Last Updated on July 21, 2021
Sport Marketing Career Guide
Sales and marketing are essential to long term success in any industry, but this is especially true in the sports and entertainment industry. For example, when looking out at a crowd at a minor league baseball game, it is important to remember that the people in the stands did not have to come there and spend money. They come to events and spend their money because they enjoy the experience and because the organization they have come to support has created an experience that was worth their hard earned money. Understanding this key point–where the “rubber meets the road”–is the foundation of sports marketing.
Marketing is essential for every sport organization regardless of size. A youth sports team needs to get the word out to the community to get enough sign ups to create a league for children to enjoy. In the same way, a professional sports team needs to put “butts in the bleachers” to stay profitable so the team has enough resources to compete each year. If you are a business-minded person who is also very passionate about sports, a career in sport marketing might be the job of your dreams.
The field of marketing takes many forms but can generally be broken down into four categories: sales, public relations, advertising, and promotion. Any buzzwords you have heard related to marketing can be placed within one of these categories. Let’s define these terms with some examples so we can then see how they apply to the world of sports.
- Sales – Exchanging a service or commodity for money, which contributes to revenue.
- Example: Selling tickets to events, advertising space, or merchandise
- Public Relations – Managing the image of a company or organization (generally trying to keep that image positive)
- Example: Players from a sports team partnering with a local charity as a way of giving back to the community.
- Advertising – Using media to bring a product or service to the attention of potential customers.
- Example: Using social media, television, or other methods to advertise season tickets sales.
- Promotion – Keeping the product or brand on the consumer’s mind and helps to drive demand for the product.
- Example: Having a contest where there is a chance to win tickets to an upcoming game.
As you may have noticed, there can be a lot of overlap in these definitions, and they work together. As an example, advertising and promotions are done to drive sales, and an organization may leverage their public relations department to publicize a promotion.
Marketing requires the right blend of skills. For example, a good marketer will always keep a close eye on the product and the market and stay up to date with current trends. In the vast majority of cases, marketers do not have control over most aspects of the product, so it takes skill to highlight the benefits of the product, find the right customer who may be interested, and close the sale. In today’s marketing world, professionals also need design skills and an understanding of how to create digital content.
Why Should You Consider a Degree in Sports Marketing?
In most undergraduate marketing degree programs, students take a deep dive into the psychology of the customer and what affects people in their purchasing decisions, while also learning the fundamentals of the business world (management, accounting, finance, economics, etc). They also tend to focus on the four Ps or marketing (product, price, place, and promotion).
At the graduate level, students learn how to analyze future trends and understand technological innovations are changing sport and sport marketing. Many sport management master’s degree programs and MBAs in sport management allow interested students to apply the latest tools in sport marketing including digital marketing tools. all while learning from innovators and game changers in various roles.
If you have made it this far, you may be wondering what kind of job you could get with a focus in sport marketing.
Take a look at this list below:
Public Relations Manager
Sales Representative / Sales Manager
Social Media Manager
Director of Marketing
Working your way up in this field is completely possible and can prove to be very lucrative for those who make their way to the top of the field.
How to break into the world of sports marketing:
- Choose your approach. From the big picture view, there are basically two different directions that you can take your career in sports marketing. Those are a) to work for a sport organization, or b) to work for a company or consulting agency that does a lot of sponsorship within sport.
The first option is essentially the marketing of sport while the second option is marketing through sport.
To figure out which of these directions might suit you best, you need to be prepared to ask yourself some direct questions. And at the end of the day, only you can answer these questions – the more honest you can be with yourself, the better off you will be down the road.
- Are you excited to immerse yourself in one club, one fanbase, and one city? If so, it will require dedicating significant energy into learning your fanbase better than they know themselves. You will have to learn how they think and how to reach them throughout the year on different mediums and channels.
On the contrary, do you find yourself more motivated about working on completely different projects for teams and organizations that you may not have any connection to? This may involve working on initiatives for companies or clubs that you have never heard of, in places that you have never been. Does that variety sound exciting, or exhausting?
- Determine your focus. As you consider whether you are more passionate about marketing sport or marketing through sport, give some thought to what type of work suits you best.
Are you good at managing individuals and teams to get the best out of them? Or are you excited about the business aspect of marketing – earning new clients, closing big contracts, and growing your portfolio of business.
Choosing your path based on the answers to these questions will help you find the type of position that will suit you for years to come.
