Sports Management MBAs Seek a Degree of Opportunity |

Sports Management MBAs Seek a Degree of Opportunity

By john T

Updated February 2, 2018 Updated February 2, 2018

This article is sponsored by EU Business School’s MBA in Sports Management. 

In the high-flying world of sports management, it’s easy to forget that the secrets for success are identical to those in other specialties. Running a team, managing the front office, increasing sales – whether it’s sports or retail, the core business skills remain the same.

In the United States, sports management programs have grown exponentially. Beginning with Ohio University’s trendsetting Center for Sports Administration more than four decades ago, there are now over 300 undergraduate and nearly three-dozen MBA-level sports management programs in the US. In Europe, however, sports management programs are not as common. To get some insight into European sports management MBAs, let’s take a look at the program offered by EU Business School.

Sports management as component

Established in 1973, the Switzerland-headquartered EU Business School offers English-language courses at four campuses in Barcelona, Munich, Geneva and Montreux. The school promises that by enrolling in its sports management MBA program, “students gain the knowledge necessary to become successful sports managers, through case study research, industrial visits and routine networking with professional sports industry professionals, in addition to the managerial training they receive in a classroom setting.”

The business of ‘sports’ encompasses everything from professional teams to individual athletes. Working in a sports management job might mean a front office position at a soccer team; a sports marketing career might begin at an agency representing a top-ranked tennis player; it may mean forming part of the booming sports apparel market. Past buyers of trainers and tracksuits were usually casual athletes; today they are just as likely to be athleisure fans opting for comfort.

The growth of sports management specializations has outpaced even the industry’s not inconsiderable growth rate – unsurprising given the youth of the discipline. This makes landing the best jobs even more difficult. Faculty and administration at top schools believe sports management specializations should be a relatively small component of the education. Think of it this way, your sports education is the sauce added to the meal of business fundamentals – as with any specialization. This will do more than enhance your employability within the industry; it also offers you options should you later decide to shift your focus away from sports.           

Describing the sports management track in EU Business publication ON, Dr. Begoña González Otero explains that the school offers courses which “broadly educate sports managers about the industry while providing specific training in finance, sports management, law and sponsorship, sports marketing and events crafting. This combination of broad-based and specific skill training is a hallmark of the program and is evident in both the content and sequencing of courses.”

To achieve this, the initial term of the MBA in Sports Management focuses on traditional business courses including managerial accounting, marketing and quantitative business methods. Later terms shift the focus with classes in sports marketing management and sports sponsorship. The second term also offers a vital component to any MBA education: job career planning.

Discovering sports management jobs

MBA grads often say the most valuable component of their education was not the case studies and classroom lectures. Instead, it was meeting fellow students and visiting corporate executives. The business world, after all, is fast changing. Connections forged in MBA programs endure. Deep and sustainable connections are even more vital for those pursuing sports management jobs.

It can be an insular and even cliquey world. Compared to fields like retail or finance, the sports business is small. Even more than in other industries, potential employers will call upon friends and close colleagues before they will consider hiring you. According to Carolyne Savini, SVP of Recruiting at Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, “Short of an inside connection, I rarely, if ever, see someone get hired into a job without previous internship experience. The reason is the sports industry is a small, tight-knit community. One can’t hide from a reference. If an employer sees the résumé of someone who worked for a team or agency property down the street, a call will be made prior to an interview ever being scheduled to confirm how hard and smart of a worker the applicant is.”

Landing a sports management job thus is a matter of careful preparation, solid fundamentals and a strong network. At EU, the sports management faculty members provide expertise in diverse fields including finance, sociology and college sports. Students include both athletes and managers. As EU’s Eleanor Montgomery points out, the education can lead to a variety of positions including jobs in sports marketing, community management and public relations.

Sports management is big business!

Of course, despite all the challenges involved, sport is one of the biggest businesses out there. Even when you just look at the scale of deals done at roster level (a tiny aspect of the business of sports brands), you can see that business expertise is very much needed. This is demonstrated in ‘The Rules of the Game’ – a post on EU’s student blog. In the piece, EU sports management student Denis Kolev applied business fundamentals to football (soccer to those on the US side of the ‘pond’). Buying low and selling high is a basic business approach, but Kolev detailed in one article how Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich’s application of those principles did more than improve the franchise’s bottom line. It also contributed to the team’s winning record.

“In the volatile football-transfer market in Europe, the ability to buy and sell wisely is the key to creating a winning team and balance the books at the end of the year,” Kolev wrote. “Among this elite group of giants, one particular club shows incredible proficiency. For the surprise of many, this is Chelsea Football Club. Romelu Lukaku, initially bought for €22m from Anderlecht, was loaned and then sold to Everton for a combined fee of nearly €40m. Juan Mata, bought for €27m, was transferred to Manchester United making a €17m profit. David Luiz, who cost €27m was sold to Paris Saint-Germain this summer (2014) for a fee around €50m. Kevin De Bruyne, bought for €8m in the summer of 2012 was sold to Wolfsburg a year ago for €22m (although note he was sold to Chelsea’s rivals Manchester City for €75 million in 2015). These are only four examples of the prudent transfer policy that enabled Chelsea to profit on players that didn’t fit well.”

Women in sports management

Although forging a career in the industry is difficult, women in sports management report even greater obstacles. “The sports industry is still more an old-boys network than a meritocracy,” says EU Business publication ON. This March, shortly after settling a discrimination suit against the New York Mets, former senior vice president for ticket sales Leigh Castergine wrote on that, “In sports, there's no shortage of women committed to the games they love, to the industry, and to their disciplines within it. But with men dominating the ranks, from ownership on down…Some women will be forced to forge their career path elsewhere, in an industry with (relatively) fewer barriers and less hostility...To the industry, this is a loss.”

Proudly gender blind, EU boasts a high percentage of female students across its campuses.  Veronica Cancio De Grandy, managing director of the school’s Munich campus comments that, “[We] do not take gender into account, and this way, we practice true equality in every sense. At the same time, we have several strong female role models on our staff. Our dean in Barcelona is a very, very strong female (Christine Clarke) who has been an entrepreneur as well as a business owner.”

Women in sports management are outnumbered by men four or more to one. Although we are moving towards greater gender parity in education, women in sports management programs remain a significant minority at most campuses. Still, for anyone dreaming of a career in sports, the best preparation remains a solid business education along with networking skills. This is one reason EU Business School believes its sports management MBA grads are well prepared for the sports management and sports marketing jobs of the future. 

This article is sponsored by EU Business School’s MBA in Sports Management. 

This article was originally published in September 2015 . It was last updated in February 2018

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