A career in sports is considered a dream job for a lot of people, and there are numerous pathways into the field. When people think about sports, they often think about the athletes, but there are many other jobs that exist to support those athletes or to promote them or the teams or leagues they represent.
Even though there are many different types of jobs, it is a competitive field. Those who will have the most success getting a foot in the door and advancing often are those who begin laying the groundwork for their careers in college.
Types of Sports Careers
The business of sports is broad, and nearly every professional field can be connected to sports in some way. Some of the most common paths include:
- Business operations: Sports teams and sports leagues, no matter how big or small the operations, still are businesses and need to be as such. This means they will need accountants, bookkeepers, administrators, and more. At the highest levels, those who work with numbers need to be adept at understanding specific issues like salary caps and professional contracts. At the lowest levels, experience with fundraising and getting by with limited resources is valuable.
- Sports management: This is a broad category can range from high school athletic directors all the way up to the general managers of major professional sports franchises. It also includes agents who represent athletes, and it's not uncommon for them to have law degrees.
- Marketing/public relations: To sell tickets, sports teams need to compete with other entertainment options in their markets in addition to other sports teams. Marketing a team and its players is a big part of this, and experienced marketing professionals can make it happen.
- Journalism/broadcasting: Most journalists do not work for sports teams but for news organizations that cover the teams. However, broadcasters typically are employed by the teams, and it's also not uncommon for print journalists to shift to the public relations side of the business and work for a team or a league-owned news outlet.
- Health care: Major professional sports teams have their own team physicians, who are doctors who specialize in sports medicine. Additionally, many physical therapists work specifically with athletes.
- Coaching/scouting: Most coaches and scouts are former players, but they're not necessarily players who competed at the highest levels. Some are, but many are athletes who shifted to these roles once they realized their playing days were over.
Sports careers often begin in college. Most college athletic departments hire students to work entry-level jobs in their business offices or in their sports information departments, which specialize in providing detailed information to local news outlets about teams and athletes. Jobs also are available for student journalists and student broadcasters at student-run newspapers, radio stations, or television stations. Colleges with sports medicine programs often help staff teams with athletic trainers.
Off campus, minor league sports teams regularly hire interns for similar roles with their franchises, as do surrounding news organizations or broadcast affiliates that cover area college teams. There's often a cooperative arrangement between nearby institutions and universities that can supply interns on a regular basis.
Networking and Building Trust
There's generally more job stability with college athletic departments than there is with professional sports teams. Business- and marketing-related positions can be relatively stable with professional teams, but there can be turnover with a lot of positions due to the domino effect of new management or new coaches being hired every few years. New general managers often like to hire people they already know and trust, and the same goes for coaches who also have a say who gets hired as trainers and other similar positions.
Part of being successful working in sports is developing a rapport with those already in business and gaining their trust. Establishing these relationships often starts with baby steps. For example, a physical therapist working in a clinic might gain a handful of loyal patients. One of those patients might be connected to someone with a local college or minor pro team who puts in a good word for that physical therapist. That might lead to an opportunity to work with some of the team's athletes, and maybe even a full-time position down the road.
When people think of sports teams, they often think of major professional leagues and major college programs, but most teams exist on a much smaller scale. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League both have extensive minor league systems, and Division I schools account for less than one-third of the athletic programs in the NCAA. In other words, a career in sports is most likely to begin with a small college or a low-level minor league team in a small town.
- Sports teams need professionals from a broad range of fields.
- A path to a career in sports begins in college.
- Being an athlete is not necessary, but it does help with some positions.
- Expect first jobs to be with small colleges or minor professional sports teams.
The jobs where athletic experience often is necessary to get a foot in the door are coaching or scouting. If for no other reason, it's difficult for a coach or scout to be effective if they haven't played the game where they are making a living. As well, it also would be difficult for someone who hadn't played the game to earn the trust and respect of players or other coaches or scouts.
Being an athlete currently or formerly is not a necessity for most other jobs, but it is beneficial. Even as a low-level amateur, being a competitive runner, golfer, or tennis player, for example, helps to develop an understanding of the commitment and skill necessary for athletes on the teams supported by front office staffs.