By Dr. Brittany Jacobs  |  10/26/2023


sports management master's degree

Making the most of your sports management master's degree involves several elements. For instance, you’ll need to select the right program, start networking, work on your skill development, be proactive, and apply your experience.

Why Should You Get a Master's in Sports Management?

Completing a master's degree in sports management is an excellent way to gain useful knowledge. For students who have already completed a sports management undergraduate degree or already work in the field, a graduate degree in sports management can deepen your knowledge of the industry. A master’s degree also helps to verify both your sports administration abilities and your understanding of the sports industry.

Career Paths in the Sport Industry

Sports management typically may offer various career paths. Sports management graduates may work in various sectors of the industry for organizations such as:

  • Sports equipment companies
  • Sports media companies
  • Professional sports teams
  • College sports teams
  • Sport agencies
  • Sports marketing firms

We are also seeing the emergence of sport management roles connected to artificial intelligence and technology, according to New Zealand writer Ben Donald.

There are a variety of opportunities in the sports industry. For instance, someone who possesses a sport management graduate degree might serve as a facilities manager or work as an athletic director for a high school. The exciting thing about sports management programs is that they are designed to help prepare graduate students to chart their own course in the sport industry.

Applying Your Experience in the Sports Sector

The sport business field is relatively specialized. Consequently, pursuing a degree in sport management ensures that you not only understand general business administration or management principles, but you can also apply them to the unique context of sport.

Many master's programs in sports management require or recommend that students complete an internship. This internship allows students to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios.

Pairing Your Passion for Sport with a Professional Career

If you have a passion for sports, working in the sports management industry might be the right career path for you. Perhaps you played a sport in high school or college. Maybe you coached a team, or you are your team's number one fan.

No matter what your background is, a graduate sport management degree allows you to pair your passion for sport with in-depth knowledge. While you’re pursuing a degree program in sports management, you will go behind the scenes to understand the inner workings of a front office and see first-hand how the global sports market impacts decision making.

What Courses Will You Take in Sport Management Programs?

An in-person or online master's degree program in sport management will include various courses related to the sports industry. Examples of typical courses offered in sports management programs are:

  • Sports event management
  • Sports marketing
  • Sport finance
  • Sport strategic management
  • Sports leadership Organizational behavior in sport
  • Legal aspects of sport
  • Sports ethics
  • Sports analytics

A Comprehensive Sport Management Curriculum

A master's degree provides a comprehensive education in both sport administration and business skills. Many institutions now offer online master's programs in sports management that allow students to complete coursework from wherever they are in the world, adding flexibility to the educational setting. No matter the modality used to deliver course content, the general competencies that you will learn within a sports management program remain the same.

How Does Sport Management Coursework Apply to the Sport Management Industry?

If you have ever purchased tickets to a sporting event, you have probably seen sports marketing at play. For instance, you may have seen digital ads on social media channels or a curated email blast on your birthday.

These types of marketing content have been created by sports marketing managers. As a sport management graduate student, you might learn these skills in a sport marketing course. In a sports finance course, you might learn about capital budgeting and the considerations behind whether a city should build a new professional sports stadium.

In a sports law course, you might learn about player contracts, facility safety, and collective bargaining agreements.

Concentrations for a Master's in Sports Management Degree

There are many available concentrations for a master's in sports management degree. Most online master's in sports management programs offer concentrations to help students further specialize their studies. At American Public University, concentrations are offered in:

  • Coaching Theory and Strategy
  • Interscholastic Athletic Administration
  • Sports Business Leadership

These sport administration concentrations allow you to further specialize your area of study and gain additional experience. Some other common concentrations that you might find in a master's in sports management program include:

  • Sport Analytics
  • Event and Facility Management
  • Sport Marketing and Promotions
  • Sport Coaching

Sport Analytics

This sports management concentration helps to prepare you to make data-driven decisions in areas such as player performance, fan engagement, and financial management. Using statistics, sport analysts are able to turn data into digestible information that can be used in all facets of the sport industry.

