What Can a Ph.D. in Sport Management Do for Your Career?

Sara Shoffner was the first student to complete the Ph.D. in Sport Management at TROY, which the University was approved to offer in 2014.

Sara Shoffner was the first student to complete the Ph.D. in Sport Management at TROY, which the University was approved to offer in 2014.

As a sixth-degree black belt in Taekwondo, Dr. Win Koo achieved the status of master of martial arts in his native South Korea before becoming a grandmaster in the United States. However, it’s Dr. Koo’s academic talent rather than his martial arts skills that he calls on when he comes out fighting as the program coordinator on Troy University’s Ph.D. in Sport Management program.

Dr. Koo
Dr. Koo

As a discipline, sport management is an incredibly diverse field.

“Sport management covers quite a lot of different areas,” says Dr. Koo. “For example, sport management professionals can work in professional sports, college sports, recreational sports, and even in those mega international sporting events like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup.”

Dr. Koo’s own particular area of interest in sport management includes research into various aspects of sports marketing and consumer behavior.

“Yes, I do have a sports background, but in this field, I’m a scholar and doing a lot of research regarding marketing, sponsorship, and consumer behavior,” says Dr. Koo. “I want to know why people attend the game as both participants and spectators.”

What Do Sports Managers Do?

According to Dr. Koo, if you want to build a career in sport management, you’ll have to make sure that your business and analytical skills are as “match fit” as your athletes on the field.

“There are four major areas in sport management as an academic discipline,” says Dr. Koo. “There’s sports marketing, sport finance, organizational behavior, and legal issues. Then there are other areas like sports communication and sports information —  and nowadays, sports analytics is becoming a huge area in sport management.”

Dr. Koo explains how sports analytics are addressed in sport management.

“The first method looks at athletic performance and how that performance can be improved,” says Dr. Koo. “The second method uses data to understand consumer behavior. We look at things like how sport influences consumer purchasing decisions. What are they buying? How much money are they spending? How much time do they use it? There is a lot of big data used in sports these days. It’s a new and rapidly growing area in sport management.”

How is Sport Management Different from Business Management?

Dr. Koo believes the main difference between the business of sport management and more traditional business management is the emotional connection many sports fans have to their favorite sports teams and athletes.

“Sport management exists because the sports consumer’s behavior is somewhat different from regular consumer behavior,” says Dr. Koo. “Sports consumers are more emotionally attached to their team and players and the sports itself. That creates a unique environment within the sport. That’s why we talk about the different types of consumer behavior in sport.”

Dr. Koo highlights how sport and commercial opportunities collide across a wide range of sports.

“In my sports marketing classes, I’m teaching students that there are a lot of different sources of money involved in sports these days,” says Dr. Koo. “Sponsorship money is getting higher and touching different areas of the sporting world, like the naming rights of teams and stadiums. Traditionally, there is the cost of the tickets that spectators pay to watch the sports. Then there are the TV broadcast rights which are huge for those mega-events like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics.”

Dr. Koo also points to all the tangible aspects of being a sports fan and how these add to a sports team’s financial coffers.

“There’s a lot of money to be made through the sale of merchandise and souvenirs,” says Dr. Koo. “People want to buy the gear for their specific sport even if they don’t play themselves.”

As the world of sport increasingly expands into new digital realms, the opportunities for new commercial opportunities increase.

“Virtual reality and video games are an increasingly important aspect of sports,” says Dr. Koo. “Esports can provide another revenue stream for sports overall.”

Winning in the Business of Sport Management

Dr. Koo explains that success is a highly saleable commodity benefiting the individual sports teams and sporting events the business communities support.

“Winning is a very important aspect of sport management,” says Dr. Koo. “The number one reason why we follow specific individuals in sport is their propensity for winning. However, there are also other areas to consider, including their behavior and their appearance, which is becoming increasingly important these days.”

When any business invests in a sports team or event, they will be looking for a return-on-investment (ROI). According to Dr. Koo, there are several ways a sponsor will evaluate their ROI.

“Brand awareness is one way to gauge a return on investment,” says Dr. Koo. “They will be looking at their brand recall and recognition. Another method will look at the level of exposure a brand receives on TV and other media. Brands will look at the level of exposure and try to convert those numbers into a dollar figure.”

Dr. Koo highlights how Samsung, the South Korean electronics company, used their sponsorship of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics in Japan to re-invent themselves as a leading global player in the mobile phone industry.

“Sponsoring the Olympic Games helped Samsung reach a whole new global audience and change their image from an electronics company into a mobile company,” says Dr. Koo. “They used their sponsorship of the games to build their image and brand awareness, and help increase brand equity.”

Sponsorship doesn’t come without its problems, and Dr. Koo explains that sport management professionals working for sponsors and sponsees have to weigh up the pros and cons of such commercial partnerships.

“While the sponsees need the money from their sponsors, they also need to be careful with their image as well,” says Dr. Koo. “We can look at McDonald’s sponsoring the Olympics and say they are a good match because they are both global brands. However, the Olympics promotes a very healthy type of experience, while McDonald’s is often associated with the negative perception of fast food. These are the things that sports marketers have to be careful with. That’s why through our research, we try to prove and try to argue with and discuss those kinds of topics.”

Research in Sport Management

According to Dr. Koo, the Ph.D. in sport management program at TROY is designed to enhance the critical thinking, analytical, statistical and research-based skills required to succeed in the contemporary sport management industry.

Ph.D. students are required to submit a research paper related to the topic of every class they take.

“The doctorate in sport management is heavily research-based,” says Dr. Koo. “We provide the skills which are required in the modern sports industry by emerging our students in an integrated academic learning and research-orientated environment where they work closely with the faculty and their fellow students.”

