Study Sports Management: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in sports management can lead to careers in the sports industry and academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your sports management degree.
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Sports Management Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

Graduate-level programs in sports management typically combine classroom instruction, research and hands-on learning. A master's degree in sports management can prepare you for a career as a sports manager or a sports marketing or advertising professional. A PhD in this field often lays the foundation for an academic career involving research and teaching. If you're considering a graduate degree in sports management, it's important to note that most jobs in this field are open to bachelor's degree holders, although a master's degree may be helpful for career advancement.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the sports industry were predicted to increase by 23% between 2008 and 2018. Despite strong overall job growth, competition for management positions with national teams is very high. Successful executives with high-performing teams have the opportunity to earn millions; however, the typical entry-level salary for managers of collegiate, professional and minor league teams varied between $25,000 and $40,000 in 2011 (

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Students interested in working in management positions within the sports industry Individuals seeking careers in academia
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Agent or business manager ($65,000 - may require 1-5 years of related experience)*
- Athletic director ($99,000 - typically requires 5 years of experience)**
- Public relations manager ($93,000 - usually requires 3-10 years of PR experience)*
- Marketing manager ($116,000 - previous experience in marketing, sales or public relations is usually required)*
- Advertising sales agent ($45,000)*
University or college professor ($68,000 - based on salary across all subjects)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years of full-time study At least 67 semester hours after the master's level or 96 hours past the bachelor's degree level (3-6 years of full-time study)
Common Graduation Requirements - Completion of roughly 35-40 hours of core and elective coursework
- Coursework in a specialized area, such as marketing, communication or management
- Written thesis or project
- Qualifying exam
- Completion of PhD core courses (9-18 semester hours)
- 9-18 credit hours of elective courses
- Courses on research and statistical methods
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Meet minimum undergraduate GPA requirements
- Usually the same as those for master's degree programs, although some PhD programs require applicants to have a master's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes (extremely limited)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (May 2012 figures).

Master's Degrees in Sports Management

A master's degree in sports management can offer students the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge about techniques used in sports marketing and advertising, issues currently facing the industry and legal issues involving sports contracts. Programs often allow you to specialize in a particular area, such as business operations or marketing. You may also have opportunities to participate in labs or internships and receive one-on-one mentoring. It's important to realize that graduate-level courses in sports marketing are more research intensive and challenging than undergraduate courses, even though the two types of degrees often lead to similar positions.

Pros and Cons


  • Opportunity to specialize in an area directly related to your choice of career, such as communications, business or marketing
  • Managers of popular, successful teams can earn exceptionally high salaries*
  • Possibility of working with semi-professional or professional athletes


  • Many jobs in sports advertising, marketing and public relations don't require a master's degree
  • Takes 1-2 additional years to complete after you earn your bachelor's degree
  • Leads to jobs that may be highly stressful and require long, irregular hours

Source: *Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies.

Courses and Requirements

Courses in a sports management master's degree program are designed to provide you with both foundational and hands-on knowledge. You'll likely complete a series of core courses that cover management, marketing, ethics and the role of sports in contemporary society. Next, you'll choose elective courses in your area of interest. Your options will most likely include course topics like these:

  • Event and facility management
  • Sports marketing
  • Society and sports
  • Sports law

Most programs require you to submit a written thesis or final project before graduating. The thesis topic is typically chosen in consultation with your advisor, and many programs require you to defend your thesis or project orally when you've finished it.

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in sports management are plentiful. Similar to their traditional counterparts, these degree programs prepare students for leadership positions in the sports industry. Students take core courses that cover areas such as marketing, public relations, law, economics and emerging technology.

These programs may require that students take some on-campus seminars or workshops. Although this can be inconvenient for students who would prefer to complete the program remotely, it can provide useful networking and applied learning opportunities. These on-campus sessions often take place during the summer, and they may require anywhere from a week to a full semester to complete.

How to Stand Out

If you've already decided on a future career path, completing an internship in that area can lead to future employment prospects. Depending on your interests, you might look into internships with professional or collegiate sports teams, sports promotions and marketing agencies, professional sporting organizations or sports arenas.

Another way to stand out is to specialize in an area relevant to your future career goals. For example, if you plan to pursue a career in public relations, taking elective courses or specializing in sports marketing could provide you with skills that might be attractive to future employers.

In addition to developing knowledge and experience in a particular area, it's important to develop technical skills, such as the ability to create presentations, graphs and reports. This could include learning to use word processing, graphic design and presentation software.

PhD Degrees in Sports Management

Doctoral degrees in sports management are generally offered through a university's kinesiology department or management school. A PhD in Sports Management is a research-intensive program that can prepare students for careers in academia or administrative positions within a university. Individuals may pursue in-depth study and research, and they might also take cross-disciplinary courses in areas like psychology, sociology or economics. These degrees take a substantial amount of time and effort to earn, and they aren't usually designed for individuals who want to work in applied sports management, advertising or business roles.

Pros and Cons


  • Potential to become a tenured professor in a kinesiology or management department
  • Opportunity to teach and mentor students who may become future leaders in the sports industry
  • Ability to research pertinent issues in the sports industry and potentially influence the field


  • Substantial amount of schooling required (up to 6 years after earning a bachelor's degree)
  • May have to relocate for jobs because opportunities for professorships in this narrow field are limited
  • Earning a doctoral degree is a long and difficult process that not everyone completes

Courses and Requirements

PhD programs in sports management allow students to study and research the management and business aspects of sports and recreation, as well as the role that athletics play in contemporary society. Students spend the majority of their time developing advanced research skills pertaining to the sports industry and conducting independent research in an area of their choice. Some of the courses sports management PhD students may take include:

  • Behavior in sports organizations
  • Research methods in sports management
  • Legal aspects of sports
  • Sports financing

In addition to completing required coursework, PhD students are responsible for writing a dissertation and defending it before a panel. The dissertation usually takes at least a year to complete, and it takes substantially longer in many cases.

Online Degree Options

Online doctoral degrees in sports management are uncommon. However, there are a few online doctoral degree programs in related fields, such as education, that offer specializations in sports management. Since doctoral-level work requires taking advanced courses and completing a dissertation, students may obtain greater benefits by enrolling in traditional programs that offer a higher level of structure and guidance. Additionally, traditional programs might offer more networking opportunities, which could lead to better job prospects.

How to Stand Out

As a doctoral student in sports management, your primary goal will be to create a foundation for a research and teaching career. Conducting and publishing original research is critical because doing so can greatly improve your prospects on the academic job market. It's also helpful to carefully select a research program that constitutes a substantive contribution to your field.

Another way to stand out is by working as a graduate teaching assistant. This experience may be helpful once you enter the job market because schools often prefer to hire lecturers or professors with a solid teaching background. You can also gain an edge by keeping up with the latest developments in education technology, such as online course delivery formats, video presentations and electronic textbooks.

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