Last Updated on September 26, 2021
Master’s in Sport Management Degree Guide 2021
“The sport industry is dynamic – continuously changing – and this nature provides all academics the chance to challenge themselves and learn more from the past so that we can create and inform the next generation of sport industry employees.”Professor Chad Seifried, LSU Sport Management Graduate Coordinator – in a recent interview with SportsDegreesOnline.org
The sports industry is a huge and and complex business that is evolving before our eyes. Today’s sports industry is one where olympic skateboarding, MMA, esports are all successfully competing for market share in ways that would have been impossible to imagine only a few years ago. Participation in sports has been on the rise for quite some time, and the sports industry – despite the affect of the pandemic – is still poised for growth in the short term and beyond.
As high school and collegiate athletes and sports fans begin looking to the future, many of them dream about a successful career in the sports industry. Since a career in sports offers the possibility of success while also doing something that you are passionate about, it is no wonder that the sports industry has long been one of most competitive job markets out there.
While a career in sports might take more work to find, it can be a dream job for those who succeed. And in today’s world, there is no better way to position yourself for success than by getter a master’s degree in sport management.
Sport management master’s degree programs are designed to prepare graduates for success in the business of sports today and well into the future. Building on the type of fundamentals found in a bachelor’s degree programs – whether in business administration, sport management, or similar – master’s degree programs present the opportunity to delve more deeply into specific facets of the business of sports. Graduate students are able to choose an area of specialization and gain real-world experience that allows them enter the job market with a major advantage over candidates without advanced degrees.
Why study a master’s degree in sport management?
A master’s degree in sport management prepares graduates for success in the business of sport. With an industry so broad, the opportunity to specialize and gain real world experience prepares graduates to be significantly more marketable than undergraduates in the same field.
A big reason why is that master’s programs often feature robust internship and experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom. Most master’s degree programs provide students with the opportunity to gain real world experience through an internship, a capstone project, or even volunteer positions.
Quality sport management graduate programs have well-structured relationships with real-world partners that enable them to place students in departments and positions closely related to their career goals. These opportunities provide a chance to apply what you have learned during your studies in a professional context where you can also be establishing a network of professional references. Professor Charles Campisi, who recently spoke with SportsDegreesOnline.org, explained what students should be looking for from their sport management program,
“What [does the program have to offer outside of the] classroom? Yes, you need to get the theory, but you also need to put those theories you’re learning in the classroom into practice. If you’re not doing that while you’re at school, what’s your resume going to look like so an organization is going to want to hire you when you graduate? That’s the type of thing students should be looking for: What is offered above and beyond the opportunities that should be readily available on campus at any sport management program? What’s that next level that they’re going to be able to take me to?”[source]
A master’s degree in sport management can prepare students for success in a wide variety of areas related to sports. It equips students for a future in sport-related businesses, event and facility management, merchandizing, and the many positions involved with team operations and management. Graduates may work at the collegiate, amateur, or professional level, and they might even find themselves managing important relationships between brands and strategic partners.
Determining a concentration area within sport management
A master’s degree in sport management offers the opportunity to specialize in areas such as analytics, ethics, communications, law, marketing, and policy. It will also familiarize graduates with services, events, and organizations related to the industry of sports. Many programs offer thesis and non-thesis options to suit students particularly interested in research or practical careers in the field. Individuals who graduate with a master’s in sport management are well prepared for a variety of career tracks in the upper echelons of the sports industry.
While graduate students may have some ideas about which area of the industry they would like to work in, a good sport management master’s program will help students gain experience in specific departments and roles during the program. Only after students have been immersed in a real, specific professional situation – and spoken with the individuals who work in that role, day-in and day-out – can they know whether their chosen career track is a good fit or not.
How do I know which Sport Management program is the best fit for me?
In recent years, many more schools have begun offering master’s degrees in sport management. While it is great that there are so many options out there, it does make the task of determining which program is the best fit for you that much more difficult. Programs vary a great deal in terms of cost, strengths, and quality, so expect to invest time into getting familiar with your choices.
We highly suggest taking the time to compile features and statistics in a spreadsheet where they can easily be compared side by side. If you choose a program for its name and prestige alone, you may miss out on the chance to find a program that truly suits your needs and interests. Spending a little extra time upfront doing due diligence can save you time, money, and headaches later on. Many people find it helpful to narrow your list to four to eight of your top schools starting with your top choice and working your way down to a couple “safety” choices – schools that may not be your top choices, but where you’d be happy to attend and feel pretty confident you will be accepted.
As you begin to narrow down your list, be sure to pay special attention to the emphasis on learning opportunities outside standard lecture and classroom time.
