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America is a sports-loving nation, and many young men and women dream of a career in sports. However, suppose your athletic skills make that dream an impossibility--or suppose your playing days are behind you? If that's the case, there is still a place for you in the sports world, and it could be a very prominent place.

There are a variety of careers in sports management, from behind-the-scenes roles to the high-profile executive positions you read about in the paper every day. If you want to take this route toward a career in sports, you'd better get your game on--these jobs are highly-coveted, so competition for them is fierce.

Academic credentials are more important than ever in competing for sports management jobs, so if you want an edge, consider earning a PhD in business with a specialization in Sports Management, or perhaps an alternative doctorate degree, such as an EdD in Sports Management. The following will explain what earning a doctorate entails, how it may help you, and where you can obtain your PhD in Sports Management.

Overview of Sports Management

To understand the scope of career possibilities in sports management, and why a doctorate degree may be relevant for some roles, you should start by remembering that sports is big business. Some 140 million people attended a major league sporting event in 2008. You can add to that total all the people who paid to attend a minor league or college sporting event, and don't forget other popular sports, like auto racing. Then top that off with the worldwide television and radio audiences for these events. You get the idea--sport is competition, but it is also a significant industry. There is much more to it than what goes on down on the field.

What are some of the management roles that make all this possible? Consider the following examples:

  • Marketing and promotion. Tickets don't just sell themselves. Sports teams have to compete with many other options, inside and outside of the sports world, for entertainment dollars.
  • Stadium and facilities management. From the local auditorium to the latest major-league ballpark, stadiums are highly-complex structures which may be visited by tens of thousands of people every day. This is a huge logistical task requiring numerous management roles.
  • Concessions management. Concession sales are a significant part of sports team revenues, and dealing with suppliers, merchandising, preparation, and distribution are all big jobs.
  • League governance. Whether its college or the pros, organizing bodies are vital to the competitive integrity of their sports. League governance is often a behind-the-scenes role, but it helps keep sports moving along smoothly.
  • Franchise business management. The Dallas Cowboys have been valued at $1.6 billion, tops for any U.S. sports franchise, but there are other members of the billion dollar club, and valuations in the hundreds of millions are routine for major league teams. Building and maintaining that value requires all the business infrastructure of any large organization.
  • Player personnel management. This isn't just about evaluating talent. Handling complex salary structures and legal issues requires sophisticated management skills.
  • Player agent. Part negotiator, part personal advisor, part promoter, today's player agent is a complex breed and often a very wealthy one.
  • Athletic director. Academic institutions have athletic departments which must juggle a host of issues across a variety of teams.

Many of these roles require specialized and advanced knowledge in management, education, economics, or marketing. That's why a doctorate degree, such as a PhD in Sports Management, may help you compete.

The Growing Role of a PhD in Sports Management

A doctorate degree is considered the highest level of educational attainment in the U.S. Therefore, an EdD or a PhD in Sports Management would arm you with the most powerful academic credential available in this field.

To give you an idea of the competitive advantage you would gain with a doctorate degree in sports management, consider the following. By one recent count, there were over 200 bachelor's degree programs in sports management, and over 100 master's degree programs in sports management. At the same time, there were fewer than 25 schools offering a doctorate degree in sports management. Therefore, a doctorate in this field would place you at something of an elite level.

There are trends in this field which make reaching that elite level more important than ever:

  • The educational bar is being raised. More and more Americans are earning doctorates, which raises the standard for the rest of the job market. In just eight years, from 2000 to 2008, the number of Americans with doctorates increased by over 20 percent.
  • Big business raises the stakes. With athletes earning millions and franchises worth billions, sports are big business. With all this money on the line, employers are going to be seeking the best and the brightest. A doctorate in sports management is one way to show how serious you are about the profession.
  • The "Moneyball" trend has changed the game. Michael Lewis' influential book Moneyball depicts one example of how sophisticated statistical techniques and computer analysis have taken on a prominent role in sports. In baseball, the laptop may have replaced the radar gun as the preeminent player evaluation tool. Along with this trend, educational attainment is becoming increasingly important in hiring people for key roles.

Doctorate Degrees in Sports Management

If you decide to pursue your doctorate in sports management, what are some of your options?

First of all, there are two major types of doctorate degrees in sports management: a Doctor of Philosophy Degree, or PhD in Sports Management, and a Doctor of Education Degree (EdD). Within these broad categories, there are several specialities. Here are some examples:

  • PhD in Sports Management (General)
  • EdD in Sports Management (General)
  • PhD in Sports Management--Sports and Exercise Sciences
  • EdD in Sports Management--Sports Medicine Emphasis
  • EdD in Sports Management--Olympism Emphasis
  • PhD in Business Administration--Concentration in Tourism and Sport
  • PhD in Sports Management--Kinesiology

In researching a PhD in Sports Management, you should consider both on-campus and online PhD programs (or EdD alternatives). Online PhD programs are viable options in any specialty, but an online PhD in Sports Management might be especially appropriate. Since sports management is a relatively new field for PhD degrees, it is well-suited to the rapidly-expanding realm of online education. Also, online education is ideal for graduate degrees, as it allows people who are already working to pursue new career options without giving up their current jobs.

