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Career Paths in Sport Management

March 14, 2024
A student wearing a green and white track jacket types at a laptop in a gymnasium. A scoreboard is visible in the background.

Written by Ava Kensing ‘24

The field of sport management has burgeoned into a powerhouse, mirroring the global rise of sports as a cultural, economic, and entertainment phenomenon. From grassroots initiatives to the grandeur of international competitions, the demand for adept professionals versed in the intricacies of sports administration, marketing, operations, and other business competencies has never been higher. 

It’s about more than the exhilaration of cheering crowds and iconic moments. The industry demands a comprehensive understanding of management principles tailored to the unique dynamics of sports. 

“There are nuances in the field of sport,” explains Molly Hayes Sauder, EdD, Chair of York College of Pennsylvania’s Department of Sport, Tourism, and Hospitality Management. “For example, sport fans often behave differently than consumers of other products.” Pursuing a Sport Management degree becomes not just a choice, but a strategic investment in a career poised at the intersection of passion and professionalism. 

Career Opportunities in Sport Management

Graduates from sport management programs are well-equipped to explore diverse career paths across various sectors: 

  1. K-12 Education: Graduates can find opportunities in K-12 education, working in schools to manage sports programs, coordinate events, and promote wellness.
  2. Higher Education: Colleges and universities offer roles in sports management, including positions as athletic directors, event coordinators, coaches, fundraisers, and athlete support services.
  3. Professional Sports (Major and Minor Leagues): This encompasses roles within major and minor league sports organizations, involving management, marketing, sales, and operations.
  4. Sport Product Companies (e.g., Under Armour, Adidas): Opportunities exist in sports product companies, where graduates can contribute to marketing, brand management, and business development.
  5. Sport Agencies: Graduates can work for sports agencies, representing athletes, negotiating contracts, and managing client relations.
  6. Marketing Firms Working with Sports Organizations: Marketing firms specializing in sports provide avenues for careers in branding, promotions, events, and sponsorships within the sports industry.
  7. Olympic/Paralympic Levels: Careers at the Olympic and Paralympic levels involve managing events, coordinating logistics, and supporting athletes in their preparation and participation.
  8. Recreation: Opportunities in recreation include working for organizations like the YMCA, managing recreational facilities, and coordinating community sports programs.
  9. Youth Sports: Graduates can contribute to youth sports organizations, developing and managing programs that cater to the physical and developmental needs of young athletes.
  10. Fitness: Careers in the fitness sector involve managing gyms, fitness centers, or even contributing to fitness technology companies, promoting health and wellness.

Professionals in sports management experience a dynamic daily routine, shaped by the ebb and flow of sports seasons. The industry's seasonality introduces variability in their day-to-day tasks and workloads. “There is not a lot of routine,” says Dr. Sauder. “There is a seasonality to almost all aspects of the sport industry.” 

For example, the period before a sports season kicks off is marked by intense preparation, involving meticulous planning, strategizing, and coordination of various aspects such as logistics, marketing, and event management. Once the season is underway, the pace intensifies, with professionals engaged in day-to-day operations, event management, and troubleshooting unforeseen challenges. Brief pauses between seasons may offer professionals a moment to catch their breath, reflecting on the past season and planning for the upcoming one. 

Notably, the overlap of sports seasons contributes to a continuous high level of activity in some areas of sport, like college athletics. This sets sport management apart from fields with more year-round consistency. The industry's unpredictable nature requires professionals to be agile, well-organized, and capable of navigating the ever-changing landscape, making a career in sports both exhilarating and demanding. This unique routine allows professionals to immerse themselves in the vibrant and dynamic world of sports, contributing to the success and growth of the industry.

Finding a Sport Management Bachelor’s Degree Program

Embarking on a career in the sports industry requires careful consideration when selecting a sport management program. Here are a few key factors to consider when making your choice:


Look for programs accredited by reputable organizations, ensuring that the curriculum aligns with industry standards. Accreditation, such as that recognized by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA), which serves as a marker of program quality and relevance. The Sport Management degree program at York College of Pennsylvania holds specialized accreditation through COSMA. As of October 2020, COSMA has granted accreditation to only 54 sport management programs.

Comprehensive Curriculum

Examine programs with a curriculum covering diverse topics relevant to the sports industry, including sports marketing, event management, finance, and legal aspects. A well-rounded curriculum equips you with the necessary skills and understanding of the industry. The Sport Management major at York College of Pennsylvania involves courses like Sport in Society, Sport Marketing, Facility and Event Management, Financing Sport Operations, and Legal Aspects of Sport.

Internship Opportunities

Practical experience is invaluable. Seek programs offering internships with reputable sports organizations, providing hands-on experience, networking opportunities, and a chance to apply classroom knowledge in real-world scenarios. Consider programs with established partnerships with sports teams, leagues, or event organizers.  

