The graduate business degree with the “oomph!”factor
by Trish Sammer Johnston
Published March 23, 2011
You know yourself well enough to realize one important truth about your future: You want to be a professional, but you don’t want to spend your days in a cubicle in the proverbial widget factory.
You’re looking for a way to channel your skills and your drive into a career that ignites your passion for sports and athletics. But you also know that behind the scenes in those so-called “leisure” fields there’s a business engine hard at work.
Here’s what you need to know:
What’s This Degree All About?
Usino says that the degree can be narrowed down into four subsets, including:
- Professional athletics
- College athletics
- Facility and venue management
“Many professional teams recruit right out of sports administration programs. They need people for ticketing, marketing, public relations and programming, as do college athletic programs,” Usino explains.
Arenas, stadiums and other facilities with rotating events are another arm of the sports administration business. “Most teams don’t own or operate their own venues,” Usino points out.
Recreation is a broad category which includes any sports not in the “big 5” (which is comprised of basketball, baseball, football, hockey and soccer), such as golf or tennis. It includes events such as the Olympics and the U.S. Open as well. Recreation may also refer to management of parks and community centers, such as YMCAs.
However, students at the graduate level don’t name a specific concentration. “We’ve found that it’s more effective for students to view the industry as one big industry, rather than four separate groups. Plus, people don’t want to get specific during their education because they want to have a broad understanding of the field. Then when they graduate, they can market themselves in a specific way.”
Who Does Well in the Program?
“Our typical student, in this economy, is often right out of undergrad,” Usino explains. “Many of them have degrees in communications, general business or liberal arts. When they get into this program, they build on what they learned in their undergrad programs and then learn specialized skills to enhance that.”
“The students who do well in this program know what they want to do,” Usino continues. “They have a specific, clear vision of where they’d like to be. Another key is that they have to be comfortable constantly selling themselves. The industry is a tight-knit club. The majority of career opportunities are going to come from networking.
“We always talk about the 30-second elevator pitch,” he says. “The idea is that you’re in the elevator with the CEO. What are you going to say to make that time count?”
Leah Moore is a second-year grad student in the Sports and Recreation program at Temple and explains why she decided to pursue an advanced degree.
“I graduated with my undergrad degree in sports management two years ago. I was working in the field but I noticed that all of the jobs that I wanted seemed to state, “Master’s preferred” in the job description. I wanted to be in the ‘preferred’ category.”
Textbooks and Beyond
Business courses – with a twist – are a key component to the program of study. “You take a traditional business course but then it’s focused to how it applies to sports and recreation,” Usino explains. “We talk about how certain concepts would or wouldn’t work in the sports and recreation industry.”
“We also do a lot of exercises where we ask the students to put themselves in the role of the CEO or CFO. We throw a situation at them and say, ‘What would you do?’ This course of study is not a ‘how to’ program. We want people to think.”
While there aren’t pre-requisites to get into the program, Usino points out that people who haven’t taken business courses may find themselves behind the eight ball. “In that case, graduate school is self-directed. The onus is on the student to discuss with their professors or counselors what they need to do to get up to speed.”
Moore underscores the business focus of the major. “There’s a big emphasis on writing business plans. We reach out to organizations for programs. There are a lot of group projects. And research is huge. There’s a whole class dedicated just to research.”
“I learned a lot in my undergrad program,” Moore says. “But I’ve found that my grad classes are teaching me how to use what I learned.”
Outside of the Classroom
This degree is one that involves quite a bit of activity outside of the classroom. “Our students interact with the industry through events, not just internships,” Usino states.
“We’re constantly receiving requests for volunteers. We recently had two students go to South Africa to do facility management for the World Cup. If students are motivated, they can probably take advantage of at least a couple dozen volunteer opportunities during their study.”
However, the program is also friendly to working professionals who may be returning to school. “Our internships are electives, in deference to our working students,” Usino says.
Who’s Writing the Paycheck?
So where do people end up after graduation?
People who want to go into professional sports often end up in sales management, such as selling corporate boxes, doing promotions or group ticketing.
Graduates who focus on college athletics often land middle-management jobs to start, such as assistant athletic directors or media relations managers.
Facility management jobs are also often on the sales side. People targeting recreation can often land “pretty good titles, pretty fast,” says Usino, noting that many recreation jobs are publicly funded.
Doing What You Love
Moore sums up the appeal of the program. “People pursuing this degree are excited about what they’re studying. You know, it’s leisure – it’s about working in something that we all love to do.”
Trish Sammer Johnston is a writer in the Philadelphia area. She received her B.S. in Communications from Kutztown University.