“If you are in a good sports management program, then you are getting a lot of opportunity to do experiential learning projects that specifically touch the sports industry,”
according to Umass Amherst Professor McKelvey, who recently spoke with SportsDegreesOnline.org. Many programs have extensive requirements for learning in applied settings which provide graduates with invaluable real world experience and access to career mentors. Even when remote, these experiences can take learning to a whole different level while facilitating connections and opening doors in the professional world.
While you should expect that sport management master’s degree programs will always provide you will a well-balanced curriculum, it is good to pay special attention to the program faculty and their previous experience. Sport management programs tend to be housed in either business departments or kinesiology/exercise science departments, so depending on your career goals, you may want to keep that in mind while making your decision.
What is required for acceptance into a master’s program in sport sanagement?
Most schools and universities require a bachelor’s degree with a GPA over 3.0 to be considered for a masters in sport management. Undergraduate fields of study are not restricted to be accepted into most programs, though some schools do have some prerequisite courses. Some programs do require standardized test scores (GRE or GMAT), though pandemic related waivers remain for the 2021-2021 school year at most schools. Prior professional experience in the sports industry can be taken into consideration if your GPA history is below 3.0, and is generally preferred but not required. Some programs are highly competitive while others are able to accept the majority of their applicants.
How long does it take to earn a master’s degree in sport management?
Most schools offer the master’s degree in sport management in one year of full time study, and it is quite common for many schools to offer popular alternative schedules as well. Many schools also have a two year option to study the master’s degree on a part-time basis. Depending on the institution, many programs also include preferred placement for internships or work on capstone projects with local professional sports teams. These opportunities can be a great way to leverage existing networks to pursue attractive positions that could potentially be a good fit for you. While these components often add months to your degree experience, the experience and connections they provide is incredibly valuable and well worth the investment of time.
What are the graduation requirements for a master’s degree in sport management?
Program graduation requirements can vary a great deal between different schools, with some programs placing great emphasis on capstone or thesis projects and others focusing on exams and collaborative projects. Generally speaking, most programs require 30-36 credits for a master’s in sport management.
For those who are afraid to commit to a full master’s program, a graduate certificate in sport management might be an intriguing option, usually requiring four core courses (12 credits).
Some students might be looking for an even more in-depth sport management master’s program that will also provide them with a rock solid foundation in advanced business administration. For those students, an MBA in Sport Management program might be an intriguing option.
How much does a master’s in sport management program cost?
Tuition for a master’s degree in sports management can vary widely between schools, and programs generally fall within the $20,000 – $55,000 range for a one-year (plus summer/internship) degree. Of course, if you are considering an on-campus program, you will also need to account for your housing and living expenses for the duration of your program. Many schools offer financial aid packages for qualifying students, so it is always worth asking about any help that might exist. If you have applied for financial aid, any schools that have accepted you will offer you a financial aid package. In some cases, you may be able to request that they take a second look at your application and ask for more financial aid.
Master’s in sport management concentrations
Since Sport Management covers such a broad area, many students choose to further specialize their degree by pursuing a “concentration” within their graduate degree. Below are a few of the more popular concentrations within Sports Management.
Sports and Business Analytics – The world of sports is evolving quickly toward decisions and strategy that is data-driven. Many sport management programs include some courses, while others offer the chance to add analytics as a concentration area. Before you get cold feet about committing to learning about analytics, remember that it is very different than other kinds of math that might have been challenging for you earlier in your academic career. If you don’t want to commit to learning code programs R or Python, it is still strongly advised for students to get familiar with how analytics work, how to visualize data, and how data is used in decision making about how analytics wor
Sports Law – As very high-profile parts of popular culture, teams, athletes, vendors, and sponsors need the guidance of legal experts on a regular basis. Within the sports law umbrella are partnerships and negotiations–for everything from transportation and logistics to branding and sponsorships. Athletes need legal representation in the form of agents while teams–and the leagues in which they play–must have solid agreements in place to ensure smooth, equitable operations. Sports law is an exciting niche within the sport management world that offers very attractive salaries for those who excel in this area, as well as high level involvement with your favorite teams and leagues.
Sports and Media – Driving the strong, sustained growth of the multibillion-dollar sports industry is a complex media ecosystem involving TV networks, radio stations, podcasts, websites, and print media. There are rewarding opportunities for broadcast media personalities, producers, and technicians; writers, editors, and content creators, marketing professionals, graphic designers, partnership managers, and many more rolls and functions. Product placement, sponsorships, and the many charitable fundraisers supported by sports teams all require precise planning and execution by highly educated and dedicated sports media professionals. Sports Media is where you’ll find the most opportunities within the sports industry, so earning a master’s degree with this concentration is a smart play. In an industry of three to four hour games where the fastest growing area of consumption in the industry is highlights and short form content, there are certainly challenges to be overcome in this area.
