North Central College sports management students creating a gameday experience.

What is Sports Management?

Jacob Imm

Jun 13, 2022

What is Sports Management?

As human beings, our relationship with sports can be complicated. Some of us like to play, some love to watch, while others are interested more in how sports work and why. What you may not realize is that, somewhere in between those perspectives, there’s an opportunity for a fascinating and rewarding subject to study. That’s where sports management lives.

Sports management includes everything that happens behind the scenes of a sports event: ticket sales and promotions, operations, marketing, and even the acquisition and payment of talent—both on and off the field of play. 

A sports management degree and the right skills can be your ticket to any number of exciting, challenging, and lucrative career opportunities. Interested? Let’s look more into what sports management is, how to become a sports manager, and why it might be the right career path for you.

What is the study of sports management?

Put simply, sports management teaches you what you need to know to have a career in sports that doesn’t involve playing or coaching. Not everyone realizes how much goes into the running of a sports event (think Chicago Marathon or NFL Draft Weekend), a sports league (from a local roundnet league to the NBA), an international sports franchise, or a high school or college athletic program, but there is a lot. Sports management sits at the intersection of business law, business administration, marketing, international business, event management, facility management, architecture, and varied areas of science like data analytics, health science, exercise science, and computer science.  

Athletic administration most closely resembles running a business, so the field includes concepts of sales, finance, budgeting, and personnel management, but specifically as they pertain to sports. Students in the field also study a lot about right and wrong, both from a legal and ethical perspective. 

In all cases, however, the world of sports in general and individual sports, in particular, have unique considerations. Most businesses operate largely the same way year-round, but many focused on sports have seasonal peaks, which means sports management teaches flexibility in handling revenue and workforces at different times of the year. By the same token, athletics organizations have their own written (and unwritten) rules for conduct, and they can be interpreted about as many different ways as state and federal laws.

To know sports management is to know a little about everything, but on a deeper level that is specific to sports. The massive popularity and significance of sports also means that the study of sports administration and management evolves quickly and only becomes more relevant with time. 

What subjects do you need for sports management?

If the study of sports management appeals to you, the next question you’ll likely want answered is “What is a sports management degree?” To answer that, we need to delve into what courses you’re going to take as a sports management major. 

Many schools offer degree programs that look a lot like business administration or marketing degrees at a glance. The biggest difference is that the names of the classes generally have the word “sport” at the front.

For example, North Central College offers a bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree in sports management with optional tracks in general business or digital marketing. You can choose to be a sports management major or a sport management minor. Core courses for the program include:

  • Contemporary Sports Studies
  • Sports Marketing
  • Sports Budgeting and Finance
  • Sports Law, Ethics, and Organization
  • Applied Sports Sales
  • Sports Facility and Event Management

There are also capstone projects and required internships as part of the major, along with courses in finance, accounting, and statistics for a business track, or design, media writing, and photography for a digital marketing track.

Beyond core courses, expect a lot of experiential learning. The best way to find out what it takes to run a sports team is to learn from sports management professionals who have worked in the sports industry and then try it for yourself.

According to Jason Rice, associate professor of sports management and director of the sport management program at North Central, “There are multiple courses in our core curriculum offering hands-on experience. These include Sports Marketing where students create marketing plans for real clients and activate game-day experiences here with the athletic department and our Senior Capstone course that includes the marketing, sales, and production of a (sports) tournament.

“Another course that applies classroom learning is Applied Sports Sales. In this course, students learn sales strategies and then apply them by making sales calls to prospective buyers of sports event tickets.”

Find out more about North Central College

What do sports managers do?

Let’s talk about specific responsibilities. To begin with, it’s important to understand that while we use the umbrella term “sports manager,” that includes positions at every level, not just the bosses.

