More Than a Game: The Business of Sports
Gleason, James R., Techniques
In this age of rigor and relevance, we might legitimately ask if teaching about sports is appropriate in a business or marketing classroom. Therein lies the thesis of this article: Sports, or other high-interest events, provide an ideal context for teaching business skills. How then can we build a substantive, value-added business/marketing curriculum while taking advantage of students' passions for the good times that sports and other events offer?
Sports as Context
Whether it's a sports team that students are passionate about or a band, event, venue, game or video, the critical consideration is one of providing a high-interest context within which we can help students learn how business works and how those demanding classroom lessons are used behind the scenes. After all, which teenager (or 30-something for that matter) hasn't dreamt of a career position with the Bengals, working behind the scenes at the World Cup, having a career like Celine Dion or supporting the Williams sisters in the back court? Regardless of a student's passion or career fantasy, each provides an opportunity for the creative, inspirational teacher.
Sports marketing-endorsed by many state education departments, offered in many local school districts and growing in popularity as a college major-is an easy sell to students and teachers. It's fun, full of opportunities for a wide range of activities, connects to the school's highly visible athletic programs and is attractive to younger students who have thought little about careers. When fully implemented, it's also bigger and broader than marketing. It provides the context for a comprehensive business administration program that addresses all aspects of business-administration, finance, management and marketing-and offers many learning opportunities on all business functions within an entrepreneurial framework.
Careers in Sports
Since the ultimate goal of career and technical education (CTE) is preparation for careers, often via college, we need to address the career opportunity question head on. If a student builds a program of study around the business of sports, will there be career options available on graduation day? The most likely and most honest answer is "no." While the number of career options in sports (and other entertainment-related settings) has grown in recent years, the number of career openings remains relatively small and the entry-level salaries relatively low in comparison to other industries.
Why? It's a simple case of supply and demand. For example, MarkED's research into sports marketing included focus groups with representatives of high-profile professional teams (e.g., the Falcons and Braves), second-tier teams (e.g. Columbus Eandsharks, Georgia Force, Gwinnett Gladiators and Crew Soccer) and amateur teams (e.g., Cheerleaders' Association, UGA and OSU). In virtually all cases, the front-office of major league teams included one or two accountants with a finance manager, a marketing manager sometimes supported by an additional event planner or public relations specialist, several mid-management specialists and a small number of administrative staff. secondtier and amateur teams employed still fewer career professionals. Further, as one might expect, the number of career candidates far outnumbered the number of openings, thereby keeping salaries low relative to expectations and to other industries. Some students, however, do make a successful transition.
Andy Ross's Success Story
Andy Ross, a former sports marketing student, was a senior at George C. Marshall High School in Virginia in 1995. He had no real idea about a career until he saw a poster in the school hallway that read, "Take sports and entertainment marketing and join the class for a trip to Disney World." The trip may not have been the best rationale for choosing a class (or a career), but it got his attention. "It didn't take long for me to fall in love with the industry, or for my teacher to get me involved in DECA. It was a good year. And, to this day, I consider that senior year as a defining point in my life," he said. "That one class, DECA and its competitive events-and yes, the trip-and, most importantly, my teacher set me on a path toward a truly exciting and challenging career."
Through his participation in that marketing class, he was able to secure an internship with Advantage I International, which became Octagon (a major sports marketing company), finally going full-time in the football representation business in 2001. Although he learns new things each day, he still refers to some of his books and papers from that senior year in Virginia. And it's been a good ride so far. "This year, I signed three of the top 50 players in the country for the NFL draft. Not bad for age 30!"
Ross credits teacher Paul Wardinski for much of his career success. And Ross is the type of guy who likes to give back. Each year he returns to Marshall to share his experience with those who are just now trying to figure out what they want to do in life. He encourages each of them to start now to get a leg up on the limited number of available college slots, and on an even more limited number of career openings. And he encourages them to think hard about signing up for that class with the trip to Orlando.