Dr. Koo suggests that his students typically fall into one of two groups.

“One group will typically work as educators, so they are teaching at colleges and universities,” says Dr. Koo. “The other group works in more traditional sporting fields, so they work for professional teams and in college athletics.”

Students in the Ph.D. program often come to TROY with a great deal of experience.

“Usually, students apply to our program after they have been working in their field for five to ten years,” says Dr. Koo. “So they come to us with a problem area in mind, and that converts to research.”

What Can I Do With a Sport Management Degree?

According to Dr. Koo, the field of education represents a promising opportunity for those looking to exercise their sport management skills.

“Sport management used to be quite a niche field in education,” says Dr. Koo. “However, nowadays, the United States has more than 430 undergraduate programs, about 260 master’s programs, and around 35 doctoral programs in sport management. For those interested in following a career in education, this creates a significant opportunity for our Ph.D. in Sport Management students.”

College sports create a major opportunity to work in the field of sport management. Dr. Koo suggests this is a uniquely American experience.

“Not many countries have college sports to the same degree as we have here in the United States,” says Dr. Koo. “There is more of a sports culture here than in other places. With more fans, there are more sponsorship opportunities and a lot more money is available. This is another reason why sport management programs are very popular in the United States.”

Outside of the world of education, Dr. Koo suggests that many sports organizations now require some kind of higher degree to work in the field of sport management — and the leadership skills to go with it.

“Leaders in the sport management field must ensure understanding of a sports organization’s internal and external circumstances. The business environment of sports organizations has been dramatically changed by technologies like social media and big data derived from artificial intelligence,” says Dr. Koo. “Sport management leaders are needed to motivate people to achieve individual and organizational goals not only by considering changes in a sport organization’s internal systems but also the external environment driving changes.”


With the wide choice of academic routes into sport management, Dr. Koo is quick to highlight the competitive advantage offered by TROY’s Ph.D. program.

“We are the first online Ph.D. program in sport management, so there is flexibility and accessibility for our students,” says Dr. Koo.

The program also attracts a different kind of student.

“Our students typically already have jobs in the sports industry,” says Dr. Koo. “Usually, in other Ph.D. in sport management programs, they are traditional doctorate students, meaning they have to be there for three to five years to complete their studies. However, a lot of students in these traditional programs tell us that they have a hard time completing their studies and Ph.D. thesis because of their work. Our online program offers a more flexible opportunity for those students as well. So that’s why they are choosing TROY’s program.”

Most of the program’s doctoral students are experienced and serve as leaders in industry and academia. The TROY program places a special emphasis on developing both leadership and scholarly skills. “The Ph.D. program prepares students to become visionary leaders and scholars through the researcher-academic model of Ph.D. training,” says Dr. Koo. “For example, about two years of rigorous courses provide students with various research opportunities through core seminars, cognate classes, research and statistics requirements, presentations, and publications. In addition, a one to two-year dissertation process allows students to contribute new knowledge to the subject of their chosen research and become experts in those fields.”

The Alumni Experience

The challenge of balancing a career while working on her Ph.D. and dissertation is something that Dr. Sara Shoffner, a graduate of the program, identifies with.

“I chose TROY because I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in sport management while gaining teaching and research experience,” says Dr. Shoffner. “I previously worked in athletic administration, specifically in academics, where I discovered a passion for teaching and helping student-athletes in the classroom. So when I discovered that TROY was starting a Ph.D. program, I knew it was something I wanted to do in an effort to pursue college teaching as my next career path.”

Dr. Shoffner now works as an Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for Sport Management at Huntingdon College in Alabama.

“Without my Ph.D. from TROY, I would not be where I am today,” says Dr. Shoffner. “Not only did TROY help me to achieve the necessary qualifications for this position, but the program equipped me with the necessary skills to become successful in this transition.”

Dr. Shoffner was able to take advantage of TROY’s online and traditional hybrid education model and was impressed with how easy it was to communicate with her instructors and fellow students regardless of how they accessed the program.

“I was able to attend my classes both in-person and online,” says Dr. Shoffner. “Both experiences were exceptional. Because of the ease of access using online education, I was able to learn from professors and other students from all over the world.”

According to Dr. Shoffner, the sport management program helped her develop and improve her research skills which led to several publication opportunities.

“With Dr. Koo’s support, the course prepared me to present at national conferences and publish in sport management-related journals,” says Dr. Shoffner. “Also, I was able to graduate with accepted publications and obtain employment due to my research and teaching experience gained through the program.”

Dr. Shoffner highlights Dr. Koo’s statistics classes as being particularly enjoyable and useful.

“In order to complete my dissertation and conduct research in the field of sport management, I needed to have an in-depth understanding and knowledge in statistics,” says Dr. Shoffner. “I also enjoyed Dr. Martin’s pedagogy class because it covered areas of assessment as well as class development, which I use daily to build my courses and evaluate the sport management program here.”

The leadership skills she developed in the Ph.D. program have allowed Dr. Shoffner to pay it forward when it comes to her own students. “The culture at TROY prepared me to take on several leadership roles at my current institution and gave me the confidence to cultivate leadership skills in my students,” she says. “Students today must learn to navigate many challenges in their own professions. As a result, my ability to instill critical leadership skills can positively influence their future success as leaders in the workplace.”

Dr. Shoffner wouldn’t hesitate to encourage anyone working in the field of sport management to look at the opportunities a Ph.D. in Sport Management from TROY can create for them.

“I really enjoyed my experience in the Ph.D. program,” says Dr. Shoffner. “The instructors in the program are experts in their field and went above and beyond to help me be successful in the program and beyond.”

Learn More

To learn more about how a Ph.D. in Sport Management from TROY can help you excel in the field, visit the program page on our website.