Students Test Passion for Sports Against Industry Reality

For 10 years, Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business boasted an MBA sports-business specialization that was called one of the best in the nation. In 2010 state budget cuts forced the school to shutter the program.

Last fall, Carey resurrected its sports business major, this time for undergraduates. The school offers a bachelor of arts degree in business with a concentration in sports and media studies, as well as a certificate in sports business for students working on such traditional business majors as finance and accounting.

Carey administrators believe its past experience teaching the subject to MBAs—as well as the school’s location in the sports-rich Phoenix area—make the school a great place to study sports business. The school’s Tempe, Ariz., campus puts students in close proximity to four major sports franchises, as well as a major hub for spring training baseball and various special events that include next year’s Super Bowl.

Those built-in features, plus Carey’s pedagogical rigor, will help the programs stand out from those of hundreds of schools offering undergraduate sports business degrees, says Michael Mokwa, a professor of marketing at Carey: “Rather than teach them to be salespeople or marketing communicators, we want them to learn to manage and extend revenue streams, no matter where in the industry they work.”

There are 107 students currently enrolled in the sports and media degree program, which is offered in partnership with Arizona State’s journalism school, says Debbie Freeman, a spokeswoman for Carey. The school expects that number to increase by 50 percent next year. The school won’t count how many students are in the certificate program until graduation later this spring, Freeman says. In addition to the undergraduate programs, Carey is laying the groundwork to offer a master’s degree program that combines sports business and law, Mokwa says.

Having access to leaders in the sports industry appeals to students such as Joshua Nacion, a junior from Las Vegas who was attracted to Carey partly because he felt the school’s Phoenix campus would make it easier for him to meet sports executives.

To that end, a sports business conference hosted by Carey last week included speakers from three major league sports teams based in the Phoenix area, as well an executive from the committee that’s hosting next year’s Super Bowl.

A big part of the teaching process is weeding out sports nuts from those committed to working in the industry. “Passion is possibly the most overused word in this particular century,” Mokwa says. “One of the things we help students do is test this thing they call ‘passion’ against the realities of the industry. You may be passionate about sports, but would you rather be the person sitting court-side at the game—or standing with your back to the action, making sure that fans and sponsors have a great experience?”

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