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Surprising Careers in Sport Management

If you love sport, and your life already revolves around it, it’s natural that you’d be keen to build a career around your passion.

Of course many people’s ultimate sporting dream would be to become a professional athlete. But given we’re not all Usain Bolt or Steph Gilmore, you might consider becoming a coach, a marketer, a physio or even starring on TV as a sports commentator.

There’s definitely that ‘sexy’, highly visible, side to sport, says Dr Michael Naraine, a lecturer in sports management at Deakin.

‘When you turn on a Channel 7 or a Fox Footy, you see people behind the desks explaining about the game that is taking place tonight. Then you also see people who are choosing the athletes, you see the athletes themselves and the people wearing the cool polos.’

If those roles don’t seem quite right either, you might be wondering if studying sports management is for you. But there are a huge variety of other roles – both on-field and off-field – you may not have considered.

The business of sport

‘Sports management fundamentally is about managing sport,’ explains Dr Naraine, meaning it’s about applying strong business skills to the sporting context. Because there’s a lot of cross-over in skills, the sports management course at Deakin is integrated into the university’s business school.

‘To be a good general manager is to think about things like the law, to think about finance, to think about analytics, and both people and culture, human resources,’ Dr Naraine says.

‘A lot of CEOs of sport organisations come from the private sector in, say, the banking industry or finance, because that business acumen is transferable.’

Jobs across sectors

Where else could you potentially wind up after studying sports management?

Well you could be doing anything from organising an event such as Tough Mudder, managing athletes or working for a player and athlete association.

If you want to work in the sport industry directly, you could work for a national or state sporting organisation such as the AFL or Tennis Australia.

Or you may work for an organisation or company that’s associated with sport. ‘An example could be “I’m going to work with Toyota, because Toyota sponsors the AFL, and I’m going to handle their sports sponsorship portfolio,”’ Dr Naraine says.

Another opportunity would be working for something like a local council, a tourism board or a government body. These organisations might be removed from sport, but are still part of the sporting ‘conversation’, Dr Naraine says.

Why sports management is growing

Australia’s population might be relatively small, but we’re a sports-mad nation.

‘The sports industry has grown significantly in this country because of the appetite for the sport, but also continues to grow with the female and youth movements that we’re seeing,’ Dr Naraine says.

For example, Cricket Australia has introduced youth programs, and there’s the Women’s Big Bash League. Not to mention the growing number of professional women’s teams in leagues such as the AFLW, NRLW and in soccer, the W-League.

And all this growth involves more jobs than the ones you see on TV, Dr Naraine says.

The sports industry has grown significantly in this country because of the appetite for the sport, but also continues to grow with the female and youth movements that we’re seeing.

Dr Michael Naraine,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

‘Who’s helping to set up the game day experience? Who’s helping to put on this community program in regional Victoria… who’s helping to inform the athletes, or liaise with the media?’

Increasingly specialised jobs

Not so long ago, Dr Naraine says if you worked in sports management, you were something of a Jack-of-all-trades.

‘Now we need experts in particular subject areas. So we need an expert in sponsorship, in people and culture, we need an expert in law and finance,’ Dr Naraine says.

Analytics is also a growing area.

Choosing your direction

Dr Naraine says many sports management students, particularly at the undergraduate level, often arrive with a very specific goal in mind. For example they might want to be a list manager for the Richmond Tigers, work at Nike, or in marketing for the F1 Grand Prix.

While it’s great to have a firm long-term goal, Dr Naraine says students should be flexible, particularly early in their careers.

You may also learn about different facets of the industry during your studies. At Deakin, for instance, students can learn about everything from marketing, to organisational theory.

‘We want them to be a well-rounded person coming out with their degree so that whether it’s the AFL, whether it’s cricket, it doesn’t matter who the organisation is,’ Dr Naraine says.

As with many things in life, much of it is about timing, so be ready for any position that comes up.

‘You might be a fan of the Richmond Tigers and there’s a job at Collingwood,’ Dr Naraine says. ‘You’re going to end up working at Collingwood, that’s just how it is, and you’re going to enjoy it.’

Want to know what life is like as a sports agent? Read Jason Bakker’s career confessions.

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