Ross is a model of what we might hope for all business and marketing programs. Unfortunately, for every Ross, there are many other students who will not make the transition to a career in the business of sports. That being the case, should local CTE administrators question the appropriateness of a curriculum developed within the context of sports? We think not. Rather, we might compare a sports-business program of study with an engineering program that uses robot design as the basis for teaching many generic math, engineering and technology skills. Few engineers will make their living designing robots, but the lessons learned doing robot projects will transfer well to more common engineering endeavors. The operative question, then, should focus on the specific nature of the curriculum and its expected learning outcomes. Should a sports business program be developed as a specialized curriculum, or should it provide context for a more generalized program of study?
Specialized Program of Study?
In the context of curriculum, we use the term "specialized" to differentiate between those specific performance indicators (competencies) unique to a specific career and those with a broader application, those relevant to many careers. A curriculum or program of study is specialized if a significant portion of the content is critical to the career in question and not relevant to other careers. Given this definition, is it appropriate to build a specialized program of study around sports marketing? Based on our research of the industry, we would submit that the marketing of sports is little different from the marketing of health care. There are very few specialized skill sets truly unique to the business of sports. (Exceptions might arguably include a knowledge base related to celebrity endorsements, venue management, specialized public relations and event-day activities.) Therefore, we would conclude that the basis for a sports marketing curriculum should be a relatively generic marketing-management skill set, taught with examples and activities pulled from the world of sports. The same argument would apply to event management. If we accept these conclusions, what is the appropriate strategy for building an effective sports business curriculum?
Sports Business: Model Curriculum
Data from MarkED's research across four career areas (entrepreneurship, finance, management/administration and marketing) suggest that the best sports marketing curriculum would begin with core business skills (see Figure 1, Tier 1), in which students would be introduced to core business concepts (i.e. economics, law, technology applications, finance). Additional curriculum content would focus on generic marketing concepts (Tier 2), such as product management, pricing, selling and marketing communications. Finally, in more advanced classes, additional curricula would focus on more marketing management (Tier 3) and its applications to sports and events. Ultimately, for the truly motivated student who stays with the program through college (Tier 4), the curriculum would transition into an in-depth look at advanced marketing skills and industry data specific to the sports industry. Similarly, a student might choose, in lieu of the marketing path described above, a more generic management path-again taught within the context of sports or event management. In this second scenario, the starting point would again focus on core business concepts (Tier 1), but transition to generic management concepts in Tiers 2 and 3.
Many sports marketing and event planning programs are already on the books. Many others are being carefully considered by local districts. Einda Friedel, for example, is a marketing teacher in Blue Springs, Missouri. She offers a one-semester sports marketing course, along with a number of other business and marketing courses that complete her students' programs of study. Friedel uses her sports marketing course as leverage for teaching several core concepts. "Our course uses the sports and entertainment industries to teach a number of key topics, such as product management and marketing concepts as they apply to these industries," she said. "The sports industry provides lots of examples for studying pricing strategies, market research and segmentation, promotion, publicity and public relations. We also address more specialized topics like sponsorships, endorsements and event management. Although lots of teachers use events like the Super Bowl to enrich various lessons, they have a direct role for programs such as mine."
Another example comes from Jennifer M. Hendrickson, a marketing teacher and DEÇA adviser in Lorton, Virginia. She emphasizes the use of a sports context to help make her marketing curriculum "real."
"The sports and entertainment industries are fiercely competitive. To ensure our students get off to a good start, we work to provide real experiences where they can apply the theories they learn in our marketing classroom to the real world," she said. "We work with our school's athletic office to create promotions to improve student attendance in several varsity sports. Students develop marketing plans, present them to school officials and implement selected ideas."
