There is more room for talented MBA business leaders in sports management, as massive investment and myriad revenue streams emerge all around the globe.
When it comes to choosing a potential career path, MBAs have traditionally viewed sports as a passion rather than a viable option for their future. But now, however, there are a very limited number of accredited MBA programs specializing in sports management.
The root of this surfeit lies within the sports themselves. Historically few, particularly outside the US mainstream sports, were run as organized businesses and did not demand the layers of management seen in traditional MBA sectors, such as finance.
There was also a perception that to excel in the management of a sport, applicants would need to have played that sport at the highest level.
Geoff Pearson, director of studies for the MBA in Football Industries at Liverpool University, says this belief is changing although it continues to linger: “Anywhere you go, someone that has played the game will be a popular off-pitch signing for a club.”
But Dr Benoit Senaux, head of the postgraduate programs in Sport Management at Coventry University, believes that this perception has changed over the past 20 years.
He adds it is mirrored by Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho’s significant success as a coach despite his lack of success as a player.
“The importance of managerial expertise is now largely acknowledged,” he explains, although, he adds that a “real passion” for sport is still necessary to understand how such organizations work.
“This is what makes a specialized MBA such a relevant foundation for future sport managers.”
According to Tiell, the US has the reverse issue to the UK, with an overabundance of graduates and too few entry-level roles.
Having a MBA could help to differentiate candidates from the pack. “Even the role of the collegiate athletic director has evolved from oversight and budget management to revenue producing. Sports need individuals with good business skills and excellent communication skills,” she says.
Sports are not recession proof, but according to Cummins, many areas have continued to grow despite the recent economic downturn, because governments have begun to understand the value to their economies of hosting sporting events.
In line with that, he adds that salary levels, which were previously significantly lower than other sectors, have now “grown up”.
Meanwhile, Cummins believes that the digital arena, where rights holders are still learning how to monetize their assets, will be a key growth area for recruitment.
“Through digital channels, some clubs and teams could access up to 100 million supporters worldwide, so there is potential to increase revenue. Sports organizations, specialist agencies and clubs will need people with real knowledge of digital and mobile sectors.”
Sports may not have been top of the list for business school alumni in the past, but as the organizations within sports become more professional, competition for talented graduates of MBAs in sports management is expected to become fierce.