The number of sports facilities in the US is rising rapidly, and demand for qualified managers to oversee them is at an all-time high, says Rick Nelson, program coordinator for the Sports Facility Management program at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
Nelson says that when most people think of sports facilities, what automatically come to mind are big stadiums that host professional sporting events, like the Staples Center in Los Angeles or New York City's Madison Square Garden. But most sports facilities have nothing to do with professional sports. Think instead of your neighborhood YMCA or the local indoor driving range, soccer facility or ice arena.
"The sports-facility manager is really a jack-of-all trades," says Nelson. "They need to know everything possible in regards to the operations of that facility."
Pete Carlson, director of ice arena operations and programming for the National Sports Center Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota, oversees five managers who themselves supervise anywhere from 10 to 15 employees. A typical day for Carlson, who has a degree in physical education, includes managing schedules, budgeting, dealing with mechanical issues and expenses and looking for ways to attract business both short and long term.
From Accounting to Turf Management
"A good manager has worked the trenches," says Carlson. "They've been the guy scrubbing floors. They've been the person answering phone calls, they've been in meetings with facility directors. On-the-job training is how a lot of us learned."
Soft skills necessary for success include being a great communicator and having strong interpersonal and public-relations skills. Mandatory hard skills include proficiency in business management, accounting, facility planning and design -- all basic abilities needed in any business. But Nelson says facility managers also must know how to handle issues related to heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as horticulture and turf management.
"They need to know how to fix or who to turn to if a pipe breaks, or what to do when you have a soccer game with a full stadium, and rain or lightning forces people to find safety," says Nelson. "They need to understand basic and complex repair work and at the same time understand marketing, budgets and how to plan events."
Keeping Customers of All Kinds Happy
Facility managers provide a service and must satisfy those who rely on the facility for their sporting or recreational event. As such, it can often be a thankless job -- that is, until something goes wrong.
"This is a very service-oriented field," says Nancy Jensen of The Sports Management Group, a Berkeley-based professional consulting firm. "You are likely to be responsible for oversight of a large staff but must also be able to work with the political realities of a public enterprise, [including] councils and boards. Communication skills are key, [along with] an interest in sports, fitness and the fitness goals of others, coupled with an understanding of business operations."
Good Pay, Long Hours
Nelson says most sports facility manager jobs pay between $26,000 to $86,000 a year, though many variables can affect salary, including whether the facility is public or private or in an urban or rural location. But Jensen reports that salary can range from $50,000 to $90,000 before benefits, with the average range between $55,000 and $70,000. But be forewarned: If you're looking for a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday type of job, sports facility management isn't for you. Sporting events can happen at all hours of the day and night, weekdays and weekends.
"I don't think there is a typical day," says Nelson. "But if you love being around sports and events, then you'll love this career."