The Background…

Money flows in all directions within the sports industry – teams collect big dollars for ticket sales and sponsorship deals while writing hefty checks for the stadium lease and travel budgets. The most important checks a team will write, however, are to the employees that make up an organization. A Payroll accountant in the sports industry handles payroll distribution for all employees: athletes, coaches, front office personnel and business support staff. Whether you work for a professional sports team or a small market amateur club, handling payroll in sports is complex and important; employees rely on accurate paychecks to live their lives, however glamorous or humble they may be. Also known as Payroll Analysts, a professional in this role is primarily responsible for reconciliation of one or more payroll accounts as well as overall maintenance of payroll-related activities. Use your accounting experience to step into this senior position within the payroll accounting department and leverage software, from companies like Inuit and Sage, to standardize payroll for a team. Ensure deductions are properly taken, taxes are correctly calculated and paychecks are wired on time and are accurate to-the-penny. On a broader plane, review the organization’s accounting practices and look for efficiencies to streamline processes.

The payroll department of any sports organization comes with its own challenges. Manage oddball pay schedules of athletes; their checks don’t follow standard bi-weekly or monthly payouts. Be reactionary – the names on the payroll sheet can change weekly with frequent player cuts and new signings. The ability to handle these transactions from a payroll perspective is a challenge, requiring patience and organization. Mistakes are magnified in the sports arena. Be aware of the reality that many, many zeros are attached at the end of big time athlete contracts. Carelessness isn’t an option so be the person in the department that double and triple checks payroll information and institutes checks-and-balances to catch errors. The position of Payroll Accountant doesn’t allow for mistakes, be efficient and be precise to get ahead.

The Path…

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is necessary to reach the level of Payroll Accountant. While entry level payroll jobs – Payroll Assistant and Payroll Practitioner – can be had with a 2 year degree or sufficient real world experience, a proper accounting degree is needed to become a Payroll Accountant. The core curriculum of accountancy teaches basic principles, cost accounting, financial accounting, corporate taxation, payroll accounting and ethics. Leverage that coursework at a respected school to earn an internship, ideally with a sports organization. That experience should be enough to earn a place with a team’s payroll department after graduation. Beyond a four year degree, there are certifications to help your credibility in the industry. The American Payroll Association recommends obtaining a Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) or Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation to prove your mastery. FPC and CPP designations show prospective employers that a candidate is practiced but also well-educated on all things payroll.

The Money…

The average Payroll Accountant earns an annual salary in the mid-to-upper $50,000 range. Depending on the size of the organization and your level of seniority, your salary and bonus compensation package can be much higher. And, as your career grows, your expertise will bring you into higher levels of management within the accounting department. Just like a recently drafted ballplayer that makes his way through the minors before taking his first professional at-bat, you’ll need to rise through the ranks of the accounting department to earn top dollar and more responsibility. Know your numbers, be a leader and streamline your organization’s accounting processes to stay well paid and well respected.  

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