This exercise challenges students to use the skills that are discussed in class in practical applications. She notes that this in-school strategy can be expanded to working relationships with collegiate, amateur and professional teams that are available in a school's local market. In Fairfax County, Virginia, The G.O.A.L. Zone program was created in collaboration with major league soccer team D.C. United to allow several high school marketing programs in the area the opportunity to implement student-developed promotional campaigns for the team.
"This challenge of directly applying a student's knowledge to a specific sports and/or entertainment event allows students an even greater benefit-the beginnings of their own job network. It's a real benefit to all students as they seek college admissions and internships," Hendrickson said.
The Role of CTSOs
DECA, an association of marketing and management students, has developed specific competitive events to support programs with a sports focus, along with other events focusing on various aspects of hospitality, tourism and the like. In addition to its sports-related competitive events, the organization sponsors an annual professional development conference where students get firsthand exposure to many different aspects of sports, hospitality and tourism marketing through activities with the Orlando Magic, Universal Studios (Orlando) and others.
Ed Davis, DECA executive director, suggests that "the organization's interest in sports and entertainment marketing is in large part driven by local opportunities for getting students actively involved in their business studies." Sports and event marketing, he believes, provides a context for many local projects and activities in which students can actually apply their marketing studies to high-visibility school events.
Similarly, FBLA, an association for students of business and business-related fields, is working to provide activities within the context of sports. According to Jean Buckley, executive director, FBLA is "expanding (its offerings in) management by adding a new competitive event for 2008-2009: sports management. This new event will concentrate on such areas as principles and issues in sports management, finance, communication, law, ethics and facility and event management."
Question of Rigor 0
Given the high levels of interest in the development of sports- and events-based business/ marketing curricula, local administrators are searching for strategies to ensure that program outcomes meet contemporary criteria for rigor and relevance. Because of the already suspect label attached to CTE, it is particularly important that courses carrying fun labels like "sports marketing" or "event planning" meet and exceed the rigor test, both technically and in a positive, visible manner that adds substantive, meaningful, challenging curriculum to the school's entire constituency.
Many of the most successful local programs, those with the greatest long-term impact on students, meet the rigor test by focusing on critical business skills in the classroom and holding students (and curricula) accountable through testing and proof of learning through certifications, such as those available through the A*S*K Institute (www.ASKInstitute.org).
Sports, and all events or specialties, offer a useful approach to building and expanding a local business and marketing program of study. Applied strategically, with careful attention to curriculum research, and with a substantive focus on meaningful career skills, a sports context can build new life into nearly any rigorous business curriculum, even as it encourages whole new groups of high school and college students to take a second look at business careers.
No Place for Fantasy
Effective sports business curricula focus on business, not on sports. Given the natural enthusiasm generated by games such as fantasy sports, and given the challenges of classroom management and continuing efforts to keep class interesting, it's easy for teachers to rationalize spending time on sports. What sports fans don't enjoy tracking the performances of their favorite players? What's more fun than spending a Monday morning class period debating the successes of the weekend's games? Nevertheless, the value of practicing basic math and statistical calculations (batting averages, pass completions or goals scored) notwithstanding, every single minute spent focusing on sports is a minute not focused on the business of sports-it's time lost from learning those business skills critical to the ongoing success of that favorite team. Or theater company. Or band. Or video game.
Research referenced throughout this article was conducted by MarkED over a period of several years under the direction of Beth Osteen, vice president of research and development. MarkED has done extensive industry research to identify those key skills and concepts critical to success in the business community. MarkED/Career Paths offers curriculum models, performance-based instructional materials and consulting for schools working to develop contemporary, standards-based business/marketing programs.
James R. Gleason
is president/CEO of the nonprofit MarkED/Career Paths research and curriculum center. He can be contacted at Gleason@Mark-ED.org.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: More Than a Game: The Business of Sports. Contributors: Gleason, James R. - Author. Magazine title: Techniques. Volume: 83. Issue: 5 Publication date: May 2008. Page number: 20+. © 2007 Association for Career and Technical Education. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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