Professionals find passion, paychecks in sports business industry - FOX 21/27 WFXR Roanoke/WWCW Lynchburg News, Weather

Professionals find passion, paychecks in sports business industry

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(ARA) - Decades ago, the sports industry was a combination of talented athletes and mom and pop business owners. But now, in an economic time when many industries are hurting, sports business is one that is thriving and growing.

Sports are an escape for many people, something to cheer for, something to be passionate about. Walk through any office building in March during the NCAA basketball tournament and you'll spot sneaky workers glancing over their shoulders as they refresh game scores on their Internet browsers.

But today, more and more professionals get to check those scores without fear of consequences from human resources. These professionals have put their business, marketing and sales skills to good use in the multi-billion dollar sports industry.

Just a few decades ago, going to college to prepare for a job in sports was practically unheard of. Most positions in the business were filled through personal connections, word of mouth or luck. But now, a solid education in sports business is crucial as the field grows more complicated and the competition grows fiercer.

Ohio University started the first sports management degree program in 1966. Since then, programs focusing on sports management have grown at universities across the country and opportunities have flourished for students to pursue their passion for sports while gaining solid business skills.

Many sports degree programs are based in education, physiology, health or human performance. Others, including Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University's Colangelo School of Sports Business, are housed within the school's college of business.

"Not only do our students study marketing, sales, finance and accounting, which are valuable for any career they choose, they also receive specialized instruction in sports law, contracts, promotions, sponsorships and public relations," says Dr. Brian Smith who heads the Colangelo school, which is closely affiliated with Jerry Colangelo, Chairman of USA Basketball's Board of Directors and named one of the most powerful people in sports by Sporting News.

"Through Jerry Colangelo, our students have access to a community of sports executives, venue contacts, NBA and USA Basketball executives and other influential industry leaders who bring years of practical experience to the discussion," says Smith. "Our program is growing rapidly as students learn they can combine their love of sports with a business degree that stresses entrepreneurism and ethics."

Sports business graduates have more career options now than ever. Besides the traditional jobs of agents, coaches and players, opportunities are emerging in the growing fields of online advertising, marketing, promotions, sports law and policy, communications, statistics, sports programming, social media and Web management, among others.

The stakes are high in the lucrative business of sports. In 2011, the BCS Top 25 college football programs spent a total of nearly $16 million on recruiting, according to Forbes. More television channels now are devoted to sports than to news, music and weather combined, according to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, resulting in a sports emphasis for television advertisers. During the football championship game on Feb. 5, 30-second commercials went for $3.5 million apiece.

The sports industry, although historically successful, has exploded in the past 10 years and experts expect it will continue to flourish as business degree programs provide the next generation of sports leaders with the sophisticated skills needed to thrive in this expanding field.