a lot of students can lack when they’re going through their undergraduate or graduate programs is that emphasis on applied learning. [Also], those perspectives from individuals in the industry as to how to be successful. Because a lot of people want to work in sports, obviously, it’s a fun place to be, it’s a fun place to operate, and it’s a fun place to make a career.
So, I wanted to go back and really help prepare students for jobs in this industry where it is more competitive, so that way they can leave their educational experience and have this kind of sense of purpose and that’s how I arrived [at] going back to my doctorate.
Professor, as you alluded, there are literally hundreds of sport management and sport administration programs out there these days. What are some of the factors that prospective students should keep in mind as they’re trying to choose a program?
Dr. Alex Traugutt: I think there’s three main things that I always encourage students to do.
Number 1 is to really do your homework on what the purpose of the program is. How do they frame themselves? What are they preparing students to be (other than just getting them a degree)? And within the realm of sport management, are there specific avenues or tracks within their curriculum that align the student to certain career paths?
Along those lines [it is important] to understand where the program is housed. Is it in a school of communications? Is it in a business school? Because that’s going to give you a little bit of an understanding of what options you have post-graduation.
Within that framework, [it’s important to] also get an understanding of what opportunities there are for you to get non-sport management training, whether that’s picking up a minor or a concentration in marketing, business analytics, or something else that could elevate your degree.
Number 2, I think [it’s important] to look at the faculty profiles and see where they have been. Look at their CVs – not just looking at their academic qualifications, but also consider [their] industry experience – because [these days], students really need industry experience in order to be successful and to land those first jobs. So, having [access to] faculty who are in tune to the industry and in a way, have those connections that’s going to elevate the academic experience for the student.
Lastly, it is also important to [get] a sense of what kind of partnerships [each sport management program has] whether that’s at a larger school – maybe within their own athletic departments – and even with external partnerships. [These external partnerships may be] with pro-sports organizations or minor league organizations, [and it is important] to really get a sense of what the experience will be in terms of experiential learning and internships for students. Because those are so critical in [today’s world] where there are so many graduates that are looking to work in sport.
I would also encourage students to reach out to the programs directly. [Choosing which degree program is best for you] is a large decision that impacts your future and your career. Don’t hesitate to reach out to program administrators or direct points of contact that are listed on university pages to get information and to ask questions about what the program is like. Because [doing this kind of due diligence is] going to set you up for long-term success, both within the program and then within your career.
“I would also encourage students to reach out to the programs directly… Don’t hesitate to reach out to program administrators or direct points of contact that are listed on university pages to get information and to ask questions about what the program is like. Because [doing this kind of due diligence is] going to set you up for long-term success, both within the program and then within your career.”
Professor, you’re just beginning a new position at Elon University. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that factored into you choosing to join the faculty at Elon? Also, what are some of the highlights of the Sport Management program at Elon that you’re excited about?
Dr. Alex Traugutt: One of the things for me is that I wanted to be at a larger program. [In] my first position out of my doctoral program, it was a smaller department. I was the only sport management-specific professor at the institution. That comes with some of the pros – of being able to operate at your own will – but there’s also not a lot of room for collaboration and things of that nature. Some of the resources that are available at larger schools aren’t available there.
One of the large attractions to Elon specifically is there to focus on an applied curriculum. All of the instructors have had previous industry experience that ranges in different content areas and a lot of different professions. So students are really able to get a good understanding of the industry from various perspectives, [which] then allows them to better choose what they want to do long term.
Ultimately, this move was great from a professional standpoint and allowed me to elevate and continue to grow in my own career. [But as importantly, it allows me] to work around more colleagues who have that experience to better prepare students and to also collaborate on some different types of projects for our own careers as well. So, that’s what really kind of led me to this position here.
Professor Traugutt, your research interests include subjects as varied as the economics of sport wagering and the correlation of beer sales with college football attendance. Looking specifically first at the sport wagering – is this a viable field to consider for young people who want to work in the sports industry?
Dr. Alex Traugutt: Absolutely. It used to be such a taboo subject in terms of interweaving sport and gambling. Now you’re hard-pressed to find a professional sports league that doesn’t have some sort of alignment with a gambling property.
For the longest time, the NFL was a hold out and now they’re into [gambling] as much as any other leagues. As a result, you’re seeing more and more opportunities for students to become involved, whether that’s with teams and organizations and their direct involvement with these properties or with the actual properties themselves who are working with the teams.
The careers [in the sport wagering industry] can really span the spectrum from analytics and data specific roles to more marketing and consumer behavior [positions]. [This includes] understanding what fans are doing, how they’re interacting with these different platforms, and how they’re obviously choosing to enhance their own entertainment.
Ultimately, from a team perspective, all these gambling [platforms] provide other ways to engage the fan, which is obviously something that’s becoming harder and harder for professional sports leagues. [They are constantly asking themselves] ‘how do we get fans to come to games, to come to the stadium and to remain involved?’ And I think that’s something that these partnerships can provide.
Obviously, you’re going to need some elevated training [to compete for careers in] these areas, particularly because you’re competing against individuals, with any type of background. Especially, if you want to work more on the provider side.
I think it’s important to understand what type of knowledge you need, and you can do that by simply reaching out to these [sports wagering] properties and looking at what types of jobs they have available and what [types of skills those roles require]. For example, if you want to get into more of a data analyst role, I would encourage students – on top of their sports management degree – to also get some training in statistics and different statistical platforms, and how to take data and turn it into action.
“I would encourage students – on top of their sports management degree – to also get some training in statistics and different statistical platforms, and how to take data and turn it into action.”
