Industry Outlook

The greatest number of job opportunities exists with professional teams. At the highest male professional level, there are 32 National Football League franchises, 30 Major League Baseball franchises, 30 National Basketball Association franchises, 31 National Hockey League franchises, and 26 Major League Soccer franchises. The Women's National Basketball Association has 12 franchises. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for athletes, umpires, referees, and related jobs will grow about 6 percent through 2028. Coaches and scouts will have 11 percent employment growth, much faster than average, through 2028. The growth will be driven by increasing interest in sports and the retirement of baby boomers, expected to spend much time participating and watching sports. Growing interest in fitness among amateurs will create demand for qualified coaches and trainers. Expansion of school athletic programs will also contribute to job growth. The high school population is expected to increase in the coming years and more schools will be adding sports-education programs, increasing the demand for coaches and sports educators.

The long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic are not yet known, but it has currently disrupted much of the sports industry around the world. To protect the health of athletes, sports teams, trainers, sports-related professionals, and fans, many sports events for the 2020 season were postponed or canceled. New protocols were established in those sports that had resumed, such as tennis and baseball, where physical distancing was being practiced. Sports matches and games were held either without audiences or with fewer people in attendance. As described in a report by the United Nations, "As the world begins to recover from COVID-19, there will be significant issues to be addressed to ensure the safety of sporting events at all levels and the well-being of sporting organizations. In the short term, these will include the adaptation of events to ensure the safety of athletes, fans, and vendors, among others. In the medium term, in the face of an anticipated global recession, there may also be a need to take measures to support participation in sporting organizations, particularly for youth sports."

Data on the total loss of revenue in the overall sports industry in the U.S. is yet to be determined. However, one example of the pandemic's deep impact is the projected $5.5 billion decline in stadium revenue by National Football League teams, primarily in ticket sales, concessions, sponsorships, and sales of team merchandise, according to a Deloitte report.

The accelerated rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 will eventually contain the pandemic. Many sports matches and games have already started to ease attendance requirements as the world's health starts to improve. Larger groups of people are being permitted to attend games and competitions, and this is expected to continue. According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, post pandemic, professional sports leagues will be focusing on ways to recoup revenue lost during the pandemic by exploring new opportunities, such as expanding their advertising, using technology and creative measures to increase fan engagement, increasing media rights revenues. Other avenues they will explore include "navigating a social justice plan of action that unifies fans, teams, and local communities," and alternative revenue streams from sports betting.

Moving forward, another challenge that continues to face sports at all levels of competition is player safety. Recent studies have cast new light on the risk of concussions and other injuries associated with many sports. These can be especially dangerous for young athletes whose bodies are still developing. It has been noted as a serious, ongoing concern in football and the NFL, where players sometimes suffer multiple concussions in their career because on-field action often subjects them harsh physical contact. This has been linked to brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a factor in many health issues, including depression and reduced cognitive function, and cannot be prevented by protective gear such as helmets.

The number of professional teams, in all sports, is relatively stable. This means, however, that the number of jobs is also relatively stable. Specifically sports-related jobs, such as managers, coaches, umpires, and referees, will open only as people retire or otherwise leave the profession. Some jobs will emerge with the birth of expansion teams, such as the Arizona Diamondbacks, which joined professional baseball in 1998, and the less common advent of new leagues or sports, such as the women's basketball and softball leagues.

For occupations that are also related to other fields, such as journalists, publicists, business managers, and attorneys, there is some movement of trained individuals into and out of the sports sector. The competition for all these jobs is keen. The number of people interested in working in sports in any capacity far exceeds the number of openings.

Competition for a job as a professional athlete is much tougher. In college football, for example, there are more than 200 Division I football teams and countless other teams in other divisions, but only 32 American professional football teams in the National Football League. Out of all of the college athletes who wish to make the pros, few will be chosen. Of those chosen, many will not last the season; others will not play for more than a couple of years. Few professional football players are able to make a career of the sport. The same is true for other sports as well. Golf, tennis, and other individual sports enable professionals to play at the international level; however, the financial incentive for players who do not win tournaments is limited. Only a few players will earn the large incomes of athletes on the level of Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, or LeBron James.

As the field of technology grows, so does its application in the sports industry. Programmers are needed to improve computer-based timing equipment while other workers in sports technology design more aerodynamic bicycles and create swimming pools with minimal wave interference. Clothing and fabric designers design athletic wear that allows freedom of movement, low water or air resistance, or support for the feet.

Sports medicine, a relatively new addition to the industry, has shown good growth potential. Sports doctors and surgeons are beginning to specialize in the injuries particular to athletes, and more and more teams and athletes are employing massage and physical therapists, chiropractors and kinesiologists, sports nutritionists, and skilled trainers. The Department of Labor predicts much faster than average employment growth for athletic trainers, who specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating sports-related injuries; they will have 19 percent employment growth through 2028. In addition, there has been a recent boom in information on health and sports medicine, including many books, magazines, Web sites, as well as social media sites that focus specifically on these issues.