Sport Management Degrees: Teaching So Much More Than Sport

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By Barry Person, Jr. Assistant Professor, Sport and Recreation Management
SUNY Delhi

3EBA0F76-8495-4B60-B080-14C5502D29D8As a Sport Management professor, I am always asked what can my child/I do with a Sport Management degree, the answer is change the world. Bradbury and O’Boyle (2017) stated that sport management has come a long way in the past 20 years; the sport management environment has now evolved into a legitimate professional and commercial sector and continues to grow in size and scope in many nations throughout the world. Yet, the power and applicability of the Sport Management degree fails to garner enough attention. This blog aims to highlight the universal application a Sport Management degree can have within the global economy and society to generate both change and recovery.

The COVID-19 pandemic and current civil justice unrest has provided the unique opportunity for the value and importance of the Sport Management degree to address these issues, not only in academia but also within larger society, to be broadcasted. The notion that sport is a microcosm of society is no secret, but the truth and sustainability of this statement is now being tested. Pending global and societal changes, and advancements which arise from the world’s current situation, can highlight how sport is not only a microcosm of society, but a tool for societal change. Sport is one of the few things in the world that can serve as a universal language and bond. Touchdowns, goals, slam dunks, and home runs are terms that almost anyone in the world can comprehend the meaning of, regardless of their interest in the given sport for which the term is associated. The same can be said for fans who see others with the same jersey, alma mater, or sporting t-shirt; a special bond is instantly created no matter the race, gender, or religion of the individuals involved. So, seeing that sport has become one of the focal points to help stimulate economic recovery, civil unity, and support social justice is no surprise.

However, what is not being highlighted enough is the educational foundation which frames the future of the sport industry. Sport Management degrees hold the power to inspire and spur change within all aspects of sports and society. More importantly, such a degree serves as the foundation from which the push for equality within all levels of sporting administration can truly be achieved. The more sporting organizations become united and equally diverse, so will the society in which we live. The more that the world is shown equality amongst sport ownership, upper management, and coaching/leadership, the more society will embrace the same principles. The realization that Sport Management degrees go beyond coaching and training, but also deal with functioning in the global marketplace and all the social issues that arise within it, should no longer be ignored. To best understand how and why sport has been called upon to kickstart efforts for social justice and diverse equality, one must be well versed in the principles of sport management itself. So as sport continues to be the shining star in the road to global and social recovery, let us not forget the Sport Management degree in this process as well.

The same can be said for the eventual economic recovery for many countries. We regularly see the impact that geopolitics has on the sport management environment through the selection of countries to host mega sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup (Bradbury & O’Boyle, 2017). The current push by the entire world to get their sporting leagues back in action, speaks directly to this statement. While sports may not look the same in terms of fans in the stands and/or the postponement of the Olympics, it does not take away from a sporting event’s ability to be an economic stimulant. As restaurants, bars, and clubs continue to reopen, so do the opportunities for sports fans to gather and support these businesses. Being able to identify, create, adjust to, and market such opportunities are core principles within Sport Management studies regardless of institution. So be it in North America, England, Korea, or Italy, Sport Management studies are intertwined in some fashion with all that we do and will be vital to change and recovery. So, to restate what can be done with a Sport Management degree, in a nutshell whatever one chooses to do in order to impact the world, society, and/or economy through sport. The broad applicability and unique perspective which can be developed through sport management studies, offers a one of a kind educational experience that thanks to COVID-19 and current civil unrest, will no longer be cast into the secondary programming tier at institutions of higher learning.

References
Bradbury, T., & O’Boyle. (2017). Understanding sport management international perspectives. New York, NY: Routledge.

Observations from the WWC Part 2: Interview with Current Sky Blue FC GM

By Dr. Natalie L. Smith (@NatalieLSmith)

Natalie is an Assistant Professor at East Tennessee State University, a former Sky Blue FC & MLS employee, and is currently recruiting a Graduate Assistant for Fall 2020.

A continuation from last week, we followed up with someone who has been dedicated to women’s sport, and women’s soccer specifically, for years. In a practitioner insight interview to compliment last week’s blog, I interviewed a long-time friend, Alyse LaHue. She is the current Sky Blue FC General Manager & Adjunct Instructor at East Tennessee State University. Here’s the interview:

How has the WWC in France impacted Sky Blue FC attendance, media and sponsorship interest?

