Best Online PhD Programs in Sports Management

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online PhD in Sports Management Program?

Sports management is the intersection of sports and business, where people manage teams, facilities, and organizations of all scales, from local to national. Sports management can combine business, management and athletics and offer a number of adult education possibilities including an online doctorate for aspiring professionals. An online Ph.D. program is the terminal degree in sports management. It typically involves remote study for around 3 to 4 years and covers a range of practical and theoretical issues involving sports administration. Many doctoral programs end with a dissertation in which the student is asked to contribute important research to the field. Some students may go on to higher sports administration positions while others may move on to a teaching position in a college or university.

Why Should I Get an Online PhD in Sports Management?

There are many reasons you might be interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in sports management. Perhaps you have been considering a doctoral degree in a number of business-related areas such as supply chain management, business management, or international business. Or perhaps you have had previous graduate experience in related subjects such as an online business certificate, an online business analyst certificate, or an online business management certificate. You may have taken or been considering an online graduate certificate in organizational leadership or in project management but want to move into sports management rather than other business and leadership ventures. Or maybe you have already tested the waters of sports management with a graduate certificate.

This online doctorate may be suitable for you if you want to become a sports administration professional at a high level or a professor of sports management at a university. Sports and recreation business is a half-trillion-dollar business in the United States and administration jobs are growing at a remarkable rate to keep pace with that business growth. You may want to combine your love of sports and business acumen in a single qualification and already have professional experience and an advanced degree in business or sports management. You may also want to do these things within a busy professional life and want the flexibility of an online doctorate to allow you to work and study at the same time.

Admissions Requirements for Online Sports Management PhD Programs

Typically, you will have to complete an online application with a fee and provide all educational transcripts from previous schools. You may have to submit recent (within five years) GRE scores and, if English is not your first language, TOEFL scores demonstrating your ability to communicate fluently. Two to three references are typically required from people who can speak positively of your educational and professional abilities and readiness for a doctoral program. Additionally, you will likely be required to write a personal statement containing your career plans and reasons for undertaking graduate study at that institution. Some, but not all, programs require a master's degree in sports administration, but most will loom for previous professional and/or educational experience, sometimes up to 3 years.

What Should I Expect from an Online PhD in Sports Management?

Sports management typically involves between 60 and 90 graduate credits, but this can vary depending on transferable credits from a master's degree. You will likely take courses in research methods, as well as leadership, governance, corruption, group psychology, finance and other subjects. Some programs have a practicum component, involving a residency or internship at a relevant sports institution and reflection in a seminar setting. Most also involve a dissertation to complete the doctorate, but some offer a practical capstone project instead.

How Long is an Online Doctoral Sports Management Program?

Online sports doctorate programs can be completed between three and seven years, depending on the program and requirements. Expect to spend around two years on required coursework before moving onto the practicum capstone or the dissertation. Typically students have to complete comprehensive exams before they move onto this final step. You will likely spend at least a year researching and writing your dissertation.

Common Courses for Online Sports Management Doctoral Programs

Courses will likely fall into three groups: foundation, electives, or research methods. Foundational classes are typically basic methods, writing, and research, as well as some specific sports administration classes. Elective classes allow you to begin specializing for your doctorate and could cover any number of subjects under the sports management umbrella. Research methods will likely cover statistics and research design, considering how to develop a study and collect data for valid results.

Sports Marketing

Creating an athletic brand is an important set of skills in sports management. This class typically asks how one can create measurable outcomes for any marketing and branding program. It will likely cover such practical concerns as audience segmentation, advertising, sponsorship and consumer behavior. It may also cover marketing theory and other more academic approaches.

Financial Management

Expect an in-depth study of finance in sports management involving practical topics such as budgeting and data analysis. Typically, these classes cover the theoretical and practical aspects of how to manage a sports organization through accounting. You will likely consider public and private funding possibilities, as well as profit distribution.

Sports Leadership

This class usually takes a theoretical and practical look at different styles of leadership in sports, using real-world examples to learn what traits, principles and skills could be useful. You may discuss and read about networking, team building, change and how to create it in an organization, as well as more complex social issues such as diversity in sports.

Research Methods

This required class for most doctoral programs is designed to prepare you for your final dissertation, expect to learn qualitative and quantitative methods for designing a study. Expect to learn about formulating a research question, about different kinds of research designs, about creating a literature review and analyzing your data in a scientific manner. You will likely read and write a great deal and be more prepared to approach the major research project that will likely complete your doctorate.

Online Sports Management PhD Degree Specializations

  • Global Sports specializations study the leadership methods required for an organization to thrive internationally. Expect to consider the different international governing bodies that regulate global sports, as well as organizational behavior across countries and finances. You will likely take electives and possibly even an international practicum requiring travel.
  • Sports Marketing concentrations aim to build an entrepreneurial mindset through coursework and research and how to engage this to build a successful sports organization. You can likely combine this with electives that match this focus as well as a possible marketing research study for your dissertation. Expect to learn how to create and sustain a sports brand, how to identify new audience segments, how to conduct advertising campaigns and more relevant practices for future work and research.
  • Human Resource Management is a huge consideration for any athletic organization. This will likely focus on the practice and challenges of labor relations, as well as training personnel, and be combined with electives and research of your choice.