Joy Cromwelle of My Degree Guide wrote, “Nobody goes straight from the classroom to behind the desk of a team manager. Luckily, there are many entry-level positions for graduates with … sports management degrees that are extremely satisfying and interesting. The type of entry-level role you land will depend on your specialty within the field. For instance, someone who is interested in sports finance may be able to land a role as a junior accountant within a league.”

So to give you a better idea of what sort of work you will be doing, we will look at the broad spectrum of professional sports management roles. According to Lindsey Thompson of, the work of sports managers can be divided into five main categories:

  • HR Responsibilities—The most well-known and public duty of sports managers is handling personnel. For professional sports teams, that means acquiring players and coaches as well as negotiating their salaries and contracts, and also releasing players, trading them away and firing coaches and staff members. At a collegiate level, sports managers are in charge of recruitment—working with scouts to find the best talent from across the country and convincing student-athletes and their families that their athletic program is the right landing spot. Instead of negotiating salaries, they offer scholarships and explain walk-on opportunities.  
  • Management Duties—Once they acquire the talent, sports managers work to ensure players and coaches have what they need to succeed, whether that be the best equipment, the most up-to-date buildings and playing conditions, the right training and nutrition resources, or even creature comforts for professional players. On the college level, that means connecting student-athletes with academic resources to keep up with their classes and graduation requirements. Sports managers have to have a big hand in facility management and helping ensure campus safety around facilities. Sports managers also oversee the “gameday experience” for fans, including comfortable seating, concessions, effective public address and televising equipment to keep them informed, and even entertainment between plays. 
  • The Business of Sports Management—As much as fans might not think so, every sports organization has a lot more to pay for than just player salaries. That means managing a large budget that also includes travel and food costs, uniforms, replacing equipment, facility upkeep, and much more. Sports managers also work on ways to bring in revenue, like ticket sales, merchandising, and working with leagues to manage television and appearance rights fees. At the collegiate level, sports managers also need to work with the NCAA to ensure compliance with regulations.
  • Marketing, Promotions, and Public Relations—Sports managers are often required to speak for their sports organization and explain or defend their decisions publicly. Public relations is a large part of the job, as managers also work to make sure that the team is unified on their message and polished when talking to the media. Effective sports marketing is also a vital part of the job, whether it be getting endorsements, creating advertising deals with businesses, or maintaining effective social media accounts and websites for the team. 
  • Miscellaneous Duties—Sports managers who do not work for pro teams or schools might find work at gyms, health clubs, recreation centers and camps, or resorts with athletic activities. That can mean a lot more “other duties as assigned” to fall to you as a sports manager, and for you to get your hands dirty a little more with physical work and day-to-day duties, including event management, training, and teaching.

Is sports management a good career?

Sports management jobs are highly sought after for a number of reasons. As we mentioned, people love sports and love to be around them, which creates a lot of motivated applicants for positions in the field. They are highly visible and thus rewarding in a way that not many other careers are. They can also be tremendously lucrative, especially in the careers with the highest sports management salary.

Athletic teams and programs are large, interconnected communities. As long as your work distinguishes you, networks are relatively easy to create within sports management, and the means by which a lot of hiring happens.

Sports management is also effective as a means to prepare you to do a lot of different jobs. Rice contended that student learning outcomes in sports management create attractive potential hires not just in sports management, but in any industry.

“Students also learn a bevy of transferable skills that make them informed and compassionate leaders and develop tools to deal with complex problems facing today’s dynamic world,” Rice said. “Hard skills include hands-on event production, sales training, financial planning and budgeting, teamwork experience, and much more.”

If you are ready to take the next step toward a career in sports management, the most important thing you can do is find a great school. Look for a sports management program like the one at North Central College. They have instructors with practical experience and expertise teaching in the classroom and helping broker valuable connections outside of it, all based on a campus right next door to Chicago—one of the great sports cities in the world.

Find out more about North Central College and its sports management program today.

Jacob Imm is the assistant director of communications in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 12 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University. 



Joy Cromwelle, 

Lindsey Thompson,