The Future of Careers in Sports and Athletics
Ted Abernethy , Director - The Knowledge Review

In 1957, Walter O’Malley, owner of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, sitting at a game with his friend, James Mason, a college professor, lamented how difficult it was to get good employees to work for his team. Hard to believe because today the Los Angeles Dodgers, and every other professional sports team, get hundreds of resumes every week, if not every day, from young, qualified job-seekers, desperate to get into the sports industry. But this was in the post-World War II era and America, and its sports world was changing. Sports were thought of as a pastime, not a profession. And until then, that was true.  A very serious population, which was coming off of a very dangerous and consuming war, was thrusting the country into an explosion of industrial and commercial prosperity. It was just a matter of time before the sports industry joined this growth.

Several factors contributed to the growth of sports in the United States:

  1. The feeling of freedom and the cause for celebration for a nation exhausted by war.  People sought recreational activities that brought them joy, and attending sporting events brought them just that.
  2. Baby Boomers. More children were born between 1946 and 1964 than anytime in U.S. history. The future would mean more consumers, and in a non-war era, more people participating in sports.
  3. Television. The explosion of the TV industry would change the culture of America. And the TV industry would ride the back of sports reach the growing population. No television programming has been as successful and sustaining as sports.
  4. The G. I. Bill. This federally-funded program gave those who had participated in the military a chance to go to college. Due to the large number of G.I.s that were in WWII, college attendance multiplied significantly, leading to the growth of intercollegiate athletics.
  5. Title IX. This federal regulation insured equal opportunity for female participation in sports. This meant all schools would have to offer an equal number of sports for men and women. This essentially doubled the number of people participating in sports.

Now back to Walter O’Malley and James Mason… Business schools had long prepared students for careers in the business world, but no one had prepared students for careers in the sports world. Back then, it was typically retired coaches who took over administrative positions. But that would all change when James Mason started the first Master’s Degree in Sports Administration at Ohio University in 1966. St. Thomas University (then Biscayne College) started the first undergraduate degree in Sports Administration in 1973. Many others would follow, developing a newly prepared wave of administrators for the growing sports industry.  Today there are hundreds of programs preparing students for the sports field. With a growing pool comes a great deal of knowledge, talent, and ambition.

The sports industry today is huge, with some estimating it to be over 500 billion dollars. It has become very competitive and rapidly growing.  Stadiums and arenas, that used to be municipally owned and only used when the teams were playing, lost money. Today, all-new facilities are being built as revenue centers, being used for multiple events all-year round. Athletes, who used to play sports seasonally (many worked as bartenders or car salesmen in the off season to survive) now make millions of dollars or get college scholarships to work at their craft year round.

What kind of jobs are there or will there be in future for sports? Thankfully, sports cannot be replaced by technology. But improving technology can help deliver sports more effectively. Professional sports will always need people to sell tickets, advertising, and concessions. They need people in public relations to constantly maintain their public image and relationship with the community that supports them. They need people to deliver their product to their media partners (TV, radio, internet, print journalism). All of those media companies continue to grow, creating a need for more employees. College athletics have all of the concerns of professional sports plus compliance and fundraising. Because college athletes are students, there is a growing need to comply with academic eligibility rules such as those mandated by the NCAA. Fundraising is the backbone of college athletics. The need for skilled people to obtain funds for ever-expanding facilities for colleges to remain competitive, will never be exhausted. All sports organizations deliver their message through websites and social media. There is a growing need for employees that are technologically skilled in these areas. The representation field has grown. Athletes have agents, coaches have agents, and even doctors and trainers have agents.  The equipment needed for sports has created a booming industry of its own. There are specialized shoes, bats, balls, racquets, clubs, protective equipment, and even scoreboards, among many others, all produced by multiple competitors, needing qualified people to deliver their products.

In the future there will be more sports opportunities. Women’s sports will continue to grow. Youth sports will continue to grow. As cable and satellite TV continues to expand, more and more sports will get exposure. More sports will be live-streamed through improving technology. Sports will continue to grow globally. The major sports in the United States have saturated their national market. They are looking to other countries to expand their leagues. The NFL has been cultivating the English market with regular appearances by their teams. In the future, it won’t be surprising to see a NFL franchise in England. Nor will be surprising to see a Major League Baseball team somewhere in the vast Asian market. Or the NBA and NHL in Europe or South America. As American sports go overseas, soccer is going the other way. As the world’s largest developed sport, the U.S. remains the last great market to develop. Soccer is growing in America with the establishment of youth and school leagues and greater TV exposure. As professional soccer grows in the U.S. it won’t be surprising to see more great international players or teams playing here.

Because of our human desire for competition, there will always be a need for sports. It will continue to grow, as the market continues to look for more niches. More obscure sports are becoming mainstream. MMA events have flourished, as well as the X-Games.  There is even a growing e-sports world where players compete in video games. A few e-sports arenas have been built with more to come. Who knows what’s coming next? Whatever it might be, the future is bright if you are looking for a career in sports.

About the Author

Ted Abernethy is the Director of Sports Administration in the School of Business. He has been a faculty member at St. Thomas University since 1995. Ted received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Pittsburgh in 1978. He earned a Master of Science in Sports Administration right here at St. Thomas University in 1992. Ted completed his Doctor of Philosophy in Sports Administration at Ohio University in 1996. Current research interests include intercollegiate athletics, tennis and the legal aspects of sports. His teaching areas of interest include Sports Marketing, Sports Law, and Sports Governance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels of instruction. Ted is a member of the North American Society for Sport Management, the North American Society for Sport History, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, and the Sport and Recreation Law Association. Throughout his 30 years of experience in business, sports and academics, Ted has worked in manufacturing, professional and amateur tennis, and youth sports as a coach and athletic director.

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