Sports Management Education and Career Guide


Home » Sports Management » Education

Sports Management Degree Guide

woman at desk talking with man holding basketball
woman at desk talking with man holding basketball

You have several degree options if you're looking into a sports management career. Bachelor's degrees are the most common degree in the field although there are entry-level roles that only require an associate degree, and high-level roles that look for candidates with at least a master's. No matter what degree path you choose, you'll study topics such as statistics, sports law, and communications to help prepare you for your career in sports management.

In this Article

What Degrees are Offered in the Field? 

Sports management professionals have a few different degree paths to choose from. You can enter the field quickly with an associate degree, or you can advance your education all the way to a doctorate. Many roles in the field require a bachelor's degree, but that doesn't mean it's the right starting degree for every sports management professional.

Associate Degrees

Most schools refer to this degree as an Associate of Arts in Sports Management degree. However, you might see it listed as an Associate of Science degree at some schools.

Prerequisites: You'll need a high school diploma or GED before you can begin an associate-level program.

What you'll study: You'll learn the basics of sports management including operations, marketing, budgeting, and coaching.

Classes you'll take: Classes will vary depending on your school. Core classes that are part of most programs include accounting, marketing, communication, statistics, sports law, sports marketing, business management, negotiation and contracts, coaching, event operations, and sports analytics.

Jobs you can get: This degree can prepare you to take on account specialist, event manager, customer service representative, ticket sales associate, and other entry-level roles.

Where you'll work: You can find work with sports facilities, sports teams, and athletic departments with your associate degree.

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree in sports management might be offered as a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management, Bachelor of Science in Sports Management, or Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Sports Management depending on the school you select. 

The type of bachelor's degree you earn won't affect the roles you can pursue or the sports management knowledge you gain, but it will determine the upper-level classes you take during your studies. Students in bachelor of arts programs can count on more liberal arts courses, while students in bachelor of science programs will take more math and science course. Those who pursue a bachelor of business administration program can count on a higher number of business courses.

Prerequisites: You'll need a high school diploma before you can enter a bachelor's program. Most programs will ask that you've earned a solid GPA during high school. You may also be asked to provide scores from the SAT or ACT.

What you'll study: You'll get an in-depth knowledge of sports management in your bachelor's program by studying both business and sports-related topics.

Classes you'll take: The exact classes you take will depend on your school and your degree type. However, there are some core classes that make up most bachelor-level sports management programs. These include sports law, business law, sports marketing, accounting, economics, psychology, public speaking, communications, sports analytics, negotiation, advertising, facility management, and financial planning.

Jobs you can get:  This degree can prepare you for roles such as coach, sports agent, sports marketing manager, public relations specialist, sports data analyst, and facilities manager.

Where you'll work: Sports management professionals with bachelor's degrees are hired by sports teams, sports leagues, athletics departments, and sports facilities.

Master's Degrees

At the master's level, you can choose from a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Sports Management. An MBA is a broad business degree that can help you achieve high-level business roles, and a Master of Sports Management will focus on courses that are specific to sports management.

You might also consider an MBA in Finance, which could lead to a finance-related position within the sports management realm; or a MBA in Marketing, which may help you land a role in marketing or PR for a sports team or agency.

Prerequisites: You'll need a bachelor's degree from an accredited school before you can begin a master's program. Many programs are very competitive and will look for GPAs of at least 3.0 along with strong scores on your GRE. You might also be asked to submit an essay and letters of reference.

What you'll study: A master's degree will give you advanced knowledge of business and sports through the study of topics such as marketing, ethics, leadership, and conflict resolution.

Classes you'll take in an MBA program: The exact classes you take will depend on your program and your concentration. Core MBA classes include finance, economics, statistics, leadership, management, marketing, corporate finance, information systems, business law and ethics, and operations.

Classes you'll take in Master of Sports Management program: Your program will determine the exact classes you take, but most programs include courses in marketing, sports law, sports ethics, statistics, analytics, leadership, management, teamwork, facility operations, contract negotiation, and sports psychology.

Jobs you can get: A master's degree is a great choice if you're interested in working as a marketing manager or athletics director.

Where you'll work: Professionals with graduate-level degrees are employed in every area of sports including teams, athletics departments, agencies, and sports facilities.

Doctoral Degrees

You can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sports Management or a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Sports Management. As rule, a PhD in sports management covers more business and practical topics while an EdD will dive deep into theory and research, but the specifics of what each degree entails will depend on your school.

What you'll study: Many doctoral programs are focused on research and analyzing sports data and information, but you'll gain in-depth knowledge of sports management topics you can use in business roles.

Prerequisites: You'll need a master's degree from an accredited university. Most doctoral programs will require that your master's degree is in sports management or a related area such as business administration or finance. You'll likely need a solid GPA, letters of reference, and a personal essay as well.

