Baseball is America’s past time and the NFL has ratings that can’t be matched. The NBA is filled with superstars making for riveting playoff basketball. And hockey – ignoring the lockout for a moment – has an in-house fan experience that’s hard to match. With astronomical TV contracts, team owned media channels and new internet and mobile driven revenue streams, professional sports franchises are worth more than ever. If the country is in a recession, someone forgot to tell the sports world. But which leagues are the most successful? And, if you want to land a job in sports, which leagues are the best to focus your attention on?  

While it’s a challenge to definitively measure which league you should purse a career with, there are several indicators which can help guide your decision making. The most current Team Marketing Report study shows the average ticket price across the leagues rose between 2010 and 2011. The NHL led the way followed closely by the NFL and Major League Baseball. While those three had between a 4% and 6% rise in ticket prices, the NBA significantly trailed the pack with less than a half-a-percent increase, a sign basketball organizations are aggressively trying to draw in more fans. Another telling study of league strength, this one by WR Hambrecht+Co and ESPN, evaluated overall league revenue and its recent growth. Over the past five years, the NFL and NHL revenues increased by 6.3% and 6.4%, respectively. In comparison, baseball and basketball revenues grew by less than 5% with the NBA once again ranking last. This tells us which leagues are in growth mode but which ones raked in the most revenue dollars in 2011? The NFL was the highest at over $8.8 million while MLB ranked second at about $6.1 million. The professional basketball and hockey leagues both came in under $4 million, less than half of pro football. What can we glean from all these numbers?

It’s clear that recent trends favor the National Football League and National Hockey League as sports of growth. Professional football has been a league on the rise for many years and finding your niche within that sport is a wise but challenging career move. Once the NHL resolves its current labor dispute, it will continue its recently positive trend but, as a league, it still doesn’t compete in overall revenue numbers and isn’t yet a stable work environment. Major League Baseball is the steady state of the four horsemen. It continues to grow fan interest and generate money from new revenue streams but hasn’t surpassed the NFL in popularity. Because of its recent forays into cutting edge forms of media, baseball is a hot place to work, especially in advertising, marketing and mobile app development. The NBA has global appeal but is still developing new monitization strategies in order to financially keep pace with other leagues. It has, however, found a way to keep ticket price increases at a minimum so, while its current state isn’t the most appealing, in-house fan support should rise along with its employment growth.

While aggregated league financial and attendance numbers helps us see which sports are financially promising, for job seekers it’s more important to find out which leagues are actively hiring. A quick sweep of official league job boards shows that NBA and Major League Baseball teams are hiring the most. On the other end of the spectrum lie the NFL and NHL, neither of whom are as active in the job market. Anecdotal information from JobsInSports.com validates this as well confirming the NBA as the most active and NFL as least active in the job market amongst the four professional leagues. While this appears inconsistent with the financial numbers previously discussed, consider the current financial and growth stages of each league. The National Football League is at the top of the sports market in terms of growth, revenue and ticket prices. Pro football teams will continue to hire but at a much slower pace because it’s already past it’s peak growth stages and is now stabalizing. So why is the NBA looking for new talent even while its revenue is less than half of its football counterpart? While the MLB Network and NFL Network are popular league-owned TV stations, NBA TV lacks the same following. And though basketball has more global appeal than American football, many US fans have the opinion that it’s a sport worth tuning in only when the playoffs begin. Beyond developing star players to wow fans, the league relies on heavy marketing to grow its fan base. NBA league offices and teams are hiring more people than other leagues to help spread the word that pro basketball is worth watching from its fall tip-off to the summer crowning of a new champion. So, while the NFL seems like the hot league to work for, it’s nearing employment capacity making leagues like the NBA and MLB places more likely to hire fresh talent.  

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