Answer: While there is some overlap between master’s degree programs in sports communication and those in sports management, the two differ fairly significantly when it comes to overall curricular focus and the type of careers they prepare graduates for. Master’s in sports communication programs tend to emphasize topics related to interpersonal, organizational, and mass communication in sports settings, preparing students for careers in fields such as public relations, marketing, journalism, or broadcasting. Master’s in sports management programs, on the other hand, focus heavily on the business and financial aspects of the field, in order to prepare graduates for more managerial or administrative positions, overseeing an entire sports department, facility, or organization.
Sports communication and sports management are very distinct fields, but related in many ways, with overlapping skill sets and career paths. The primary difference between them is in the names themselves. Sports communication is concerned with language and messaging as it relates to athletics and the sports industry, examining how to effectively communicate within organizations and to the public, while sports management deals more with the business side of managing or leading in a sports setting.
When it comes to master’s degree programs in sports communication, there are generally three different focus areas: sports broadcasting, sports promotions, and sports administration. The most common, sports broadcasting, concentrates on sports reporting, journalism, and broadcast production. Sports promotion deals more with the marketing side of things, focusing on branding, advertising, and public relations in sports. The third specialization area, sports administration, is focused on leadership and organizational communication, looking at communication theories and principles related to running a sports organization.
While similar to sports communication programs with a specialization in sports administration, graduate programs in sports management tend to focus more on practical skills instead of theory, with courses in law, finance, leadership tactics, resource management, business operations, and other topics related to the effective management of a sports program or organization. These programs do, however, also typically include some courses or training in areas of sports communication such as marketing, public relations, and/or strategic communications.
For further information about master’s degree programs in sports communication and sports management, and a more detailed breakdown of the differences between them, see below.
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Master’s in Sports Communication Programs
As mentioned above, sports communication is a subspecialty within the larger field of communication that examines how information is exchanged in sports settings and the larger sports industry. This includes both verbal and nonverbal communication between participants (e.g., players, coaches, and referees), sports teams and their fans, sports organizations and the media, and any other exchange related to organized athletics, from recreational or amateur sports to the college and professional levels. The field encompasses a wide range of topics and issues in interpersonal, organizational, and mass communication as they relate to sports, such as how players interact on a team, how different organizations are represented in the media, and how fans communicate both with one another and their favorite (or most hated) teams and players.
For the most part, there are three types of master’s degree programs in sports communication, each focused on a different aspect of the field. The most common are programs with a focus on sports broadcasting, which examine how sports are reported on in the media. These programs include coursework in topics such as sports journalism, studio broadcasting, radio production, commentating, and digital media, preparing students for careers as sports reporters, journalists, show hosts, producers, directors, or content editors, to name just a few possible options.
The second type is master’s in sports communication programs with a focus on promotion. In these programs, students look at the marketing and branding of sports players, organizations, and related entities, taking courses in public relations, multimedia marketing, advertising, social media, brand design, and more. Graduates with a degree in this concentration might pursue careers as PR directors, marketing managers, publicists, brand consultants, social media strategists, or any other position having to do with promotion, public perception, or sales in the sports industry.
Finally, there are some sports communication programs that offer a focus in sports administration. These programs explore the theories and psychology behind leading in sports settings, with coursework in organizational communication, persuasion, management strategy, negotiation, and related topics. This particular concentration is a good fit for students interested in pursuing administrative positions in sports organizations, overseeing event management, business operations, facilities, or athletic departments or programs.
To give students a better idea of the type of courses included in sports communication master’s programs, below is a list of topics commonly covered in each focus area:
Master’s in Sports Management Programs
The field of sports management deals primarily with the business side of athletics, focusing on behind the scenes issues such as finance, personnel management, facilities management, resource allocation, and analytics. Professionals in the field take on a variety of administrative roles, serving as athletic directors, coaches, facilities managers, compliance officers, agents, office managers, and more, for collegiate athletic programs, professional sports teams, municipal recreation departments, private businesses, and other types of sport-related organizations.
At the master’s level, sports management is often offered as a specialization option in MBA programs, due to its emphasis on business and administrative skills. However, there are schools that offer the major as a standalone graduate degree program, with possible concentration options such as sport law, coaching, sports analytics, or administration. Courses in a sports management program generally cover a wide range of topics related to business, leadership, finance, and law in organized athletics. As mentioned earlier, this typically also includes certain areas traditionally associated with sports communication, such as marketing, public relations, and organizational communication.
While curriculum and course titles will vary by school, below is a list of potential course topics one might find in a sports management master’s program:
- Leadership and Personnel Management
- Sports Law and Ethics
- Sports Economics and Finance
- Strategic Management and Human Resources
- Accounting and Budgeting
- Sports Sponsorship and Sales
- Facilities Management
- Sports Revenue Strategies and Analytics
- Business Development
- Sports Marketing
- Strategic Communications and Public Relations
- Business Intelligence in Sports
- Sports Performance Analytics
- Event Management
- Sports, Culture, and Society
Master’s in Sports Communication vs. Master’s in Sports Management Programs
The major differences between a master’s in sports communication and a master’s in sports management lie in their overall focus and intended career paths. While there is significant overlap between the two, with both covering certain topics that bridge the gap between business and communications, these programs have very different purposes, and offer distinct curricula based on different goals.
Master’s degree programs in sports communication focus primarily on how people interact and share information both about sports and in sports settings. This encompasses a wide range of fields, such as journalism, public relations, marketing, and media production, all of which have to do with writing or talking about sports for specific reasons. Depending on their focus area, students in these programs can expect to take courses in topics like broadcasting, social media, advertising, branding, or sports reporting, in order to prepare for careers that involve communicating about sports in some format or context.
Master’s in sports management programs, on the other hand, deal specifically with the business aspects behind developing or running sports organizations. Students in these programs learn strategies and skills for effectively managing in sports settings, whether that is working directly with players or teams, or as part of an athletic department, program, sports-related business, or facility. Coursework in a sports management program tends to focus on practical skills related to business administration and the sports industry, from accounting and budgeting to personnel and event management, covering only a few business-oriented topics associated with sports communication (e.g., marketing and public relations).