Why Sports Management Majors are Doomed to Fail

Sports Management Majors are among the fastest growing programs being offered at Colleges and Universities across the country.  Thousands of high schools are in on the action as well, offering Sports Management and Sports Marketing classes as electives. The demand is sky high and it makes sense:  The content is interesting, the idea of working in sports is FUN, and the category, in general, is considered to be one of the fasting growing career fields.  Baseball, Hockey, Basketball, Football, Lacrosse, Soccer… the list of professional franchises in the United States and beyond that employ front office staff members goes on and on.  And it branches; oh does it branch.  Minor League Baseball, Minor League Hockey, Development League Basketball, assorted Football Leagues… there’s even a Minor League Golf Tour.  With all of these teams and leagues there MUST be jobs available, right?  The answer is yes, and no.

 

“The idea of working in sports is FUN”

 

I am fortunate in my line of work to have the opportunity to visit with Sports Management and Sports Marketing classes across Connecticut.  Via Skype and Facetime, across the country.  I always begin a class visit by asking how many students in the room want to work in sales.  The answer is almost always the same.  None.  The vast majority of students want to work in Marketing, PR & Social Media, the others want to work in operations.  And by operations, I do mean become the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox.  And herein lies the problem:  It’s a numbers game.  There are only 30 Major League General Managers, after all.

This past December, I interviewed 117 candidates for 3 open positions, while at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.  Of those 117, 3 expressed interest in working in sales.  The next day, when I scheduled a second round of interviews, all 3 candidates had already been offered full-time positions with other clubs.  Of the roughly 500+ jobs being advertised at the Winter Meetings, less than 100 were tied to operations, pr & social media.  How does this translate to a team, to an office?  There are 25 full-time front office employees in my office.  Of those 25, only 3 hold positions that DO NOT require sales in some way, shape or form.  While these instances are particular to Minor League sports (meaning there are more operations types of jobs in the majors) the GROWTH being touted is IN the Minors.  There are only 30 MLB teams, 30 NBA teams, 30 NHL teams and 32 NFL teams.  That is fewer than the total number of affiliated Minor League Baseball teams alone.

If you are willing to explore a career in sales, you WILL be hired directly out of college.  You WILL likely make more money than your few peers who find work in a non-sales field.  You WILL have the opportunity to affect your geography.  You WILL field multiple offers, from multiple organizations.

 

“If you are willing to explore a career in sales, you WILL be hired directly out of college.”

 

And yet, SALES is not being emphasized in most Sports Management Curricula.  Forget interesting, forget fun, how about relevant?  Do colleges & universities not OWE it to their students to put them in the best possible position to obtain a degree after graduation?  Parents across the country would say “yes”, not to mention SALLIE MAE.

 

Michael Abramson
Assistant General Manager
Hartford Yard Goats / Double A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies
linkedin

 

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9 thoughts on “Why Sports Management Majors are Doomed to Fail

  1. Zabdi Cortes says:

    Working in the field of sports as operations manager sure is a dream job that will take years to a graduate to accomplish. My advise would be, before graduating, find an intership in the sport/federation/sports organization you like and build from there. At the end, sports is all about who you know and your sports network, the earlier you start building those relationships the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul M Fruitman (@paulfruitman) says:

    First, totally agree that sales should be a part of all sports business and sports management program curriculum. Its not enough of a focus in not just the aspect of selling but the whole concept from strategy to products to tactics etc.
    However, I preface this by saying that if you are looking to use sales as a launching pad for other roles, you need to be aware that it doesn’t change the competitive landscape. There are still a lot of people looking to work in sports, for every one us here there are 1000 people looking to do what we do.
    Also, it cheapens our department if you are immediately looking to get into another role and looking past the sales department the moment you sit in the chair. So yes sales is the place to start. But don’t do it just to start in sports..do it because you want to truly learn about our business. If you want out after 6 months you have no value for me to hire you. Dedicate yourself to learning the craft and art of selling first, than when you have proven your value and that your are passionate than the rest will follow…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Will Yoder (@WillYoder) says:

    I have worked in the sports industry for nearly a decade now and have actually advised many students to avoid sales roles, particularly ticket sales. While this is the quickest way to technically get into the sports industry…you are working for a team after all…it is generally the least transferable experience to other roles that are likely better career paths. It also gives you the least amount of exposure inside of an organization to meet and impress the people you need to in order to get a job that has trajectory toward what you may really want to do…sadly, another low/unpaying internship might be more impactful long-term on your career than inside sales…unless you want to be a sales person forever (which some people create great careers doing).

