I completed my MBA in Sports Management from a top University in New Jersey in the early 2000s. And while I’m grateful for the fact that my post-graduate program provided me with an opportunity to build a network and gain a better understanding of the sports business landscape, I can confidently say that I’ve learned everything about this industry while in the field. There were countless moments during my first job working as part of the Marketing department at the Major League Soccer League Office in New York City where I questioned how I could possibly integrate my academic learning into my day to day work responsibilities which then had me question the ROI on the $50,000 and 24 months that I invested to secure my sports management MBA.
These questions around the effectiveness of academically focused sports management programs remained in my head for a few years and then became a regular topic of conversation with my colleagues at both MLS and while working for India based sports organizations over the past decade. This was primarily due to the fact that many of the students that passed out of global and domestic sports management programs did not come across as ‘industry-ready’ especially in terms of their practical knowledge, business acumen and communication skills. Over many lunches, my colleagues and I would sadly share stories about interviewing recent sports management graduates who would proudly tell us the theory of sponsorship but couldn’t put together a sponsorship presentation or even name the biggest brands sponsoring sport in the country.
It was painful to interact with these passionate yet disillusioned and poorly prepared youngsters who were desperately trying to figure out a way to crack into the industry so that they could begin paying back their education loans and prove to their families that pursuing a career in sports was a smart choice after all. Also, it was a missed opportunity for us on the employer side as we have always been in need of having trained professionals join our organizations but candidates must meet certain basic criteria before we offer them a job – and typically only a handful of individuals we interview possess what we are looking for.
Given that there is clearly a gap and as someone who thoroughly enjoys establishing partnerships to fill gaps in the industry, the first thing to do is to understand the wants from both sides. If you round up 1,000 postgraduate sports management students from all over the world and ask them what they would like upon graduation, the typical answer would be:
- A job in sports
- Decent pay package
- Extensive sports industry network
Then if you bring together 1,000 global sports industry organization hiring managers and ask them what they are looking for when they interview for entry-level positions, the typical answer would be:
- Comprehensive understanding of the global sports landscape
- Relevant industry experience
- Relevant technical skills (Project Management, Microsoft Office, Budgeting, etc…)
The logical next step would be to ensure that every sports management education program is structured in a way that provides both the students and employers with what they want. And in my humble opinion, the program structure should be designed by industry practitioners versus academics. Industry practitioners are the ones making the hiring decisions, are the ones who know what the industry actually requires and are the ones that have their fingers on the pulse of the always dynamic global sports industry as they are living it on a daily basis.
This does not mean that there should be no academic components tied into a sports management program, it just means that it should be designed as more of a professional development course than an academic exercise. That there is a healthy mix of theory and practical application with a focus on intense self-development, access to industry exposure and ongoing mentorship. This would ensure that all graduating students not only receive the tools, knowledge and experiences required to create fulfilling careers in sport but also gain access to relevant platforms in order to regularly interact with industry employers.
I was able to delve deeper into this concept of an industry designed education institute while reading a book called An Idea Whose Time Has Come by Pramath Raj Sinha who served as the Founding Dean of the Indian School Of Business (ISB). The book offers a detailed narrative around how a group of industrialists including Rajat Gupta (McKinsey), Anil Kumar (McKinsey), Anil Ambani (Reliance Group), Sunil Mittal (Bharti Enterprises) and Deepak Parekh (HDFC) had a vision to create an industry designed business course that would prepare graduates to manage and lead in rapidly changing environments by imparting education and training that assimilate leading management techniques to an Asian context.
I feel proud that our team at India On Track was able to follow in the footsteps of these great industrialists and create India’s first industry designed sports management institute: the Global Institute of Sports Business (GISB). Our students go through a rigorous 15-month immersion into the professional sports world and come out of the program prepared to create a fulfilling and impactful career within the industry. I truly hope that more sports organizations take it upon themselves to set up sports management education platforms or work intimately with academic institutes operating in this space as this will create a day when everyone that we interview possess the skills and qualities we look for in an entry-level candidate and ultimately our industry experiences exponential growth thanks to properly trained resources entering the field on an annual basis.