Another advantage of an online PhD program it helps overcome the relative scarcity of schools nationwide offering a PhD in Sports Management. For people in geographic areas without such a program, an online PhD in Sports Management can save them the considerable expense of attending school in a remote location.

Of course, on-campus options offer certain advantages as well, such as face-to-face interaction with professors and fellow students. The bottom line is that by considering both an on-campus and an online PhD in Sports Management, you will have the maximum number of options available to you.

Selecting a Graduate Sports Management Program

The following are some steps you can take in finding and selecting a graduate sports management program:

    1. Use online educational resources to compile a list of options. These options should include the possibility of both an on-campus and an online PhD in Sports Management.
    2. Narrow the list down to graduate sports management programs relevant to your desired specialty.
    3. Determine whether the program has proper accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education does not itself provide accreditation, but it does recognize several organizations as meeting appropriate standards for granting accreditation. A list of these organizations can be found on the Department of Education's Web site. Accreditation is important because it may affect the quality of your degree in the eyes of potential employers, as well as your eligibility for certain forms of financial aid.
    4. Look into the quality of the faculty. You should know what degrees faculty members have, and whether any of them have ever worked in sports management. This last point is important not just because of the practical experience teachers who've worked in the field can bring to the classroom, but also because they might be able to help you with contacts for networking.
    5. Consider the student-to-faculty ratio. This may be less relevant to online PhD programs, but in general, the lower this ratio is, the more personal attention you may get.
    6. Learn about the program's history. Not only might a more established program offer a greater tradition of success, but it also means that there are several years of alumni who might help your networking efforts when you are looking for a job.
    7. Ask about the graduation rate. The degree should not be a rubber stamp, but neither should it be so rigorous that the odds of graduating are against you.
    8. Research the reputation and prestige of the program. Publications like Kiplinger's and U.S. News and World Report offer annual rankings of college programs which will give you an idea of how a particular school is perceived.

      When you've done all the objective research, then the process should become subjective. Talk to people who are involved--teachers, administrators, and current students. Assuming all the other criteria are in place, your comfort level should be a big factor in your ultimate decision.

      Applying for a PhD in Sports Management Program

      Once you have narrowed down the field to a few target programs, you can start preparing for the application process. You may want to begin by gathering some information about each school's requirements. Fortunately, these days you can use online sources not just to identify educational programs, but also to contact the admissions offices of those schools and request information.

      The following are some of the things you will want to find out in preparation for applying:

      • The application process. You should get a copy of the appropriate application forms for each school, and determine what other materials you will need to submit, such as transcripts, work samples, references, and an application essay. Also, be sure to know the deadlines for each program and plan your work flow accordingly.
      • Undergraduate criteria. You should know whether you meet the program's general standards for admission, including having an appropriate undergraduate degree, and having earned a sufficient grade point average.
      • Qualifying exams. You should know whether a standardized test like the GRE or GMAT is required, and if so, what scores are generally good enough for admission.
      • Program cost. While you may have chosen programs based on their academic attributes, cost is a reality you may need to come to terms with eventually. You shouldn't necessarily rule out high-cost programs until you've had a chance to check out what financial aid options are available to you, but you should be sure to keep some lower-cost programs under consideration just in case you need to go that route. This is one reason why including online doctoral programs may be an important option.
      • Financial aid. Before you make a final decision about whether you can afford a program, find out what financial aid may be available from the school, as well as from state and federal government sources. Also, if you are currently employed in a related field, see if your employer will contribute to your education as a way of enhancing your job skills.
      • Acceptance rate. It is helpful to know how many people typically apply for a given program each year, and how many are accepted. This, along with your credentials with regard to qualifying criteria such as grades and exams, can help you assess your chances of being accepted to a program. Don't be afraid to aim high by applying for a competitive program, but there is no point in aiming unrealistically high. Be sure to have one or two fallback programs that give you a greater chance of acceptance.
      • Application fees. Tempting as it may be to cast a wide net and apply to several programs, the cost of applying is likely to lead you to narrow your choices.

      Earning Your PhD in Sports Management and Beyond

      A certain amount of visibility is always helpful in gaining admittance to advanced degree programs and to gaining a high-level job once you have your doctorate. This is especially true in a field like sports management. Look for opportunities to publish articles on the subject, do press interviews, and give speeches. Along with your PhD in Sports Management, this visibility can enhance your career prospects.

      You can get started along this path today by using online resources to research your options for earning a doctorate degree in sports management.



      • Catholic University of America, Student's Guide to Careers in Sports Management
      • Forbes, In Pictures: The 10 Most Valuable Teams in Sports
      • National Public Radio, A History of Museums, "The Memory of Mankind"
      • North American Society for Sports Management, Sports Management Programs: United States
      • U.S. Census Bureau, Educational Attainment of the Population 18 Years and Over
      • U.S. Department of Education, College Accreditation in the United States
      • W.W. Norton & Company, Moneyball

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