Classes you'll take: Your exact coursework will depend on your program and degree. Common courses include advanced sports administration, sports law, sports economics and finance, advanced sports marketing, sports leadership and ethics, organization structure and change, advanced statistics, qualitative data analysis, project design and management, and leadership in sports.

Jobs you can get: You can use this degree to earn a role as the director of a sports league, a professor at the university level, a sports research analyst, or other top management and administrative level roles.

Where you'll work: Doctoral-level professionals can find work at universities, athletic departments, sports leagues, sports teams, and athletic facilities.

What About Certification?

Whether certification is required in sports management depends on your specific job title. In general, you won't be required to earn certification to work in the field. There are two important exceptions:

Agents


You'll be required to earn certification if you want to work for professional sports leagues such as the National Football League or the National Hockey League. The certifications and the requirements for earning them are set by each professional league. Multiple states also require that agents register with the state. You'll need to know the rules in your state and the league you want to work with before you can begin work as an agent.

Combat sports managers and coaches


Several states require you to earn a license if you want to manage or coach combat sports such as boxing, martial arts, or fencing. Generally, this involves paying a fee and registering with your state, but the rules are different in each state.

While certifications aren't required for other sports management professionals, earning a certification can be a great idea. It shows your employer that you're interested in expanding your interests and could position you for professional advancement.

"Certification shows dedication," says Maggie Vlasaty, a social media engagement specialist at Uncommon Sports Group. "It shows time committed to a career with little to no reward beyond the label. This shows employers that the passion is beyond the surface level, and it differentiates you from someone who may just want a job or someone who enjoys the game."

Certifications generally aren't required, but they will show employers that you are passionate about your career.

One of the primary optional certifications for sports management professionals is the Sports Management Specialist certification from the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA). You'll need to take an online course through IFPA and pass an exam at the end in order to earn this certification. A variety of additional certifications are offered by Sports Management Worldwide. These certifications can be earned after taking an eight-week online training. Certifications are highly specialized to help you prove your expertise in your sports management role. For instance, you can earn certification in hockey analytics or in athlete marketing and branding.

What's the Best Degree for a Job in Sports Management?

The best degree for your sports management career is the one that most closely aligns with your goals. However, most sports management professionals get their start with a bachelor's degree. Often that degree is specifically in sports management, but not always.

Most sports management professionals get their start with a bachelor's degree.

"Besides a sports management degree, the most common degree for a sports management professional is usually a business degree such as marketing, economics, and management, Vlasaty says. "You'll find sports management professionals with other degrees too. For example, you'll often see (sports management professionals with) degrees in education, design, and psychology."

How Long Does it Take?

The length of time it takes to complete your sports management degree will depend on the educational path you take. Factors such as transferring in credits, attending an accelerated program, or attending school part-time, can all impact how long your degree takes.

Degree Timelines

DegreeTime to Complete
AssociateTwo years
Bachelor'sFour years
Master'sTwo or three years in addition to your bachelor's
DoctorateThree years in addition to your master's

Are Sports Management Programs Offered Online?

Online programs for aspiring sports management professionals are available at every degree level. You can earn a degree entirely online with no classroom time required. Often, this means you can attend class at your own pace and in your time. Online programs can be a great option for students who are balancing school with work, families, or other commitments. 

What to Look For in a Program and School

There are a few things to look for when you're selecting a sports management program and school. For instance, the connections your school has with employers can make a big difference in your sports management career, especially if you're hoping to work with professional sports teams. It's a good idea to ask about the credentials of professors, the sorts of jobs students typically find after graduation, and any internship and work placements available.

The connections your school has with employers can make a big difference in your sports management career.

Once you've found a school that can help you meet your goals, it's important to make sure that the school is accredited. Accreditation proves that your school and program have met the standards set by your state and can give you the quality education you need to get your career started. Accreditation is also the best way to ensure that your credits will transfer if you want to advance your education or switch schools down the road. Plus, attending an accredited school allows you to apply for federal student aid such as grants and loans.

In sports management, you can look for accreditation that goes beyond state accreditation. Top sports management programs are accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). COSMA accredits programs on the bachelor, master, and doctoral levels.

Salary and Job Outlook

Education is one of the major factors that can influence your salary as a sports management professional. An advanced degree can help you apply for upper-tier roles that command a larger paycheck. With a master's or doctoral degree, you'll be positioned to take on advanced roles and step into leadership. That can mean job titles such as athletics director or marketing manager that often offer generous salaries and benefits.  Your exact role, years of experience, and any certification can also make a major salary difference.


stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

maggie vlasaty

With professional insights from:

Maggie Vlasaty

Social Media Engagement Specialist, Uncommon Sports Group