Of all the accounting jobs to choose from, have you ever thought about specializing in sports accounting? It's a viable niche for accountants looking for a change of pace and a high-energy work environment.
Think about it. Spectator sports are among the biggest entertainment industries in the United States. Football, basketball, baseball and hockey pervade our media year-round. What fans might not realize is that each pro sports team is a self-contained business with departments for marketing, merchandising/inventory, asset management, operations — and accounting. You don't have to be a player to be involved in this industry!
The job of a sports accountant
Sports accountants are responsible for typical accounting duties within their organizations — budgets, payroll, cash flow management and so forth. The difference is they do so on the seasonal schedules of their teams, so they are often called upon to respond to relevant data and perform their duties very quickly.
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To gain insight into different accounting career paths, especially the world of sports accounting, we spoke with Eric Blagg, vice president of finance for the Greenville Drive, a minor league baseball team and Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. He holds a Master of Accountancy from the University of Georgia and has worked in sports accounting since 2011.
We spoke to Blagg to learn more about the field.
What attracted you to sports accounting?
"I was initially intrigued by the entrepreneurial spirit that drives the sporting industry and the variety of challenges that accompany accounting for the industry in general. We’re a manufacturer and a retailer, a service provider and a marketer, all in one organization. We get to service and engage both the general public as well as the local business community with our products."
How different are sports accounting and traditional accounting?
"The sports industry is a business just like any other. We are a very seasonal business, so some of the bigger accounting issues for us include deferred revenues and cash flow management/forecasting. Otherwise, debits are still on the left and credits on the right as with any other organization."
What’s your average day like?
"In the winter and spring, we are heavily focused on planning and finalizing plans for the upcoming season, so many days are filled with meetings and updating forecast schedules. In the summer, we are fully in season, and I generate volumes of daily, weekly and monthly reports to provide to our management team. In the fall and going into winter, we generate a number of reports to summarize the results from the preceding season, and we begin planning for the next year and creating the budget based on those results and expected changes."
What do you like most about being a sports accountant?
"I enjoy the variety of challenges that I encounter on a daily basis due to the nature of my role and interacting with all of the young and energetic staff we have at the Greenville Drive. We are a small business, so sometimes I have to be the accountant, sometimes the information technology expert, sometimes the human resources manager and sometimes the office manager. No two days are the same, and I never find myself counting the minutes or hours until the end of the day."
What are the challenges of sports accounting?
"One of the most challenging but also rewarding parts of the accountant’s job in sports is to manage and provide actionable insight into the trends shown by the data we generate throughout the season. We process so many transactions in such a short period of time that we must make any changes needed very quickly in order to avoid missing a revenue opportunity that presents itself after the season starts."
What can you tell us about career paths in sports accounting?
"It’s a great career path, but wanting to be a sports accountant isn’t as simple as being an accountant who’s also a sports fan. You might have to be very flexible as to location and relocation to get a position in sports or to progress in a sports career due to the limited number of positions in each geographical market. Most sports organizations are minor league and have small accounting staffs of one or two individuals. Advancement within the profession would generally require moving to a pro-level organization where the accounting team is more robust."
What advice about sports accounting would you give?
"Just like with any other industry, identify organizations you want to be a part of and build a relationship with them. Send a letter stating your interest. Start with a lower-level position if you have to, and be flexible with location."
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Editor's note: This post was updated recently to reflect more current information.