Sports and Event Management – Sports and event management focuses on the logistics of hosting major events with tens of thousands of fans and personnel that are at the core of the sports business. Graduates in this concentration will be well prepared to step into significant roles related to planning, promoting and executing major games, tournaments, and other events. From the flow of crowds to the halftime entertainment to risk management, sports event management professionals must know their fanbase and how to make game day a safe, exciting, and smooth experience for all. This concentration will help you develop your ability to lead and manage multiple large teams of staff members, plan meticulously, think on your feet, and keep fans coming back for more.
Leadership in Sports – For those who plan to reach the top tier of coaching, team management, or athletic direction, leadership in sports is the ideal concentration within sport management. To become a top decision maker who brings out the best in others, you’ll need to set your sights high and equip yourself with the academic foundation of a Master’s Degree tailored to high level management in a collegiate, semi-professional, or professional organization. A leadership in sports concentration will set you apart from the rest of the pack as you pursue your path to the top of a sports organization.
Delivery method – on campus, online, or hybrid
Since the arrival of the global pandemic, delivery of education has changed in signifiant ways. Whereas just a few years ago online degree programs were viewed as inferior alternatives to on-campus programs, that stigma is now a thing of the past. In today’s world, many of the most competitive universities in the country are racing to offer as many online or hybrid master’s programs as possible. This includes sport management master’s programs with requirements that mirror their on campus program offerings, meaning that graduates of either delivery method walk away with the same diploma.
As described above, a key part of the master’s in sport management program experience involves activities outside the classroom like networking, mentoring, and internship opportunities. Even though online programs have improved their ability to deliver these experiences in a remote setting, there is no question that on campus and hybrid programs are able to deliver these components most effectively – and most consistently – since they have often developed the relationships and connections with their partners over a number of years.
This is not to say that online programs can’t deliver effective networking and internship experiences, because some of them manage to do this quite well. For those who already have access to a professional network to plug into – whether from a previous internship or job – this model can actually work very well, even from a distance. Be sure to ask plenty of questions about what the structure of these internship and networking opportunities looks like, and note how involved successful alumni are with the graduate program. Since those connections can often lead to unique opportunities to get your foot in the door, an engaged alumni network can be an incredibly valuable asset.
Some students find the ability to meet with your professors and your cohort in-person – at least a few times each semester – to be an incredibly valuable part of a master’s program. It is simply impossible to replicate the on-campus learning experience – with discussion based learning and shared experiences – and how much growth can occur amongst a like-minded cohort. The networking and in-person connections that many universities provide through their sports programs, internships, and mentorship with nearby professional and minor league teams is very unique. While there are other ways to find these opportunities, the ease of which many programs plug in to them at some universities is certainly a selling point. The chance to collaborate in-person with other like-minded individuals who share your passion for the sports industry is also an incentive for studying on campus.
However, many working professionals with busy lives would never be able to dedicate a full year to living on campus to getting a master’s degree. Since online degrees offer both synchronous and asynchronous studying, they enable students who would normally never have the time to complete their coursework. Recent advances in technology have brought major improvements in the quality of virtual interaction with professors and classmates, meaning there is less of a distinction between the on-campus and virtual experience. And importantly, many online degree programs cost just a fraction of what some of the top-tier schools charge for their master’s in sport management programs.
Careers in sport management
In an industry as large as sports, The number of careers within the field of Sport Management is almost endless. While some positions work directly with athletes, many others work either behind the scenes or in the front office. Graduates of Master’s in Sport Management programs have a considerable advantage when it comes to entering the professional world. According to UMass Professor Steve McKelvey…
“If you’re a sports management [graduate], it’s just going to give you the ease of access to the industry, the network and the alumni network, projects and so forth. And all of this, learning within the context of the uniqueness of the sports and sport industry.”
SportsDegreesOnline.org also recently spoke with Dr. Rebecca Achen, who is transitioning to a new position at Pacific University. Professor Achen provided some stellar advice for those who are transitioning into the professional world:
“Embrace the idea that life is always about learning. You aren’t going to graduate and magically know all the things you are going to need to know. While you are a student and getting ready to enter the professional realm, it’s important to find journals, websites, podcasts and email lists and join them so you know what is happening in the sports industry. You will be sitting in an interview and they will ask you, “how have you seen the sports teams adapt to the Covid pandemic and how could you implement that our institution?” If you don’t stay up to date on the trends then you’ll struggle to answer that. Embrace the idea of being a lifelong learner now and get into that habit of listening to a weekly journal or podcast as soon as you can.
“In addition, do things that force you out of your comfort zone and aren’t necessarily in your job description. We all struggle to find what we want to do with our lives but it’s a lot easier to find out what you don’t want to do. Stepping outside your comfort zone, volunteering with a different department even if it’s not your particular job responsibility, can help you find your way a little quicker. Whereas if you put your head down and only do what’s asked of you, you may miss out on those opportunities to find more about yourself through those experiences.”[Source]
For more information and resources on potential careers, check out our Sports Management Careers Resource.