Sports organizations are businesses. In fact, the sports industry in the US alone is a multi-billion dollar business, and sports organizations earn over a trillion dollars annually worldwide. Managing a sports enterprise, whether at the professional level, the collegiate level, or in other niches, presents a number of unique business challenges and opportunities. Understanding the financial, legal, and marketing aspects of these businesses and organizations requires specialized knowledge and industry-specific training in the field of sports or sport management. Sports management encompasses a broad range of activities and responsibilities, from day-to-day business operations, financial management, and consumer engagement, to long-term logistical planning, strategic marketing, contractual negotiations, and global brand development. These subjects, and many other topics like managerial ethics, product development, and organizational communications, form the foundation of a master’s degree in the field of sports management.
A master’s in sports management is an advanced degree program designed to prepare students to work in one or more of the managerial areas of the sports and sports entertainment business. Students in these programs learn how to apply theories of business and management to sports enterprises. They also take courses in legal and ethical aspects of sports management, learn how to generate revenue through licensing and other promotional activities, and are introduced leadership and communications strategies that pertain to the sports world. Many master’s in sports management programs include instruction on the particular dynamics of professional sports franchises, collegiate athletics programs, and other types of sports and recreational enterprises that fall outside of those two areas — for example, a golf course, a tennis club, or a fitness center. Master’s in sports management degree programs also typically include opportunities for students apply to what they have learned to case studies that may be part of internships and/or capstone projects.
Like their campus-based counterparts, online master’s in sports management programs provide a curriculum designed to prepare students to work in the field of sports management. However, rather than requiring students to attend on-campus lectures, these programs offer all or most of their coursework online. Students in these programs view lectures, participate in class discussions, and complete assignments online using distance learning technologies. In many cases, this gives online students the freedom and flexibility to access course materials at their convenience, 24-7. Some online programs do require a limited number of campus visits. However, many online master’s in sport management programs do not require any campus visits.
Sports management is a relatively new area of specialization in the field of business and communications, one that has evolved rapidly over the past several decades. It is a multi-disciplinary field that combines elements of strategic marketing and organizational communications with instruction in legal, financial, and logistical matters that are unique to the sports world. These programs may be offered through schools of business and marketing, schools of professional studies, and schools of education. Programs offered through business schools are typically accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and/or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International). Schools that offer master’s in sports management programs may also apply for voluntary accreditation from the Commission on Sports Management Accreditation and/or the North American Society for Sport Management. There is variation in how these programs are named. Typical designations for master’s in sport or sports management programs include:
Through independent research and a rigorous evaluation process, OnlineEducation.com identifies and classifies online master’s in sports management programs based on several criteria. All of the programs on the site are offered by regionally accredited, non-profit college and universities. In order for these programs to be considered online they cannot require more than two campus visits per year. Programs that require more than two campus visits per year are considered hybrid programs and are not currently included on the site. In addition, OnlineEducation.com carefully examines the curriculum of each online master’s in sports management program, regardless of the program’s name, to ensure that they offer coursework and training in the core areas of sports management: organizational leadership; research methods; law and ethics; strategic marketing; and financial management.
The master’s curriculum in sports management is designed to address the unique and specific concerns of athletic organizations, sports franchises, and other enterprises related to sports and sports entertainment. It is essentially a business management curriculum tailored to sports and sport enterprises at the professional, semi-professional, and collegiate levels, but applicable across a broad spectrum of non-profit and for-profit sports businesses and organizations. Students learn theories of management, leadership strategies, and communications skills. They receive instruction in the financial aspects of managing a sports organization, from fundraising and revenue development, to sponsorships and advertising campaigns. There is typically coursework devoted to legal issues in sports management and to the ethical and social dimensions of running a sports organization. There may also be targeted coursework in areas like digital media, event planning, facilities management, and/or global brand management. Finally, it is typical for a sports management master’s program to include a capstone or thesis project that allows students to apply what they’ve learned to real-world sports management challenges.