Doctoral Dissertation for Sports Management

Almost all online doctorates will culminate in a doctoral dissertation, a process that can take anywhere from one to five years. Once you have completed your comprehensive exams after your coursework, you typically consult extensively with your faculty research advisor. Part of your application to the program should be considering which faculty member is most suited to your own research interests.

You will likely develop and narrow down to a specific study proposal over several months, reading extensively and eventually creating a literature review that encompasses all the relevant research you have found. Once you have developed the proposal, you will likely then have to defend it in front of a selected faculty panel who will ask you many pertinent questions to find any holes in your approach to the study. Depending on how the oral defense goes, you may then have to revise your literature review and proposal.

Once you have passed your oral defense, you will then have to perform the study. When you have your results you will then need to write them up in a final dissertation. Working with your faculty advisor you may have to make changes until you finally complete and submit the university. Once you have finished the dissertation you will likely have completed your doctorate.

How to Choose the Right Online Sports Management PhD Program

Choosing the right school for your online doctorate is a major decision that can be made easier with a plan to consider certain features in each school: student outcomes, faculty, specializations, and cost. The department's website should contain most of the information you need but if you have questions be sure to pursue them with faculty and administrators of the program.

Be sure to ask for the outcomes of previous students in the program. What is the graduation rate? Are they working and in what jobs? Do they have any salary information on those positions?

Since you will be working with faculty on a likely dissertation, review the professors in the department to make sure one of them matches your research interests. Communicate directly with the faculty to get a sense of whether you want to work with them. Try to also ensure that any specializations in the program match your professional ambitions.

Lastly, consider the cost. There can be a significant difference between public in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition, between public and private tuition, so consider how much you can spend, if you can work while studying, and be realistic about your prospects in the program.

Accreditation for Schools with a Sports Management PhD Program

Accreditation is a way of ensuring that the school and program are worth the time and money that you invest. A relevant organization reviews and evaluates to ensure that it lies up to a high set of expectations; this is important for your studies and it can also help you look more desirable to employers.

There are two forms of relevant accreditation for sports management. Firstly, ensure that your university has been accredited by one of the regional higher education accrediting bodies in the United States approved by the CHEA and the Department of Education. The university website should have evidence of its accreditation.

Secondly, the Commission of Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) reviews and grants accreditation to undergraduate and graduate sports management programs. You can check for this on the department's website.

Job Outlook for Sports Management

A doctorate, combined with experience, opens a number of related positions, such as jobs in sports management, in community-organized sport, or one involving statistics and math. Most of them typically draw on your academic and professional experience in personnel management, budgeting, finance, and other facets. Expect to negotiate multiple stakeholders of players, audiences, employees and funders. Due to the increasing popularity of sports in the United States, and its growth as a huge business, the job outlooks for the three positions below are all healthy.

Athletic Director

Athletic directors administer a college-wide sports program. With responsibility for strategy, planning, finance and fundraising, athletic directors effectively manage a corporate department with strong attention to the laws and regulations of student-athletes. The position can vary widely depending on the size of the higher education institution and involve complex managerial skills of delegation, personnel and a collegiate attitude to other departments. Athletic directors have an average salary of around $87,985 (according to with variation based on the size of the institution.

Sports Development Officer

A sports development officer works within a community to promote physical fitness through sports. Typically working for a town, county or regional agency they fund and equip groups and locations to allow community members to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. This is likely to involve financing and budgets, perhaps fundraising, as well as personnel management, and extensive public outreach and relations. ZipRecruiter reports an average salary of $65,451.

Sports Management Professor

An online sports management doctoral program can also train you to teach. Scholars work in colleges and universities teaching in undergraduate and graduate programs. Depending on the institution, faculty may have research opportunities and/or requirements, where they can pursue their own research interests. They work in committees within their department and university, teach a full load of classes, and consult with students. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics records a median salary for postsecondary teachers of $80,790 with a variation based on private or public, and the prestige of the institution. They predict a job growth from 2019-2029 of 9%.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online Sports Management PhD Programs

Your first step in pursuing financial aid for an online doctoral sports management program is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a single application for a range of possible funding sources for your program, from grants and scholarships to federal loans, as well as work-study programs and research fellowships. Beyond this, check for departmental funding. Some departments may have funding available to include faculty research assistantships or similar arrangements.

The National American Society for Sports Management (NASSM) has some funding opportunities for sports management scholars and students. Some of these are for doctoral research alone, so you can not apply to them until your final research begins. Other professional organizations such as the Sports Marketing Association (SMA) and the College Sports Information Director of American (CoSIDA) also have scholarship and research opportunities for doctoral candidates.

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