I would suggest it’s less so the general World Cup and more so the USWNT’s success during it that has driven this interest. It always seems to become a national cultural moment when the USWNT plays in the World Cup. You see media coverage on all outlets: online, tv news, newspapers. Everyone covers it and with that comes enhanced interest in women’s soccer in general. The victory is the major icing on the cake in that you then have a long extension of the WWC through parades, talk shows, and general ongoing appearances via everything you could imagine.

We’ve certainly seen a surge in attendance with two sellouts and a third on the horizon out of our 6 post-WWC games. We even just moved one to Red Bull Arena to accommodate demand. Sky Blue has never played there before. It allows us to engage more media and sponsors by playing in a venue like that, a bit closer to NYC.

What questions do you and others who work in women’s soccer have that you can’t answer right now?

A major item for me is the measurables. There has been an instinct that women’s sports in general have that intangible emotional connection with fans, which I won’t deny. But as front offices we have to operate on data and numbers. Sponsorship ROI and impressions are areas that we typically have not been able to afford on the teams I’ve worked for. Those analyses can be very expensive but it’s something that would be intriguing to me. How many impressions on average does the jersey front get during the course of a season? How can we further measure the actual ROI for our partners instead of just treating their sponsorship like a donation?

What role do you see academics playing in women’s soccer? Have you collaborated with academia in your organizations?

I wish we had more collaborations! During my time in Chicago we had a group of students from Canada work on a semester-long project then come down and present it to us. It included many outside-the-box marketing ideas, many of which we actually ended up exploring

 

In conclusion, so many questions remain about how our current management theories relate to the realities of women’s soccer, and perhaps women’s sport more generally. Fortunately, this seems to be a growing area of interest for scholars. In the past year alone, we have seen a book published on the business of women’s sport (co-edited by Drs. Nancy Lough and Andrea Geurin), and a call for papers with the International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing for a special issue on marketing in women’s sports (submissions due in December). This increased academic focus on women’s sport is needed and welcomed. Clearly those in the women’s sports space want more collaboration with academics, what an opportunity for us to provide much needed research.

Sport Ecology: all it is, and all it could be

Madeleine Orr* & Walker Ross**

*Madeleine is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. She currently teaches in the Sport Administration program at Laurentian University in Canada.

** Walker is a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina.

As PhD students, we often answer the question: “what’s your area of specialization?” It’s a reasonable question: it’s important have a clear and consistently personal brand on the job market. But, what if your research doesn’t fit into one of the established ‘sub-disciplines’ of sport management?

When we met in 2017 (via Twitter posts on sustainability, of course), we compared notes and realized we both got the same ‘what’s your specialization’ question, and that answers such as ‘I study sport and the natural environment’ or ‘sport sustainability’ didn’t seem to satisfy the inquisitor. Perhaps the better answer is ‘sport ecology’, as this term is broad enough to include the full breadth and depth of the relationship between sport and the natural environment.

We’d like to use this blog to advance the understanding that the relationship between sport and the natural environment is complex and dynamic, ever-present yet ever-changing, meriting a subdiscipline of its own. What it comes down to, is that sport’s relationship with the natural environment is about more than just recycling and turning off lights.

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Concept Art for Forest Green Rovers’ proposed stadium in UK, made of sustainably sourced wood a caption

For example, sport ecology would encompass research on:

  • Weather and environmental conditions of sport,
  • Sport in natural versus artificial environments,
  • Impacts of climate change on sport,
  • Methods for making sport more environmentally sensitive and sustainable,
  • And more…

As a starting point, it is important to recognize the fundamental relationship that sport has with its environment. Many sports developed out of social-ecological connections in their places of origin. Think of golf (from Scotland), ice hockey (from Canada), or surfing (from Polynesia). Changes to the planet’s ecological state, coupled with rapid globalization and commercialization, have and will continue to alter where and when sport is played and enjoyed. For example, who would’ve guessed there would be indoor alpine skiing facilities in Dubai, or irrigated golf courses in the Nevada desert? These changes present new challenges which complicate the previously taken-for-granted relationship between sport and the natural environment. It follows that a sport ecology sub-discipline should develop in response.

