In the United States, the five major team sports are baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer. There are also a wide number of individual sports, including tennis, golf, boxing, wrestling, horse racing, running, skiing and snowboarding, and race car driving, among others.
Most sports teams are owned by one person or a number of people. These owners not only pay the salaries of the athletes and other personnel, but they also exert a strong influence on the personality of a team. Owners select athletes who appeal to them, and they set rules and regulations that create a particular atmosphere in the clubhouse or locker room. Owners view their team as a business, and teams may be bought and sold at the owner's discretion.
Professional team sports are divided into leagues and divisions that act, for administrative purposes, as a subset of the larger sports commission. For example, baseball is divided into the American and National Leagues and within these leagues are divisions. Administrators and other staff members working for sports leagues and divisions are involved in scheduling games and tournament play, reviewing and changing policies and procedures, and hiring league personnel such as umpires, among other duties. Many sports team employees work in an administrative capacity in business, management, and consulting offices. Others work as athletes or directly with the athletes, and still others are involved in officiating, sales, concessions, and many other game-day duties.
Professional sports are divided into seasons. However, even though the fans might ignore a sport when it's not being played, most sports league and team employees work year-round. Similarly, an actual sporting event may take only a few hours to play, but most workers in the industry arrive several hours early to prepare for the competition and often stay well after the contest. Many of the games are played at night, on weekends, or even on holidays, when the majority of fans can attend a game or watch on TV. There may be a number of games a week or only one or two.
The media have always been an important part of the sports industry. Newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet do much to publicize the exploits of the athletes, and live radio and television broadcasts bring the games to large audiences. Today, television has become the dominant financial factor in professional sports. On the Internet, most professional teams maintain Web sites and dedicated fans sometimes post sites of their own to support their favorite players and teams. Professional teams and athletes also have a presence on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, on which they post information and insights on games and players, and engage with the media and sports fans. Some athletes also use their social media and the public platform to which their profession gives them access to advocate for political or social causes, often generating controversy among fans.
Besides the media, sports touches on a wide variety of other industries. There are companies that design, manufacture, and sell sporting goods; develop sports technology; and publish sports material in books, magazines, and on the Internet. Advertising and marketing workers help attract the public's interest to sports and use sports to attract the public to other products and services.
The structure of nonteam sports such as figure skating, golf, and boxing is similar to that of team sports except that instead of being paid by team owners, employees earn money from sponsoring associations, prize winnings, participation in special tours and performances, and endorsements. Extreme sports also follow this model, with popular skateboarders, snowboarders, and BMX riders, among other athletes, earning income from endorsements, product lines, and tie-ins, such as video games.
The line between amateur and professional sports has begun to blur in recent years. For example, the Olympics traditionally stood as a venue for amateur athletes, but sometimes countries that claimed to have no professional teams sent full-time, state-supported athletes to compete. In 1992, when the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, known as the Dream Team, hit the Barcelona courts with such players as Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, any notion that the Olympic games were for amateurs disappeared forever. Today, professionals compete in Olympic ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, tennis, soccer, and other events.