Event and Facility Management

This sports administration concentration teaches you about event management, logistics, venue operations, crowd management, and facilities management. It covers the planning, organization, management, and evaluation of sports events and facilities.

Sport Marketing and Promotions

Covering areas such as sponsorship, digital marketing, branding, sport marketing and promotions, this concentration helps to enable you to promote sport teams, athletes, events, and products.

Sport Coaching

A concentration in sport coaching will help you to enhance your communication skills. A sport coaching concentration might include courses in coaching theory, talent identification, educational psychology, sport science, or athlete development.

Will You Need to Complete an Internship to Earn a Master's in Sports Management?

The requirement to complete a sports management internship varies by program and school. Some sports management programs position the internship as a required capstone experience, while others offer a sport management internship as an elective option. But no matter how sports management degrees are structured, an internship program can offer useful real-world experience for students.

Take Advantage of Internship Opportunities

Completing an internship for sports management programs is highly recommended. An internship allows students to apply theoretical knowledge from their sports administration courses to the sports industry. It also enables students interested in sport administration to meet industry professionals and to their professional network within the sports business.

Additionally, a sports management internship is a great way to get involved outside of the walls of a classroom. In the internship setting, you will learn business skills specific to your role and the organizational behavior that governs a sports organization.

Often, graduate students are drawn to internships with professional teams. However, be sure to consider other opportunities that can provide equally useful educational experiences for you, such as:

  • Collegiate athletics
  • Minor league sports
  • Conference offices
  • National governing bodies
  • Startup sports leagues

Whether you are interested in sport finance, sports marketing, event management, or sports media, the best internship is not simply a high-profile internship. Instead, your internship should involve a role that fits your interests within a sports organization that is committed to your learning and growth.

Alternatives to Internships

There are many reasons why an internship might not make sense for a sport management graduate student. In this case, volunteer opportunities are an excellent way to showcase your skills or explore a potential role.

You might also consider attending some sport administration specific conference. These conferences not only allow you to meet like-minded colleagues, but they may also offer you an opportunity to travel to a new location and explore the sport industry there.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's Degree in Sports Management?

How long it takes to complete an online master's degree in sports management depends on a number of factors, including full-time or part-time status, transfer credits, and the structure of the program. Most programs are between 30-40 credits.

Because every program is different, it is recommended that you research specific programs thoroughly in order to understand how courses are offered and what might work best for your academic pursuits.

Full-Time Student in Sports Management

If you are completing your master's in sports management as a full-time graduate student, it typically takes about two years to complete your sports management degree program. However, some programs offer an accelerated program, which may allow you to finish your online master's degree within one year.

Part-Time Student in Sports Management

If you are studying sports management as a part-time graduate student, it will typically take longer to complete your online master's in sports management. On average, earning a degree can range from three to four years, depending on the number of courses you take per term.

Transfer Credits

Some programs in sports management allow graduate students to transfer previous academic credits that they earned at other institutions. This ability to transfer credit can significantly decrease the amount of time that it takes to complete an online master's program. Be sure to research any prospective sports management programs to understand their transfer credit policies. Also, look into which credits might be applied to your degree program in sports management.

The Structure of a Sports Management Degree

Program Because online programs in sports management online are often more flexible than degree programs at brick-and-mortar institutions, you may be able to take advantage of the flexible pacing. For instance, you can take as many or as few online courses as you like, depending on what makes sense for your personal schedule. This pacing can potentially reduce the time it takes to complete your sports management graduate degree.

Additionally, many sports management programs require internships or capstone courses. These internships and capstone courses might extend the duration of the program at times, as you will need to locate an internship site or complete a capstone project.

What's the Difference Between a Sports Management Program and a Sports Administration Program?

Sport management and sports administration are related fields within the broader sport business sector. These terms are often used interchangeably, and you may find sports management degree programs and sports administration degree programs with similar curricula.

The historical origins of sport management in higher education often relate back to physical education and recreation management. As the value of sport organizations increased and sport business evolved, higher education administrators found a need for a specialized degree program to develop sports leadership.