[To build that data analytics skill set], there is going to be some extra work because you have a lot of competition in that space. But there are a number of career opportunities within the wagering markets that [will] continue to provide a lot of opportunity, both domestically and internationally.
Professor, can you talk a little bit about how important data analytics is to the business and marketing side of the sports industry, and why it is important for sport management graduates to understand data driven decision making in business?
Dr. Alex Traugutt: Sure. One of the nice things about my doctoral program was, I was able to earn a minor in applied statistics and research methods. That really opened my eyes to the way in which data can really help organizations in this current marketplace. With the amount of information that we’re providing organizations from a transactional perspective – [for example] when you buy a ticket and you’re giving personal information – how can organizations use this kind of data to enhance the products? Or how can they use this information to provide better services?
I think it’s imperative that students are taking at least some sort of research methods course, and within that course, [that they have the chance to] do some kind of data analytics project where they’re using a statistical platform. I think it’s important that they understand these different types of measures, and if that’s interesting to them, to continue to gain some experience and to take some courses within those different areas.
“I think it’s imperative that students are taking at least some sort of research methods course, and within that course, [that they have the chance to] do some kind of data analytics project where they’re using a statistical platform. I think it’s important that they understand these different types of measures, and if that’s interesting to them, to continue to gain some experience and to take some courses within those different areas.”
On a fundamental level, I think that all students need to leave their undergraduate programs with a strong knowledge of how to use Microsoft Excel. Above just doing inputs and things of that nature, [they should know] how to take large amounts of data and turn it into something, whether that’s interactive charts, or graphs, or pivot tables, and different things like that. I think students need to learn Excel because it really still is a tool that a lot of organizations use. Obviously if you can learn anything above and beyond that, that’ll only help, but that’s something that I think students really need to have a firm understanding of.
“I think that all students need to leave their undergraduate programs with a strong knowledge of how to use Microsoft Excel. Above just doing inputs and things of that nature, [they should know] how to take large amounts of data and turn it into something, whether that’s interactive charts, or graphs, or pivot tables, and different things like that.”
Dr. Traugutt, imagine that you’re speaking to a sport management major who’s a sophomore now. Are there any other areas of the sport management field (beyond analytics and Excel, which we already touched on) where there are promising career opportunities arising?
Dr. Alex Traugutt: One of the backbones of the industry is sales. And I know that’s not really flashy, it obviously isn’t anything new, but, there’s so much opportunity within the sales framework. Students often shy away from [sales] because what you see in movies is the salesperson who’s asking people for money and it’s kind of uncomfortable. You don’t want to be told ‘no’, and there’s all those other emotions that go into it and psychological elements, but it’s really not like that in sports. You’re calling people, and you’re interacting with people who also are interested in sports, and you’re asking them if they want to come and consume something that they enjoy.
“Students often shy away from [sales] because what you see in movies is the salesperson who’s asking people for money and it’s kind of uncomfortable. You don’t want to be told ‘no’, and there’s all those other emotions that go into it and psychological elements, but it’s really not like that in sports. You’re calling people, and you’re interacting with people who also are interested in sports, and you’re asking them if they want to come and consume something that they enjoy.”
There’s not a lot of [curriculum] emphasis in sales specific courses, and I almost think to the detriment of students, but they need to know that that’s a fruitful avenue that oftentimes allows uncapped earning potential, especially if you get into a commission-based role. You can do it within a specific team setting, for a sports property, selling sponsorships and different things like that, so there are a lot of options from a sales perspective that are oftentimes forgotten about. I think it’s one that students really need to consider.
If they’re more of an introvert, and they know that they’re not going to be comfortable talking and communicating with people on an everyday basis, [there are] a lot of operations-specific jobs that can span really the gamut. And you can talk about operations working specifically with a team and it can span all the way to operations in an arena. I think that is an option too.
So, I think there are a lot of different avenues that are continuing to emerge and continuing to grow. I don’t think there’s many that are brand new and revolutionary but the old ones that are the foundation of the industry continue to evolve. I think students really need to continue to look at those and explore those because nowadays, there’s just so many opportunities to branch out from those core professions that the industry was really kind of founded upon.
Why should people consider North Carolina as a destination to pursue a degree, career, internship in sports?
Dr. Alex Traugutt: Sure. Well, I think one thing that North Carolina provides is you have the opportunity to engage and to gain experience in all kinds of different sports that range from large professional sports, to Olympic style sports, to niche outdoor-specific sports, and anything in between. You have a lot of the major metropolitan cities that you can go and gain experience in, that are all very close to our university specifically, that will allow you to gain practical hands-on experience to elevate your time in your undergraduate program and then going to set you up for success long term.
It also helps that we’re in the backyard of the ACC. There’s a lot of opportunities to collaborate with the ACC conference specifically, and that provides some unique opportunities for students, specifically around championships and things like that.
Sports are growing at a pretty rapid rate across the country, but in this part of the country specifically, you’re seeing the influx of more and more teams. The MLS team in Charlotte draws really well, [for example], that’s becoming more of a popular sport that now you’re able to become involved with just being in this area.
I think [pursuing a sport management degree in North Carolina] really provides you a great outlet for gaining experience while you’re a student on campus, but then when you [graduate], you’re so close to so many other states that also have other major sports properties. It really allows you an opportunity to get a diversified amount of experience while you’re a student, which can then help you obviously once you’re looking to start your career in the industry, and I think we really set students up for success in that way.
“I think [pursuing a sport management degree in North Carolina] really provides you a great outlet for gaining experience while you’re a student on campus, but then when you [graduate], you’re so close to so many other states that also have other major sports properties.”