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The Human Resources Side of Sports

October 11
Professional woman with glasses discussing human resource jobs in the sports industry.

Behind the brilliant stadium lights, the glittering world championship trophies, and the larger-than-life sports heroes fueled by die-hard fans, the sports industry is a vast business that needs the best and brightest employees to keep operating successfully.

In today’s billion-dollar sports bazaar, recently disrupted by both the pandemic and social justice movements, Human Resource (HR) professionals are the unseen talent keeping all levels of the industry staffed and running efficiently.

With the grim specter of COVID fading and sports arenas reopening to dedicated fans, sports are returning to a new normal. It will be up to the talented, visionary, and skilled HR professionals to find and retain top talent who can drive the industry forward in order to meet the demands of this new normal.

Read more to learn how HR professionals are more important than ever to an evolving sports industry and what roles are available to sports management advanced degree holders who can keep sports operating successfully in the future.

Post-COVID and the Dawn of A New Sports Industry

It’s become increasingly apparent the sports industry will have to make changes in order to remain a winning business prospect in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice movements—even after stadiums reopen to full capacity. These necessary changes include:

  1. Reshaping revenue models
  2. Rethinking the role of sports in society
  3. Redefining the industry’s relationship with fans1

At the heart of these changes, the effective use of data by leading-edge specialists will be imperative. Data gives adept users in the sports industry the power to know who fans are, know what fans want, and build connections with fans in novel ways.

Data also gives sports analysts the ability to unlock the secrets of the science and patterns behind the games themselves and share those valuable insights with organizations, and fans, to increase the sports experience. The sports analytics industry is expected to reach nearly $4 billion by 2023 as teams, coaches, broadcasters, and rights holders harness data to improve performance and consumption.1

Data will also allow for the growth of lucrative fan betting platforms and guide the expansion of streaming, content sharing, online purchases, social media interactions, and other forms of fan engagement. Data advancements including virtual reality and artificial intelligence are necessary adoptions for sports organizations that want to stay ahead of the curve and any business curveballs.

As organizations embrace data and garner new revenue streams and fan connections, they must also consider how fans want sports to represent their beliefs and stand for their values in society. With sports having a powerful voice and impact in the form of billions in revenue and millions of fans, organizations will need to have professionals who can genuinely connect with a new, socially conscious, coming-of-age fanbase: Millennials and Generation Z.2

Both of these rising generations, which includes fans born between 1981 and 2012,3 are nearly lockstep in their advocacy for social conscious beliefs and will be driving the demand for corporate social responsibility (CSR) movements in sports as they look for increased diversity, equality, and social awareness movements.2 While Millennials are big sports watchers, sports organizations will need to entice Generation Z with progressive views and data-driven connections and content to boost interest and, in turn, revenues.5 Additionally, with younger fans engaging on all sides of the sports industry equation (live events, streaming, shopping, and betting), sports won’t simply be able to pay lip service to the social justice movements younger fans expect. Sports will need to fully suit up and step to the starting line to do its part to help improve society as a whole with bonafide CSR and diversity initiatives to remain a fan go-to in coming years.6,7

The New Role for HR in Sports

As these aforementioned data and CSR capabilities became imperatives for success and sustainability in the sports business model, sports organizations that want to excel to meet the demands of the sports industry of the future, head-on, must effectively “prioritize investment in digital infrastructure, people, and processes pertaining to fan data,” according to Deloitte.1 People, and HR leaders with the sports management skills to drive workplace change, will be the biggest catalyst of this evolved sports industry model.

The most sought after HR professionals will be the ones who can bring the following talent to sports organizations:

  1. Data analysts and data experts
  2. Customer-focused, fan-connection specialists
  3. Social responsibility and diversity leaders
  4. Digital monetization including sports betting experts1

In truth, recent market shifts or not, sports, as an industry, has always been especially reliant on human capital in order to succeed. From the players and coaches on the field, to the front office staff in corporate offices, to the ticket vendors and stadium concessions operations that meet fans face to face, people are what makes sports tick. With the pandemic fading and social consciousness rising, it's up to sports HR professionals to find the right people for the right roles—more than ever.

Today’s industry trends are dictating that capable HR leaders in sports must reach beyond the staffing basics of yesterday. They will also need to:

  1. Recruit, appraise, and select talent who can make business-boosting data and CSR decisions.
  2. Codify, establish, and hire for the philosophies and values that will help drive the organization forward and keep it competitive.
  3. Maintain a positive and safe workforce, culture, and morale; settle any disputes among people and the organization.1

HR Jobs for an Evolving Sports Industry

As a billion-dollar industry with plenty of HR jobs driving the look, feel, and inner workings of operations, sports is looking to hire degreed professionals with a knack for multiple aspects of the game. Impactful HR roles that help bridge the athletic and administrative sides of the industry are great to pursue with an online sports management master’s degree.

The traditional roles of coach, sports manager, and athletic director that help decide who will be part of an organization will remain. However, a recent snapshot of Indeed.com’s hiring for “HR sports managements jobs” brought up these results:

  • Human Resource Manager
  • Senior Executive Recruiter
  • Senior Associate Athletics Director, Human Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  • Assistant Director of Facilities
  • Staffing Manager4

These job titles show there are plenty of HR roles that are specific to human resource and staffing needs that are separate from on-the-field athletic needs. There are also roles that include a diversity and inclusion component and are clearly designed to meet the social justice needs of the evolved sports organizations.

Power up Your Sports Management HR Skills

To gain a better understanding of the new role of HR professionals in sports and to learn what's needed to fuel the great sports comeback currently underway, students can obtain an online sport management master's from a top-ranked university program, including Kansas State University.

Study online as you earn your sports management master’s to maintain your career momentum as you look to build the sports and HR skills needed to lead sports organizations in the future. With the KU online master’s degree in sport management*, you’ll be ready when the right opportunities arise. Explore the curriculum, including our internship opportunity, and schedule a call with an admissions advisor today.

*This program is a Master of Science in Education (M.S.E.) degree in health, sport management, and exercise science with an emphasis in sport management.

  1. Retrieved on August 16, 2021, from deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/us-tmt-sports-outlook-2021.pdf
  2. Retrieved on August 16, 2021, from pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/01/17/generation-z-looks-a-lot-like-millennials-on-key-social-and-political-issues/sportsmanagementonline.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-benefits-of-online-sports.html
  3. Retrieved on August 16, 2021, from mentalfloss.com/article/609811/age-ranges-millennials-and-generation-z
  4. Retrieved on August 16, 2021, from indeed.com/q-Human-Resources-Sports-jobs.html?vjk=e0952421f240496b
  5. Retrieved on August 16, 2021, from morningconsult.com/2020/09/28/gen-z-poll-sports-fandom/
  6. Retrieved on August 16, 2021, from genzreckoning.com/
  7. Retrieved on August 16, 2021, from zenefits.com/workest/corporate-social-responsibility-and-the-rise-of-the-gen-z-worker/#:~:text=CSR%20is%20also%20central%20to,t%20just%20an%20outward%20phenomenon.