That was when the sports administration concentration began to emerge with a focus on athletic administration. It was later called sports management. The standard terminology utilized today is sport management, though we are also seeing schools that denote their program as a “sport business” program.

Sports Management Accreditation

No matter the naming conventions utilized for a sport management program, it is incredibly important to consider if the program has completed sports management accreditation. Offered through the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA), specialized sport management accreditation externally verifies myriad aspects of a sport management program, ensuring academic excellence. Sport management accreditation also facilitates continuous improvement, producing sports management programs that are both high-quality and current.

Does It Matter Where a Sports Management Degree Program Is Housed?

Sports management degree programs are typically housed in a number of different schools, based on many variables. Some academic programs might be housed within business schools, while others are found in schools of health sciences, kinesiology, or education.

More important that the housing of the sports management degree program is the curriculum. Be sure to consider what courses are required to complete a sport management degree and how they align with your interests.

In addition, it is important to consider the quality of the faculty, their network, and the alumni reach of the institution, as well as additional opportunities that the sports administration program may provide you as a graduate student.

Networking in the Sports Management Industry

In all industries – but especially the sports management field – networking is paramount. It is common for sport employees to have worked within various sporting franchises in the same league or to have crossed industry sectors. As a result, the web of connections between sports management professionals is significant. To make the most of your sport management program, take advantage of networking opportunities, such as guest speaker events, alumni communities, or career fairs. You might also consider how internships or volunteer opportunities can help to expand your professional network.

Creating a Digital Sports Management Network

To start a professional network, be sure to set up your LinkedIn® profile and connect with relevant professionals. Start with the faculty members within your sport management program. Then, consider adding alumni and follow sport teams, leagues, and media outlets, including:

Just like a sports marketing professional, you can begin marketing yourself as soon as you begin your sports management degree.

Once your LinkedIn profile is ready, reach out to those who might have a role in sports administration that interests you and ask if they would be willing to do an informational interview. When you meet someone at an event, follow up with a thank you and a request for a LinkedIn connection.

Post relevant content to your LinkedIn profile and share your accolades with the industry. When you do so, be sure to tag relevant sports management programs or sport organizations. This strategy is an opportunity for you to begin building your professional brand before you leave higher education.

All of these undertakings require you to be proactive. But networking is incredibly important as it can help you connect with professionals in the industry and may just lead to your next opportunity.

Seeking Mentors During Your Sports Management Program

Sports management professionals are generally very keen to help the next generation of sports managers. They fondly remember their entry into the sport field and can serve as a valuable resource.

Mentorship is a great way to get to know people in the sports industry and to expand your network. Often, we think of formal mentorship opportunities facilitated by a sports management program, but mentorship can also be informal. A good mentor is someone who is willing to help you learn the intricacies of the sports industry, answer questions, and connect you beyond your own network.

How Do You Find a Mentor in the Sports Management Sector?

Finding a mentor can feel challenging but remember that each of these sport management professionals have previously been in your shoes. You can reach out to them via LinkedIn or find contact information via team and league directories. When you’re inquiring about a potential mentor, be formal in your correspondence and consider an informational interview first.

Developing and Showcasing Your Skills in the Sports Management Industry

Enhancing your skills for the sports management industry begins with the coursework in your in-person or online graduate degree program. Consider each assignment an opportunity to improve your skills, such as enhancing your communication skills through a written assignment or technical skills in learning to use a new software platform. Strong performance in the classroom also helps you to stand out amongst your colleagues, setting you up for recommendations and support from your faculty.

Take Advantage of Internship Opportunities

Completing an internship for sports management programs is highly recommended. An internship allows students to apply theoretical knowledge from their sports administration courses to the sports industry. It also enables students interested in sport administration to meet industry professionals and add to their professional network within the sports business.

Additionally, a sports management internship is a great way to get involved outside of the walls of a classroom. In the internship setting, you will learn business skills specific to your role and the organizational behavior that governs a sports organization.

