By Marty Conway
More often than not, people looking to break into the sports industry lean toward a role in the front office of a professional team at the major or minor league level. It’s common, and logically, the result of the psychological pull of humans to pursue opportunity based upon what they can see with their own eyes.
With the media saturation of the “Big Five” of American professional sports (the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS), it would be prudent for people to define “working in sports” as a role in the front office at some level of professional sports. So, is there an opportunity for “working in sports” that doesn’t entail the front office of a professional franchise? Indeed, there is.
According to the PwC Sports Outlook, 2016 Edition, the North American sports industry is poised to become a $75 billion operation by 2020. And the sources of that revenue are shifting: according to the report, the “gate receipts” segment (that is, revenue from ticket sales), will no longer be the largest contribution to the total revenue in the industry.
Instead, the media segment, with a projection of $21.2 billion will surpass gate receipts, followed closely with the area of sponsorships at $18.7 billion. Those figures should be a clue to where this is headed.
Here is a deeper look into the evolution of sports jobs today:
The Growing Intersection of Sports and Media
The gate receipts segment is the one that is most closely associated with the professional franchises. In the past, entry-level opportunities in sports have most frequently been through the sales and ticket groups of teams and leagues. But the growth of the media segment changes that paradigm.
It’s clear from the research that sports and media go together like socks and shoes. You can have one without the other, for sure, but why would you, unless you had to? With this change comes opportunity — as long as you can see it.
For example, more and more sports and athletic contests are being telecast or streamed. This opens opportunity for on-air talent, but more often, production and support staff.
Today, some of the most influential people working in sports are at the production and technical production staff level. Producing an engaging telecast or live-stream is an art. The best telecasts draw interest, interest draws audience, and audience leads to a business opportunity through sales and marketing.
Have you ever seen a production of a live sports event from the other side of the camera? If you haven’t, I can tell you that it takes a team of talented people, who not only know sports, but also know how to tell a story. Moreover, the marketing and sales of media and sports are an important component that can’t be overlooked.
There are hundreds of sports jobs for people who want to work in the industry — you just may not have seen them. And the opportunities become even more plentiful when you widen your lens outside the Big Five.
From Extreme Sports to eSports
Before 1995, no one could have imagined that activities like skateboarding, snowboarding, or freestyle motocross would first be labeled as “extreme sports,” nor that they would come together to make The X Games, a staple of ESPN’s programming for two decades. But they did.
So what’s next? eSports are this decade’s answer to extreme sports. eSports are also called electronic sports — and they look a lot like video game competitions.
Global consulting firm Deloitte has published reports that project the revenues for eSports will reach $500 million and have a following of approximately 150 million people by the end of 2016. Just as extreme sports were underestimated for years, skeptics will have similar tendencies toward eSports.
If you are really looking at a career in sports that will flourish 20 years down the line, eSports may be an opportunity today that is outside the front office. You just have to see it, or at least imagine it.
Today, eSports competitions draw 40,000 people into venues to watch events, and millions more follow live streams over the web and through mobile applications. There are tickets to sell, partnerships to form, and media to produce.
But don’t just take my word for it. Follow the lead of some of the visionary leaders in sports. Recently, the Philadelphia 76’ers became the first professional franchise in the U.S. to purchase a team in an eSports league. Other sports leaders like Monumental Sports Chairman Ted Leonsis have invested in eSports. Even young professional athletes like NBA player Jeremy Lin has followed suit and is now making headlines in eSports.
Ask yourself, what do these people see as an opportunity in eSports that you haven’t yet? If there will be leagues and teams and media broadcasts of eSports around the world, there must be opportunities for sports jobs.
What sports jobs are you interested in outside of the front office?
Marty Conway is a faculty member for the master’s in Sports Industry Management program at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, where he teaches a course in “The Business of Sports Media.” You can follow him on Twitter @MartyConway.