“In their first semester, [York College of Pennsylvania] Sport Management majors are setting up and tearing down athletic events for our own Athletics and Recreation Department. Then when they apply for any [off-campus] internships, they can [demonstrate] they have that experience,” Dr. Sauder adds. In students’ senior year, they complete a mandatory off-campus internship that aligns with their desired career path. 

Faculty Expertise

The expertise and experience of faculty members significantly impact your learning experience. Research faculty members with a background in the industry, connections, and a successful track record. Faculty members with real-world sports industry backgrounds can provide valuable insights and mentorship. For example, at York College of Pennsylvania — where Dr. Sauder teaches — all of the full-time faculty regularly publish research and have deep connections within the industry.

Active Alumni Network

An active and supportive alumni network opens doors to various career opportunities. Research the alumni network of the programs you're interested in. Strong alumni connections can provide mentorship, job leads, and valuable advice as you navigate your career path. The Sport Management program at York College of Pennsylvania fosters a commitment to establishing strong alumni connections.  York College alumni have successfully ventured into prestigious organizations such as Adidas, the Baltimore Orioles, the Baltimore Ravens, the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer, the Memphis Grizzlies, the New Jersey Devils, and the York Revolution. 

Industry Partnerships

Consider programs that have strong partnerships with sports organizations, enabling them to provide unique opportunities. Look for collaborations with professional sports teams, leagues, or event organizers. These partnerships provide access to guest speakers, networking events, and potential job opportunities upon graduation. The Sport Management program at York College has organized student visits to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, and students regularly volunteer at the Super Bowl. 

Essential Skills for Success in Sports Management

Success in the field of sports management is contingent upon a multifaceted skill set that encompasses competency, technical proficiency, and soft skills. Graduates are encouraged to establish a robust foundation in general sports business, while also considering specialization through minors — particularly in areas like marketing. This approach aligns personal career goals with the ability to apply knowledge in a specialized niche within the industry.

Sports management is a people-centric field, focusing on interpersonal and communication skills. “Get good at understanding people,” Dr. Sauder suggests. 

The ability to effectively interact with a diverse range of individuals, including athletes, coaches, and fellow professionals, is identified as a key attribute for sports professionals. Clear and articulate communication is essential for conveying ideas, negotiating deals, and establishing meaningful relationships within the ever-changing and competitive sports industry.

Analytical skills are also fundamental for success in sports management, involving the evaluation of data, performance metrics, and market trends. This analytical skill set extends to critical thinking, as professionals in the field are expected to navigate challenges and make strategic decisions. The dynamic nature of the sports industry requires individuals to possess the ability to think critically, adapt quickly, and make well-informed decisions to stay ahead.

Organizational abilities are indispensable, as well. Sports management professionals must efficiently manage various aspects of their responsibilities, ranging from events to logistical operations. This skill is particularly crucial given the intricate coordination and oversight required in the planning and execution of sports-related activities and events

Leadership is another key attribute, essential for overseeing teams, managing projects, and guiding the trajectory of sports organizations. Effective leaders within sports management possess the ability to inspire and motivate others, fostering a positive and high-performing work environment.

In addition to honing these skills, networking is essential. Success is often determined not solely by knowledge, but also by the connections you establish within the industry. Understanding people is important. New sports management professionals will benefit from empathy and insight into the motivations and behaviors of athletes, sponsors, and other stakeholders.

Tips for Aspiring Sport Management Professionals

Aspiring sports industry professionals are often advised to begin their journey with passion, while also focusing on the development of essential skill sets. “Passion is a great place to start, but you need to develop competency,” Dr. Sauder explains. The combination of technical skills and soft skills is essential for success in sports.

Building and nurturing relationships within the sports industry is vital for recent graduates’ career development. “People are very willing to connect in the sports industry,” adds Dr. Sauder. “Maintaining professional relationships is about staying in touch and adding value.” 

Managing relationships involves both establishing connections and maintaining them over time. Professionals in sports management are encouraged to cultivate a network of contacts and mentors — these relationships can serve as valuable resources throughout your career.

A key strategy for standing out in the competitive sports industry job market is the art of “finding ways to say yes!” Dr. Sauder emphasizes. Being open to professional development like internships, workshops, and networking events, as well as being receptive to unexpected opportunities that may arise, will help you to adapt throughout your career. Taking on challenges and being flexible contributes to personal growth, while also enhancing your résumé and skill set. You’ll want to make strategic choices regarding your career journey. Hard work will help you to reach your career goals, no matter where you start. You can set yourself up for the greatest success by being proactive and seeking opportunities that align with your passion and ambitions. 

Learn more about the Bachelor of Science in Sport Management at York College of Pennsylvania.