Jesse Krebs puts it bluntly: Just because you have an interest in sports doesn't necessarily mean you will succeed in sports-industry management.
North Dakota native Krebs wrestled for four years at the University of Minnesota and is now president and CEO of Minneapolis-based The Wrestling Mall, an online retailer of wrestling merchandise and equipment. "Hard work and drive are learned in sports, but organization, management and the ability to relate to other people is learned in the real world," says Krebs, who oversees a staff of up to 12 people during peak times.
Becky Heidesch, another industry veteran, agrees. "Playing, competing and knowing about sports obviously plays a role in connecting with the industry," says Heidesch, CEO of Women's Sports Services, a sports career-development and recruiting company in Huntington Beach, California. "However, understanding the basics in business -- sales, marketing, sponsorship, licensing -- is crucial to being successful in the long run."
Sports Management Reality
One misconception about sports management is that it's all about rubbing shoulders with athletes and getting free tickets. In reality, sports-industry managers can be found in retail positions, managing golf courses, training facilities and athletic camps.
And the industry is competitive, even if you have experience, says Heidesch, whose company also runs the Women In Sports Careers Network, a worldwide online business and career network. Hard work and networking are required well beyond the entry level.
One bright spot, says Heidesch, is that opportunities have increased greatly for women interested in sports-industry management. "We have many clients who come to us wanting women or minority candidates for hire," she says.
Job duties in sports management vary, depending on the type of organization you're considering. For Krebs, who has a bachelor's degree in economics, a typical day involves printing out and processing customer orders in the morning, responding to phone calls from customers, meeting with sales staff, training and hiring warehouse/stockroom employees, calling new clients, processing payroll, organizing the company catalog, conducting performance reviews and even unloading the trucks when new merchandise arrives.
George Dow of Right Management Consultants, a global career-transition and organizational consulting firm, says those interested in sports management should carefully research the skills required for jobs they're interested in. He recommends using the three P's: PC (do a Google search), paper (read books and articles on this subject) and people (conversations with those who have firsthand knowledge of sports management). "This will help you clarify what the market needs in filling jobs in sports management," says Dow.
But also consider how a particular organization's management culture and values align with yours, Dow adds. Ask yourself:
- Is this organization well-managed?
- Is the job a good fit for me?
- Is the organization quality-conscious, ethical, progressive and innovative?
- Is it the right size/type of business for my preferences?
- Does the organization have a good track record of success in the market?
- Does it treat its employees well?
What About Pay?
Salaries vary greatly in these positions, and many are commission-based. "Too many young people are too concerned about the salary starting off," says Heidesch. "If you want a career in sports management, it is not a matter of paying your dues [only] when you are starting out. In this business, everyone I know is always paying their dues."
The business of sports management is not about wins and losses, stats and glamour. It's about business -- that's the bottom line.