Often, graduate students are drawn to internships with professional teams. However, be sure to consider other opportunities that can provide equally useful educational experiences for you, such as:

  • Collegiate athletics
  • Minor league sports
  • Conference offices
  • National governing bodies
  • Startup sports leagues

Whether you are interested in sport finance, sports marketing, event management, or sports media, the best internship is not simply a high-profile internship. Instead, your internship should involve a role that fits your interests within a sports organization that is committed to your learning and growth.

Alternatives to Internships

There are many reasons why an internship might not make sense for a sport management graduate student. In this case, volunteer opportunities are an excellent way to showcase your skills or explore a potential role.

You might also consider attending some sport administration-specific conferences. These conferences not only allow you to meet like-minded colleagues, but they may also offer you an opportunity to travel to a new location and explore the sport industry there.

Volunteer Opportunities in the Sports Field

Within the sporting sector, volunteer opportunities may be a useful way to gain in-depth knowledge. If you are completing an online master's program, this is your chance to meet colleagues and industry professionals in person.

Often, these opportunities require minimal time commitment – such as a day or a week – but provide a volunteer with significant access to the sport leaders within an organization. Volunteer opportunities can also offer you a chance to try out a role or gain specific experience in an area of interest. Such opportunities in sports management may range from assisting athletic directors in the management of a local baseball tournament to volunteering at the Super Bowl.

Finding a Volunteer Opportunity in the Sports Management Field

To find a volunteer opportunity in the sports management field, your professors can be great assets. You may also be able to find opportunities by researching specific events that are of interest. All mega-events, like the Super Bowl, the Women's World Cup, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA®) championships, and the Paralympic Games, will have volunteer registration pages on their websites.

Smaller events will also require volunteers, but you may need to be more proactive and reach out to event managers to determine how they solicit and register volunteers. Be sure to keep an eye on these opportunities as sporting events come to cities near you. Much like internships, each of these volunteer opportunities can provide you with industry-specific skills and experience.

Historically, the term portfolio has made us think of big binders, but now, LinkedIn or a personalized webpage can serve as your electronic portfolio. As you finish course projects, volunteer at events, complete internships, or attend conferences, collect artifacts that showcase your sports management skills and remember to update your resume as you acquire new skills.

With this strategy, you may be able to provide solid proof of your useful business skills. It's all about your communication skills and the way that you are able to present your knowledge and ability.

Don't Be Afraid to Get Your Hands Dirty

The sport industry was made by those people who were willing to work hard. This work might mean long hours at an event, learning to pack a pallet, or finding creative ways to reduce a budget without compromising integrity.

No matter what your role may be, going above and beyond what is required of you will go a long way toward making an impression on other people. Ask your manager or sports management professor how you can help and what you can do to get involved.

Ideally, you will be able to identify gaps and bring solutions to your managers. Many individuals aspire to sports management careers, but do not realize the hard work that is required behind the scenes.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Making the most of your sports management degree requires a willingness to proactively engage and step out of your comfort zone. It begins when determining which sports management program may be right for you.

As you work through your sports management program, continually consider how you can exceed expectations. Find a mentor, build your LinkedIn profile, volunteer at events, attend conferences, complete an internship, and excel in your coursework. Combined, all of these undertakings will help to prepare you to make the most of your sports management master's degree.

LinkedIn is a registered trademark of the LinkedIn Corporation.
NCAA is a registered trademark of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.


About the Author
Dr. Brittany Jacobs

Dr. Brittany Jacobs is an Associate Professor and Department Chair for the Sports Management & Esports program at American Public University. She is highly involved in the Olympic & Paralympic movements and before returning to academia worked for USA Rugby. Much of her current research centers around officials and other marginalized populations providing a direct connection to her previous coaching and officiating experiences.

Brittany earned her Ph.D. from the University of Northern Colorado in Sports & Exercise Science with a Doctoral Minor in Statistics. She also holds a master’s degree in Sports Management from the University of Texas, a master’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of New Hampshire, where she also played collegiate field hockey. 

Next Steps

Courses Start Monthly
Next Courses Start May 6
Register By May 3
Man working on computer