How to Become a Sports Industry Leader

Learn more about the sports industry and the steps it takes to work as a business leader in the field of sports administration.
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Many sports fans grow up dreaming of having professional playing careers in the biggest leagues in the world. Those unable to become professional athletes can keep that dream alive with a sports administration degree. Training in this discipline can allow graduates to pursue careers as business leaders in the sports industry.

According to Plunkett Research, the estimated size of the entire sports and recreation industry in the U.S. was $552.8 billion dollars in 2020. While fans watch athletes play, sports administrators and managers run the teams, leagues, communications, and operations. Below, we explore the field of sports administration, including the type of education professionals in the industry need to qualify for the top 10 jobs in sports.

What Does a Sports Business Leader Do?

Leaders in the sports industry often work in the field of sports administration. Sports administration is a broad field that typically overlaps entirely with sports management. Professionals in this industry may work in operations management, such as guest services, accounting, and finance management. They can also work directly with athletes as athletic directors and general managers.

According to Erin McNary, Ph.D., who works as an assistant professor of sport administration at the University of Miami and teaches in the UOnline graduate program, students should be open-minded and flexible — there are so many potential career paths for those who study sports administration.

"Be open to learning about sport industry positions that you might not think would be a good fit," McNary said. "Many times, I see students hyper focused on one position, but they have not job shadowed or spoken with someone in that role. There are so many different types of positions in the industry that students may not even know about."

Careers in Sports Administration Responsibilities

  • Facilities Management: Administrators ensure that facilities meet safety and quality standards, track all equipment needs, and manage finances.
  • Public Relations: Administrators may represent individual athletes or entire teams. They coordinate press activities, help craft communications, and identify opportunities to improve public images.
  • Event Management: Administrators tasked with managing events may have to coordinate guest relations, accommodations for teams, communications, and security.
  • Team Operations: Professionals in operations often manage staffing, compensation and benefits, and organizational rules and policies.
  • Marketing Management: Sports marketing requires professionals to create campaigns that attract new fans, promote special events, and advertise related products and services.

Sports Business Leader Job Demand and Salary

As spectator sports increase in popularity and innovative media provides more new ways of watching games and events, the demand for business leaders in the sports administration field will likely increase and diversify. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 22% growth for entertainment and sports occupations between 2020 and 2030. That equates to more than 160,000 new jobs during that period.

Per the BLS, the average annual wage across all occupations in the spectator sports industry was $50,920 in May 2020. The industry employs the most people in service, media, sales, and administrative occupations.

How Do I Become a Sports Industry Leader?

In a large field like sports administration, professionals possess diverse backgrounds and can pursue many paths. Typically, however, aspiring leaders in the sports industry complete a bachelor's degree in sports administration or a related field. This next section dives into the process of earning a degree and highlights other helpful steps.

Complete a Bachelor's Degree in Sports Administration

Sports administrators and managers typically need a bachelor's in sports administration or a bachelor's in sports management to enter the field. These programs can familiarize students with the business side of sports, sports-related managerial strategies, and tasks performed in various administrative roles. Most programs also offer valuable internships and practical training experiences.

For admission into a sports administration program, prospective students usually need a high school diploma or a GED certificate. You may also need to submit ACT or SAT scores and meet a minimum GPA requirement. Many programs ask candidates to write a college application essay, which may highlight their interest in the program or answer a specific sports-related question.

When choosing a college, you should always ensure a school is an accredited institution. Sports administration courses do not generally possess programmatic accreditation. You should also prioritize programs that can teach you the most marketable skills, such as core business and corporate capabilities, team branding expertise, and leadership skills.

Exploring programs' available concentrations and courses can also help you make a decision. Specializations can help you chart a direct course into a subfield of interest. Options often include:


  • Interscholastic and intercollegiate athletics
  • Event management
  • Sports media
  • Sports law
  • Business of sports
  • Marketing management

Common Courses

  • Sport business management
  • Sport finance
  • Sport business data analytics
  • Sport marketing
  • Athletic leadership

Gain Field Experience

Internships and field experiences can provide aspiring sports leaders with valuable practical training. Students get the opportunity to put what they have learned into action and shadow active professionals. Schools use program internships and networking opportunities to give learners a chance to build experience and practical expertise before they enter the workforce.

Learners can also do their own networking by reaching out to local sports teams or contacting industry professionals to pick their brains. According to Ayla Acosta, an account services executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks and UOnline Sports Administration alumna, school alumni are a great resource for building a personal and professional network.

"The constant access to the alumni network provided unique opportunities and easy engagement with networking," Acosta explained. "Even now after graduating, I'm running into people who went to Miami for either this program or for undergrad. [Attending the same school] gives you common ground and an immediate connection with someone that you can further build on to expand your network."

Earn General or Specialized Certification

To understand professional certifications, we must discuss the difference between certificates, certifications, and licenses. Certifications are credentials awarded by industry-recognized organizations that help professionals distinguish themselves as experts in a particular field. In contrast, certificates are awarded to students who complete training programs run by schools and organizations. State and federal governments issue licences, which are mandatory in certain fields.

While there are no licenses for sports administration, there are several certifications. The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association offers the most prominent credential in the field. For certification, candidates typically need to meet educational requirements and pass an exam. Some certifications require professionals to complete continuing education credits to maintain their credential.

Professionals can also seek certification in specialized fields, allowing them to diversify their credentials and expand their expertise. Potential specialized certifications include a coaching credential from the International Coaching Federation, the Certified Park and Recreation Professional certification, and state-specific athletic director certifications, such as the one offered by the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

Consider a Master's Program

After earning a bachelor's degree in sports administration, you may want to consider graduate school. Graduate programs in sports administration build on your undergraduate training and tackle more advanced topics, such legal aspects of sports, information management, and ethical leadership.

