More Than a Game: The Business of Sports

By Gleason, James R. | Techniques, May 2008 | Go to article overview

More Than a Game: The Business of Sports


Gleason, James R., Techniques


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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 Land-sharks, 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. Second-tier 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.

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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. …

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