While curricula and course titles differ by program, the table below includes examples of typical master’s in sports management classes drawn from actual online programs.
|Finance & Economics of Sport||Theories and principles of financial management, including business plans, strategic budgeting, revenue sourcing, and supply and demand in the sports market.|
|Social Responsibility & Diversity in Sports||Societal and cultural aspects of sports management and how diversity and inclusion are addressed in sports.|
|Sports Law, Contracts, & Negotiations||An analysis of legal principles and ethical issues in professional sports, including athlete representation, labor law, antitrust exemption, arbitration, collective bargaining, salary cap administration, free agency and the application of ethics in the decision-making and problem-solving process.|
|Research Methods in Sports Management||The use of research in sports management, and how data, statistics, and other types of information are evaluated and optimized by sports organizations.|
|Sport Information & Public Relations||The role of branding and public relations in sports management, including how new media has impacted information flow in the realm of sports.|
|Sport Media & Technology||The changing landscape of sports media, and the impact of new media technologies on the supply, consumption, and demand of sports entertainment.|
|Internationalization of Sport Business||The global sports market and how cultural factors impact marketing, financial risk, and governance of sports leagues and organizations.|
The baseline requirement for admission to an online master’s in sports management program is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Applicants must provide a transcript from their bachelor’s program along with a completed application and a fee. Additionally, individual programs may have further requirements and/or preferences. It is not uncommon for programs to request two or three letters of recommendation and a short personal essay (500-1000 words). Programs may have a minimum cumulative GPA, which is typically around 3.0, although some programs offer provisional admissions to candidates with a lower GPA. Standardized tests scores (GRE/GMAT) may be required by some programs, while other programs make the submission of these scores optional. Some programs may also take into account prior work experience as part of the admissions process.
Online master’s programs are generally designed to offer a flexible alternative to traditional campus-based programs, and provide a more convenient option for students who may not be able to relocate or commute to classes held on a college or university campus. However, not all online master’s in sports management programs are the same. Some offer more or less flexibility, and there are format variations that can make certain programs more convenient than others. The three areas that are important to consider in this regard are: instructional methods; course-load requirements; and campus visit requirements.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two basic methods for the delivery of online classes. Synchronous instruction is the more structured of the two. It involves the real-time transmission of online lectures and instruction at designated class times, so students must plan in advance to be present online for these sessions. Asynchronous instruction allows students to access online lectures, presentations, and other course materials at their own convenience, 24-7. This may provide more flexibility, but it also requires a greater amount of self-discipline, as assignments and other course activities must be completed and submitted by set deadlines. Students who are more comfortable with online instruction that more closely resembles an in-person classroom experience may prefer programs that utilize synchronous instruction. Students whose schedules make it difficult to log on to pre-scheduled class sessions may find programs that offer asynchronous instruction to be preferable.
Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: While online master’s programs generally require the completion of the same number of credits as campus-based programs, they may offer some flexibility in the number of credits take per term. The number of credits earned per term impacts the time to completion, so students who would prefer to earn their degree in a shorter time frame should look for programs that offer full-time enrollment. A typical master’s in sports management program can be completed in as few as 12-to-15 months of full-time, year-round enrollment by students who enroll in the equivalent of three-to-four courses per academic semester (fall, spring, and summer). Students who have significant work and/or family commitments outside of school may want to consider programs that offer a part-time enrollment option. A part-time master’s in sports management program might allow students to enroll in just one or two courses per semester or term. Students enrolled part-time may take two or more years to complete the program. However, many programs that have flexible enrollment policies do limit the number of years that a student can spend earning their degree, usually at five-to-seven years from the start of their program.
Campus Visits: Some but not all online master’s in sports management programs incorporate on-campus sessions, sometimes called immersions, as a required part of the curriculum. These sessions, which may also be held at alternate locations, are scheduled in advance and generally last for between two and seven days. Immersions are used for orientations and as opportunities for networking, workshopping, and meeting face-to-face with instructors and other students. Many online master’s in sport management programs do not include any mandatory campus visits. Prospective students should weight the potential benefits of these immersion sessions against the added costs (room, board, and travel expenses) and time required to travel to a campus (or alternate location) when researching programs.