In general, graduate programs help students develop their communication, project management, analytical, and leadership skills. These skills can help graduates qualify for management, analyst, and senior-level positions. Master's programs also tend to offer more concentration options, such as:

  • Organizational management
  • Project management
  • Athletic coaching
  • Athletic management
  • Collegiate athletic administration

Master's programs also feature considerably more research and practical training than bachelor's programs. For example, the University of Miami's online sport administration graduate program is taught by world-renowned faculty who have extensive industry experience and offer real-world advice for securing internships and job opportunities. Windy Dees, Ph.D., who serves as graduate program director at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, explains that graduate training can lead to careers in any and all sports and organizations.

"At the University of Miami, we teach a variety of classes that can prepare students for careers in sport business at any level," Dees said. "We also offer specialized classes to meet the changing demands of the industry, such as courses on gambling, esports, data and analytics, and the globalization of sport. We have a full-time internship and industry relations director that helps students find volunteer and field experience positions virtually anywhere in the sport industry across all the teams, leagues, and events that take place in Miami."

What Jobs Can I Get With a Sports Administration Degree?

Finding a job as a recent graduate may be challenging, but many resources are available to help you land a position after college. While pursuing a sports administration degree, be sure to take advantage of any mentorship programs and career services your school offers. You should also participate in one or more internships, making personal and professional connections and building practical experience.

"Be open to learning about sport industry positions that you might not think would be a good fit."

— Erin McNary, Ph.D.

Quotation mark

According to McNary, it's important to conduct yourself professionally in all your interactions. "The sport industry can be intense and competitive," McNary said, "but graduates can succeed by staying true to their ethical and moral codes of conduct."

Finally, check out the best job search sites and set an alert for new sports administration job postings in your area.

  • Athletic Director: These professionals manage sports programs at all levels, overseeing finances, staffing, and athletic issues.
  • Media Relations Director: These professionals take care of all communications, interviews, and public relations.
  • Sports Agent: Agents manage business deals for athletes, including setting up contracts and endorsements.
  • Contract Administrator: These administrators work out the fine details in contracts.
  • Sports Data Analyst: These professionals analyze game, athlete, and team data to improve performances and strategies.

Frequently Asked Questions About Careers in Sports Administration

Is a sports administration degree worth it?

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A sports administration degree has many potential benefits for students and graduates. The flexible training can prepare professionals for numerous business-related roles in collegiate or professional sports. Because of the competitive nature of sports administration jobs, specialized training in this field can help candidates stand out.

For those who want a career in sports, studying sports administration can be the most effective path. In addition to targeted training, these programs often include internship and networking opportunities. Bachelor's degree graduates can go on to pursue a master's degree in sports administration.

How much do sports administrators make?

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Sports administration salaries vary considerably. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for entertainment and sports occupations was $47,080 in May 2020. The annual average wage among all occupations in spectator sports was $50,920.

Other positions in spectator sports include sports agents who earned an average annual salary of $88,580 in May 2020. Public relations managers earned an average of $124,670 annually, and marketing managers made an average of $127,350 per year.

What are the highest-paying jobs in sports management?

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The highest-paying jobs in sports management depend on an individual's location, experience, and many other factors. According to the BLS, chief executives earned the highest wages in the spectator sports industry in May 2020. These professionals earned an annual average wage of $236,970.

Other high-paying positions include financial manager, human resources manager, and advertising and promotions manager. These professions reported average yearly wages of $151,180, $145,060, and $132,920, respectively, in May 2020.

With Advice From:

Portrait of Erin McNary, Ph.D.

Erin McNary, Ph.D.

Erin McNary joined UM's faculty in August 2017. Previously, she worked at two different universities in St. Louis, Missouri, where she taught sport administration courses. She was also a full-time faculty member in the sport marketing and management program at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she received her doctorate.

McNary has several years of experience in campus recreation at Arizona State University and the University of Texas-San Antonio, as well as five years of experience working for a national physical activity and fitness awards program.

McNary currently teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in sport facility and event management, as well as globalization of sport. She focuses on cultivating community partnerships and bringing experience and insights to her students. She is also the Global Sport Industry Conference director (see the Global Sport Industry Conference website).

Her research examines sport management pedagogy, ethics in youth sport communication, and marketing and the promotion of youth and marginalized athletes.

Portrait of Ayla Acosta

Ayla Acosta

Ayla Acosta is a 26-year-old corporate partnerships account executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks. A Wake Forest University Double Deac ('17, '22) and University of Miami ('19) alum, Acosta has balanced an extensive course load with a rapid ascension in her career. In her free time, Acosta enjoys binge-watching shows and movies, reading, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.

Portrait of Windy Dees, Ph.D.

Windy Dees, Ph.D.

Windy Dees joined the sport administration faculty at UM in August 2010. She graduated from Texas A&M University, where she earned a doctorate in sport management in 2007. Dees received a master's in sport management from the University of Florida and a bachelor's in psychology and communications from Rollins College. Prior to obtaining her Ph.D., Dees worked as an account executive for Synergy Sports Marketing.

Dees has research specializations in sports marketing and sponsorship, and she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on these topics at UM. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of corporate partnerships and how sponsors and properties execute successful sport marketing strategies. Her research has also examined brand awareness and brand personality, consumer attitudes, image enhancement, and purchase behavior.

Dees currently serves as the sport administration graduate program director at the University of Miami and an executive board member of the Sport Marketing Association.

Feature Image: South_agency / E+ / Getty Images