MBA in Sports Management
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.
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The demand for candidates with managerial expertise has grown along with the level of money involved in sports, through player transfers, wages and commercial deals. This has created a need for financial and commercial experts, not to mention people with expertise in operations, IT and human resources.
Simon Cummins, managing partner of the sports practice at recruitment consultant Odgers Berndtson, says he is increasingly being asked to look outside sports for experienced and talented managers.
He has recently filled key sports management roles, such as the chief operations officer at Manchester United, with people from the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and media sectors.
“Sport has outgrown its homegrown talent - it is so much bigger and more dynamic,” he explains. “It needs people from outside and the demand for MBAs is growing very quickly.”
Liverpool’s Football Industries MBA, which began in 1997, is the only one of its kind in the world, according to Pearson. Set-up in consultation with the football industry, which has made it clear it felt there was a need for vocational business qualification, Pearson keeps the course program up to date using the alumni network.
He estimates he has about 150 graduates working in football and sport in varied roles, but leaning towards the commercial side at clubs such as Manchester City and Everton, the Football Association, the Asian Football Association and related organizations in South America.
It takes up to 30 students a year, but Pearson admits, “There isn’t a huge demand that exceeds supply” and interest from UK students is limited. “We had 23 students this summer, none of which were English. We can’t quite put our finger on why.”
Coventry’s Senaux says the MBA in International Sports Management also has a very international appeal, with its intake of about 15 students also mainly coming from outside of the UK.
“Our programs [the school also offers a MSc in Sports Management and a MA in Sport Marketing] are amongst the very few in the world being offered by a business school and not a faculty of sport science, which means they are run by people passionate about sport but also experts in management.”
The MBA, which began in 1998, is aimed at individuals with at least two years work experience, who are either in the sports industry and want to strengthen their skills so they can move into a management position, or who already have management experience and want to move into the industry.
“The program was initially developed in response to a demand from the sport industry. By keeping in contact with representatives from the industry, we make sure that it remains relevant to a fast changing environment and anticipates the future challenges that the sport industry will face.”
It is also surprising that MBAs specializing in sports are in limited supply in the US, where baseball, basketball and American football are national obsessions.
Bonnie Tiell, associate professor of management and Dean of Graduate Studies for Tiffin University in Ohio, created and introduced the college’s Sports Management MBA online in 2006 and now attracts up to 30 students a year.
“We require a ‘mentorship’ which is similar to an internship and focuses on the relationship with an industry professional,” she explains.
“A great location for many of our graduate students has been municipal sport agencies which deal with these business aspects in sports.”
Course alumni currently hold roles at the Professional Golf Association, the National Football League, with many in marketing, sponsorship and event management roles.