- Picture what a day your future life might look like. When planning a new career or a change in careers, it is best to not just think about where you would like to work, but rather what you want to be doing day-to-day.
Do you enjoy creative pursuits, interacting with people, and working on diverse projects? Envision the tasks and projects that you’d enjoy working on each day. It is also important to remember that all roles are likely to have some aspects that are tedious – but by seeking out work that comes easier to you, your work life will be more sustainable long-term. As an example,
- A creative at an advertising agent would spend more time working independently than a salesperson at the same firm.
- A marketing director of a sports team is going to spend more time managing staff then they would on creating content.
- Many organizations have account managers who are responsible for making sure the agency is meeting all of the clients’ needs, and is likely upselling the client on their services when appropriate. While still within the marketing agency, these roles are much closer to business/sales where delivering excellent customer service is a top priority.
It is important to keep in mind that there are many different types of organizations and companies who employ sports marketing professionals. They are structured very differently, but to provide a general idea of what types of positions exist at different types of companies, we have provided a comparison below. The table shows two ways that companies might be structured along with positions and responsibilities:
Advertising/Consulting Agency Senior Positions
Sports Organizations Senior Positions
Account Manager – the link between agency and organization
Marketing Manager – manages four categories of marketing for the organization (Sales, Public Relations, Advertising, Promotion)
Creative Manager / Chief Creative Officer – Manages all creative content produced by the agency
Sales Manager – responsible for growing sales of products or services of organization
Content Producer – Creates content (media like photos, online social media posts, videos, print and TV advertising)
Public Relations Officer – Manages press and image of the organization, its employees, and its community partnerships. Note: Sometimes this is outsourced to a firm specializing in public relations, and it would be on persons’ job to manage that relationship with the firm.
Vice President of Public Relations – Would manage public relations services of the agency (if the agency offers that service)
Advertising Manager – Some organizations have their own department which would create content, buy ad space, and do the other functions of a typical advertising agency.
Keys to Finding Success in Sports Marketing
Regardless of which path you choose or what type or role you aspire to settle in, you will need to make the most of the opportunities that you are given.
Below, we have included three surefire ways to set yourself up for success in the field of sports marketing. Consider your bachelor’s or master’s degree in marketing, sport management, advertising or something similar to be your academic foundation and starting point. Next, focus on these three key areas below to set yourself up for success in sport marketing:
- There is something to be learned from every experience. There is the classic Catch-22 of needing experience to get the first job, and the first job requiring experience that can be very discouraging to job seekers. With a degree in a relevant field being the necessary prerequisite, the significant next step involves applying everything that you have learned in a real-world, dynamic setting. For current students and recent graduates, the best way to gain experience is through an internship.
Many academic programs include internships as part of the degree program. For others, the athletic department at your college or university is a great place to start.
Expect to volunteer your time while you are just getting started, and be open to every opportunity even if they may not seem like the perfect fit for you. Don’t get caught up in titles or roles when you are just getting started. Many managers are specifically looking for individuals who are willing to do whatever needs to be done, so it’s best to enthusiastically accept offers and see where they might lead. Once you have your foot in the door and you have proven yourself, more opportunities will surely come your way in due time.
- Build your skills with a certification in design and/or analytics. Companies and organizations are always seeking candidates who bring other skills to the table, and two of the most sought after skills in today’s business world are design and business analytics.
Organizations can never have too many people with these skills in-house, so consider taking a certification program to complement your skills. Investing in yourself now could prepare you with the skills you will need to climb farther up the ladder a few years down the road.
- Crush every small task, every time. Finally, to advance in any career, it is important to be willing to work hard and do any task once you get your foot in the door. In many professional sport organizations, this may include working in the concession stands or even as the mascot before earning a full-time position.
The willingness to work hard at tasks you may be overqualified for is the best way to move up quickly. Don’t be afraid to volunteer to gain a different perspective – even just a day in the life as a ball boy or at the ticket stand. Your willingness to contribute where help is needed says more about you to potential employers and managers than you would imagine. The more ‘seats on the bus’ that you experience on your career journey, the better you will be able to relate to and value other team members later in your career.
Many times sports organizations partner with charities in their market, and if you can network at these events, that is a great way to expand your prospects and make connections that could lead to opportunities down the road.
Stay updates with the latest developments in sports marketing
Be sure to check out these podcasts and websites to stay updated with quality conversations about sports marketing professionals from around the industry:
Life in the Front Office with Jake Hirshman
Front Office Sports
Sports Business Radio Podcast