    In fact, I also advise students who are undergrads to avoid sports management degrees. It is generally non-transferable in in case your dream of working in sports doesn’t pan out, and as the numbers your laid out points to, the odds are against you. Furthermore, I have never, nor have I ever spoken to a colleague who has looked at a resume and added extra value to an applicant because they studies sports management over any other field. What is way more important is the experience you have gained, and who you know in the industry that can vouch for you.

    This goes for sales roles on the resume as well. If I look down and see “Inside Ticket Sales – Minnesota Timberwolves” vs. three internships working directly with colleagues (at places like IMG, Baltimore Orioles, etc) I’ve worked with in the industry, I will pick the applicant who has a track record with the type of work they will be doing in my office, not necessarily the one who has full time experience with a professional team.

    All of this being said, the ability to sell, in general, is important in almost any role in sports. This is something that should be focused on for anyone that wants to work for a business of any kind. Still, while working in ticket sales may be the quickest way to get technically get into the industry, it may not be best means to an end for your dream career.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul M Fruitman says:

      Will,
      I just read your post and I respectively disagree with your comment. I think the misnomer of sales being the place to start and the title of inside sales gives the wrong impression of the skills you learn in the department. As well I think your view of it is myopic at best.
      Although I appreciate an intern may have some direct experience it wont be as well rounded as full time sales experience
      Ticket sales is one of the few departments that you can learn multiple facets of the business because you have to. Its not just about selling a ticket.
      Its about several things especially when you work in the group sales and premium seating. In simple bullets
      1 – Its one of the few roles where you deal directly with the fan on a regular and consistent basis. You learn more and are more educated about the fans are really looking for in experience and what they see as value for investment. Transferable to marketing or other roles where you are creating the fan experience
      2 – As a front line employee you are conduit of information and therefore need to know as much about the team, from players to business operations than any other role. Why? Because imagine someone asked you a question about your business and you couldn’t answer it.
      3 – Many sales programs involve other assets from departments. For groups you need to manage events and work on marketing and promotional projects. For Suites and premium you have to understand about the venue
      4 – More often then not you also have to work with other stakeholders in your venue to ensure the comfort of your guests and that means having a broader understanding of how these roles fit into the larger picture of the event experience.
      I could go on, In my two decades of being in sports I believe you are incorrect and that the most valuable learning comes from being in sales. All the knowledge you learn is transferable across multiple jobs. Although I have been in sales for the majority of my career, I still have a broader understanding of the total business of sports because I have had to either work with, alongside or learn about the different assets and functions that creates sports entertainment.
      Ultimately the energy and drive that goes into sales, combined with dealing with customers and situations first hand…anyone who can do it and do it successfully will be truly driven to help your team and that in itself is invaluable.
      And finally sales staff are also some of the most recognised employees in the club, they work almost every game, they work with other departments and most importantly they bring in revenue and that gets recognised.
      I think your view does a disservice to everyone that works in sales.

      Like

  4. Loren Branch says:

    I agree that sales should be more of an emphasis in sport management curriculum because that knowledge will be transferable and relevant but there’s much more to this than what’s portrayed here and this title is inaccurate.

    I 100% disagree with the statement that “Sport Management majors are doomed to fail.” First of all, earning an SM degree and landing a job outside of the sport industry does not equate to failure. SM grads can be happy and earn a living in another industry, even if all of their prior experience is in sport. I’m an SM grad who now works as a HigherEd Marketer and I earned my position through my prior experience.

    In addition, what’s ignored here is the importance of connections and experience. I’ve had many sport related experiences including NGB, local gyms, campus rec, minor league baseball, high school athletics, and collegiate athletics. These roles weren’t all directly related to what I do now but they all helped me to grow and gain transferable skills and knowledge such as; working in a team setting, supervising peers, delegation, strategic planning, the importance of communication and consistency, etc. In reference to the importance of connections, every single one of my friends and classmates working in sports is in their current position because of the people they met as a student and/or the work that they put in as student leaders on campus and employees off campus. For that matter, those same connections have helped me and my friends and classmates who aren’t working in sports as well.

    Lastly, any college grad can “fail” if they don’t invest in themselves outside of the classroom. Many people in the workforce possess the expensive sheet of paper that says “degree” but it’s the benefits gained from obtaining experience outside of the classroom that will separate individuals and ultimately drive the employer to the ideal candidate, regardless of industry. I learned a lot in the classroom but I learned even more being hands-on.

    Like

  5. Joe Quinn says:

    I’ve been out of college over 25 years now, but would love to find a sales job working in sports. Hopefully close to the Philadelphia area, New Jersey, Delaware or Northern Maryland area.

    Like

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