There are countless reasons why people love sports—they’re fun, exciting, invigorating, unpredictable, and come game day, who doesn’t enjoy a good snack spread? But for those working in the sports industry, pure passion for the game might come with a side of something slightly more market-driven. Which is to say, there’s no business like the pro sports business.
According to a report from the industry information and data provider SportBusiness, professional sports in the U.S. generated an estimated $22.42 billion in 2019, making it the world’s biggest market for media rights, or the fees paid to show sports on TV, the internet, and other distribution channels.
Like other major sports leagues, television comprises a key part of the National Basketball Association’s business strategy with national TV deals known to generate $2.66 billion annually. Not bad, especially when considering that advertising, sponsorships, ticket revenues, and merchandise are also on the rise.
Slowly but surely, the NBA is becoming a global brand. Programming during the 2017-18 season reached more than 1 billion viewers, with more than 35 percent of viewers using the NBA’s streaming platform coming from outside North America. It's setting in-person attendance records too, with the 2018-19 regular season seeing an all-time record for total arena sellouts for the fifth consecutive year.
These days, the NBA is as passionate as ever about growing and celebrating the game of basketball and delivering excitement to fans around the world. To do so, they oversee all on-court activities while focusing their game on a range of additional responsibilities to drive the league’s success.
The NBA is headquartered in New York City and Secaucus, New Jersey, and extends its corporate space to 13 additional offices across Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. Putting time in at any one is something the league considers “a partnership," one that trades ample benefits to employees for the energy and intensity they bring to their day-to-day work.
U.S. NBA employees, in particular, can make use of competitive healthcare, income protection, and retirement planning plans, as well as education assistance and subsidized gym memberships. Paid sabbaticals, monthly community volunteer initiatives, and tickets to NBA, WNBA, and NBA G League games are geared to support culture with a healthy work-life balance.
The NBA is also committed to social issues and addresses them through NBA Cares, a global social responsibility program that works with internationally recognized youth-serving organizations to support education, youth and family development, and health-related causes.
So, what does it take to join the ranks of the league’s corporate movers, shakers, and hoop-obsessed? Going head to head with the likes of Anthony Davis or Jimmy Butler isn’t part of the vetting process, but you will need to be passionate about the sport.
And while no job search is a slam dunk, there are other ways you can improve your odds of landing a spot among the NBA community. Teamwork and creative thinking skills will get you far—especially with the right degree in hand.
What do vacant hockey rinks bring to mind? For Walter Brown, they brought opportunity in the summer of 1946, as he noticed that major hockey arenas went unoccupied for months at a time. Enter his “aha" moment. Why not use them to host professional basketball games?
It was a smart move for Brown, who at the time, was managing the Boston Garden and also helping establish the Basketball Association of America (BAA). In 1949, he played an instrumental role in merging the BAA with the National Basketball League—the NBA, you know.
Over 70 years later, the NBA holds rank with some of the most innovative leagues in sports. Because money talks, it’s the third-highest grossing league in North America, bringing in $7.4 billion during the 2017-2018 season.
This particular season marked a franchise-focused milestone for professional basketball too. For the first time in its history, every team in the league was valued at a minimum of $1 billion. A year later, Forbes reported that the average NBA team was worth $1.9 billion, up 13 percent over the previous year and three times the amount from 2014.
The league’s 3,260 employees work within teams across a range of departments, including communications, facilities and administration, finance, business development, and social responsibility and player programs. According to PayScale, NBA employees in the U.S. make an average salary of $86,328 per year.
Some of the highest-paid jobs at the NBA include the following, listed by average base salary:
The NBA’s careers site features open positions in areas such as digital media, marketing, information technology (IT), and global innovation and strategy.
The league’s digital media department spans social media, mobile applications, and virtual reality products and offers candidates across a range of specializations the opportunity to create a marquee of digital experiences that bring basketball to the world.
The only associate-level opening within this department highlights a digital operations center project employee position. This role is responsible for the quality assurance of NBA digital products across multiple platforms with an emphasis on mobile applications, web, and connected devices. Aspiring candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, strong analytical skills, and be familiar with the digital analytics space.
Some of the roles in this realm that call for greater experience in the field include a membership lead, head of design, and head of data and analytics. All of these roles function within this department’s “next-gen experience" team, which specializes in providing a seamless entertainment experience through the league’s global apps, websites, and subscription service.
Job seekers pursuing openings in this realm face different education requirements depending on their intended role. To fill the department’s membership lead, for example, candidates will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, though a master of business administration (MBA) degree is preferred.
