The business of sports has changed dramatically over the last decade. More is on the line given rising franchise values. Embracing business analytics, properties and agencies have implemented practices from other industries, and become more sophisticated across all organizational domains. One trend making this possible is the influx of skilled professionals from other industries. Another one is the changing profile of entry level candidates – who today are just as likely to be graduates of leading universities and business programs as of sport management schools.

Arguably the fastest growing trade forum in our industry is the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. In addition, several Ivy League schools now produce sports-themed symposiums, providing great exposure for their students to the top decision-makers in sports business. While ten years ago my graduating class at UMass competed with students from ASU, Ohio University and the University of Oregon, today’s graduates of my alma mater are likely squaring off against Stanford and Dartmouth MBAs in their job hunt. How are sport management programs keeping pace? Are they?

Leading sport management programs are built around providing opportunities for their students to face and solve “real-life” challenges: cold-calling ticket plan prospects (phone skills among millennials is a favorite topic in our industry), preparing and presenting sponsorship pitches, managing group dynamics when working in teams, etc. The goal of these exercises: to help students develop skills to overcome obstacles they are likely to face in “real-life” scenarios as they enter the workforce.

In the latest Turnkey Sports Poll, we asked industry insiders a series of questions on the topic. Naturally, they emphasized the value of relevant experience, among candidates but also among professors.

For example, when evaluating entry level candidates, sports executives identified internships and extracurricular activities as being five times as important as the pedigree of the institution a candidate attended. School coursework and GPA barely garnered any votes.

When identifying the two most important factors for the success of sport management programs, industry insiders found professors’ experience in the field three times more important than their academic career and reputation – 46% vs 14%. (Internship opportunities for students was atop the list with 51%.)

Does the makeup of sport management programs’ faculties correspond to these expectations? Where does the recruiting and retention of industry practitioners fit in the priority list? Are sport management programs built so they can react and adjust to the current environment?

What are your thoughts on the evolution of sports business education? Author Nikolay Panchev would like to know (and so would we!).