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Caption: Heat exhaustion at the Australian Open, January 2018

We’re not the first to work in this space – we stand on the shoulders of giants: Brian McCullough, Tim Kellison, Sylvia Trendafilova, Melanie Sartore-Baldwin, Jonathan Casper, Cheryl Mallen, Haylee Mercado, Kyle Bunds, Greg Dingle, and others. These scholars have contributed substantially to sport ecology. There have also been contributions outside of sport management from geographers and natural resource scientists. Importantly, practitioners have been working in this space for decades: ski resort managers can tell you their job has everything to do with knowing and adapting to snow patterns; most college and NFL football games have a meteorologist on site (or at least, on call) to warn of storm activity; the golf industry has entire conferences and organizations dedicated to turf management.

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Recreational skater on melting ice in Edmonton, Canada

Here is some broader context for sport ecology:

  • The term ‘ecology’ combines ‘eco’ (environment) and ‘logy’ (study). The emphasis on ‘study’ in ecology is important: we are scientists and our work, first and foremost, is to understand.
  • Sport ecology would follow in the rich scientific tradition of human ecology, a derivative of geography and ecology, and would be related to recreation ecology (Marion, Leung, Eagleston, Burroughs, 2016; Monz, Pickering and Hadwen, 2013), tourism ecology (David, 2011), and business ecology (Abe, Bassett & Dempsey, 2012).
  • In the sport industry, associations and conferences have emerged to address issues related to sustainability and climate change. Examples include the Green Sports Alliance and the Sports Environment Alliance. Many major leagues and organizations, including the NHL, NFL, PGA Tour, and the NCAA, have launched green initiatives. There is even a ‘Green Sports Day’, recognized by the White House in 2016.

We are still working to define the boundaries of the sport ecology sub-discipline (we’ll get there – currently working on conference presentations and academic papers) And we would love to hear your input. Please, get in touch with us to discuss!

Sport Issues: S4D

We look too close, then we overlook

By Laura Coughlin, Development Aid Intern, Sports Charity Mwanza

There is this overarching idea that the western world needs to go to Africa and help, but do we see what we want to see or do we see what is really in front of us? I fell into this mindset after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2017, as I knew I wanted to avoid the corporate world a little longer and decided to travel to Tanzania to work for a sports charity. We worked to provide equipment and training to local teams and clubs. I quickly learned how Western influence is not this rainbow filled picture of volunteerism and help. We assume and judge and try to change what we see because it differs from the way we grew up, and then we overlook the issues we leave behind.

Kids in Tanzania play sport to keep off the streets. They play sport to avoid gang involvement. They play sport with the hope of becoming a professional and being able to provide for their family. They play sport with the hope of receiving an education, which they fail to receive at their local schools. In Eastern Africa, sport is a hope, a dream, and a means of survival.

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Kids in the United States play sport for fun and to be active. They play to get into college. They play to make money; to be rich and famous. Sport in the United States is a pastime, a business, and a way for school kids to make friends.

When westerners enter these rural parts of Africa, we look close and narrow in on the fact that this boy is playing football without any shoes on and a red flag goes off in our mind. We are used to having the latest pair of Nike cleats at our reach, therefore how can this kid properly play sport without similar shoes? Because of instinct, we search and donate shoes to that little boy and some of his friends. They enjoy and show them off and now everyone in the community wants the same nice shoes. Can you blame them? As volunteers, we do what we can but to give a whole community a pair of shoes is just too much. So we leave these few boys now possessing an unnecessary material item, and unknowingly have created a demand that we cannot fill. We look too close at the shoes, and then we overlook the larger picture.

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While the sports industry drives our economy in a positive way, maybe it is driving our values in a negative way. These kids in Tanzania had some of the most impressive football skills I have seen in a youth community, without shoes and without a properly lined field. We need to stop looking at these players as charity cases and begin to see them for what they are, talented youth with the potential to dominate a professional football league. There needs to be a push to get them exposure and the resources they need to have their skills seen, to give them the opportunities to change their lives through sport, the way athletes in the United States can. We cannot expect these opportunities to be identical. They must be relative to the location, such as a chance to escape violence in Tanzania versus the chance to go pro in the United States. These opportunities will vary, but they need to exist.

Don’t get me wrong, donating to a child in need is great and something to smile about. I just hope we can get to the point where we take another step into the investment of these poverty stricken kids. We need to help them take another step towards their future in their new shoes. I hope Western culture doesn’t lose the passion and dedication that is the true key to success in sport, and we do not just remain focused on the money or cool shoes. I hope to focus my future career in sport on community development and athletics that have a direct impact on individuals and their situations. Imagine how many kids from Eastern Africa could out play Ronaldo, but will never get the chance because we only give them shoes instead of a shot.