Meanwhile, candidates with hopes to join the NBA as a head of design, next-gen experience will need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as design, with at least ten years of professional creative experience.
Working as the league’s head of data and analytics, next-gen experience may require the loftiest qualifications yet. Candidates will need at least 15 years of experience in product analytics, data analysis, and/or product growth and optimization. Master’s degrees in areas like computer science, business, and engineering are also preferred.
The NBA’s marketing department is responsible for the league’s global marketing operation, directing brand development, and strategy. It also comprises much of the brainpower behind the league-wide marketing campaigns and promotional initiatives across the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, and NBA 2K League.
Opportunities in this space include job listings for a marketing lead of Basketball Africa League (BAL), an email marketing solutions associate, a junior NBA social media professional, and a digital marketing team lead.
Jobs that call out a need for undergraduate-level education include this department’s email marketing solutions associate and junior NBA social media professional roles, which require a bachelor’s in areas like marketing, communications, or a related field.
Candidates considering the league’s opening for a marketing lead of BAL will need at least a bachelor's degree in marketing or PR. As the job description notes, an MBA or a master’s degree in marketing or a relevant discipline is preferred.
Similarly, the department’s digital marketing team lead position requires at least a bachelor’s degree but prefers candidates with an MBA or a master’s degree in fields like digital marketing and digital communication.
IT pros at the NBA are responsible for designing, developing, and maintaining the systems and technical infrastructure that support the league’s global operations and corporate goals. Their work ranges from providing support to NBA teams and their venues regarding technologies used during games to protecting the NBA’s data and infrastructure.
The league’s IT department is currently offering opportunities for job seekers to join the NBA as a group leader of customer applications, a senior data engineer, a senior scrum master, and a customer application technical lead.
Those considering work as a group leader of customer applications or a senior data engineer both face similar degree requirements. In both instances, a bachelor's degree is necessary. A master’s—most likely in fields such as computer science, information technology, and information systems—is a plus.
The league’s openings for a senior scrum master and customer application technical lead also call for candidates with comparable backgrounds. Both of these roles require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent on-the-job experience.
This department heads the creative development and execution of long-term growth initiatives for the NBA and its affiliated leagues in terms of both revenue and fans. It also helps spur innovation by equipping league-wide departments with the skills and tools to execute new concepts and strategic directions.
Current openings span roles in finance, marketing and business operations, and strategic planning. The financial realm, in particular, offers opportunities for candidates to join the NBA as senior financial analysts. A bachelor's degree required—as is a minimum of two to three years of relevant business experience.
Candidates also have the option to pursue listings for a strategy and innovation analyst as well as an innovation specialist. Both of these positions operate within the department’s strategic planning focus and require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree and anywhere from two to five years of experience in fields like corporate strategy and consumer insight.
A strategic project lead position is also up for grabs. This role is responsible for leading major strategic initiatives and partnerships on behalf of the NBA and requires candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree. An MBA or a similar advanced degree is preferred.
The NBA’s summer internship program offers students the opportunity to build their work experience and learn the behind-the-scenes operations of the NBA’s North American Headquarters. Over ten weeks, interns participate in a series of hands-on events and activities to gain insight into the many facets of the NBA’s business, including the WNBA and NBA G League.
To qualify, students must be enrolled in an accredited undergraduate college or university and be between their junior and senior year. Internship placement is also available to graduate students, highlighting a partiality for MBA students between their first and second year of a program, as well as law students between their first, second, or third year of law school.
The NBA’s values—integrity, teamwork, respect, and innovation—have always offered a culture of excellence, that’s for certain. But these days, the league is more committed than ever to creating an environment that makes it the only place employees want to be.
In a 2018 Profile interview, Eric Hutcherson called on his experience as the NBA’s Chief Human Resources Officer to reveal how the league creates lasting cultural transformation—and motivates its employees to compete with intensity, lead with integrity, and inspire play.
“We want to create a culture where people are joyful to come to work at the NBA," he says. “We want them to approach challenges in our organization with an excitement and a vigor that says, ‘I can’t wait for the next challenge to come because I’m excited to not only overcome it but to then be ready for the next one.’"
As a seasoned HR leader, Hutcherson advocates for a values-based approach to shaping teams and career strategies. He also stresses that for the NBA to continue to be a great place to work, its initiatives must continue to evolve. Employees need to keep bringing their best selves to work too.
“It is similar to the way our players approach the game," he says. “Every day that they step on the floor, they’re working to be at their best. But they know that the next night they have to come and do it all over again. What happens between the close of one night and the start of the next is that work to make today better than yesterday. And I think our employees do the same.
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