Do You Have Enough Game to Become a Sports Analyst?
December 18, 2019
If talking with players and coaches, parsing instant replays, and dissecting statistics are your favorite activities—and if you're garrulous by nature—a career as a sports analyst may be the perfect job for you. The competition is tough but the rewards, for those who succeed, are great.
If you're a sports fan, a career as a sports analyst might be—wait for it—a SLAM DUNK (please continue reading; that's the last terrible metaphor, we promise). You'll enter a career that allows you to do the things you love. You'll exploit your in-depth knowledge of sports, athletes, statistics, and strategy. You'll get to watch lots of sporting events in order to analyze and discuss them at length. If you're naturally eloquent so much the better, because this job also requires strong communication skills.
Does this sound like you? Well then, read on to find out if you've got enough game to become a sports analyst.
In this article, we'll cover:
- The pros and cons of becoming a sports analyst
- The kinds of sports analyst careers you can have
- The educational commitment required to become a sports analyst
- Further resources for aspiring sports analysts
- The typical advancement path for sports analysts
Pros and Cons of Becoming a Sports Analyst
Let's start first with the complicated issue of salary, which can fit into either category. Top broadcasters can make $5 million per year. A minor league baseball announcer, on the other hand, is more likely to earn $1,200 to $1,500 per month, and then only during the season. Considerably less, in other words. According to Payscale.com, the average sportscaster earns about $60,000 a year.
- Sports all day, every day. Many people can only dream of finding a job that immerses them so deep in their personal interests.
- Sports become academics—nobody is going to tell you to turn off the game and do your homework because watching the game is your homework.
- Learning new things—the way teams are managed, funded and so on—about the wide world of sports (maybe even by working at ESPN)
- Your hobby is now your work, which may be grueling. You like ice cream, right? But would you like eating nothing but ice cream all day, every day?
- You might have to cover sports you're not interested in—at least for a time. What do you know about dressage?
- Long and weird hours — your schedule is determined by sports.
Kinds of Sports Analyst Careers
The term "sports analyst," confusingly, describes two unique careers. They're not without similarities, of course. Both require an extensive knowledge of sports and the ability to remember and recall facts and figures.
The first type of sports analyst works in the media and may sometimes be called a sports journalist or a sports broadcaster. This type of sports analyst must have good written and verbal communication skills, because writing and speaking are typically essential parts of the job. Acute extemporaneous analytical skills and the ability to identify key trends among data are also essential. Sports journalists need the ability to take raw data and information—the competition they are analyzing—and interpret it for an audience that may be fanatical about the sport but lack the analyst's depth and breadth of knowledge.
The second type of sports analyst works for sports teams to analyze data. These analysts help a team improve its performance through data-driven research and analysis. Their work can influence everything from current players' training to the scouting and acquisition of future players. In this age of big data, it's not just professional sports teams that employ analysts; colleges and minor league teams do so as well. An interview with a sports statistical analyst conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers lots of useful information on this profession.
Educational Commitment to Become a Sports Analyst
Most sports analysts will have at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. There aren't very many places offering degrees in sports broadcasting: (Oklahoma State University is one of the few schools in the U.S.A. US that offers a bachelor's degree in sports media), but many subjects are relevant to a sports analyst career.
Absent the opportunity to earn a degree in sports broadcasting or media, you should pursue a major that relates to communication, media, and/or data analysis. A degree in sports psychology or sports medicine is great for other sports-related professions but probably won't get you very far in broadcasting and analysis.
A master's degree in data analytics could certainly help, especially if you pursue a career crunching numbers for a sports team.
And, of course, you could just go out and become a famous athlete. Many sports analysts are former stars who transition to a role in the broadcast booth once their playing careers end. Their understanding of the game and popularity with local audiences make them a natural fit for the role. Perhaps instead of pursuing an education, you should just start working on your knuckleball.
Typical Advancement Path for Sports Analysts
First step to becoming a sports analyst: become a sports fan. If you're considering this career, you've probably been fanatical about your favorite sports since you were a kid. You know all the players on your local teams and all their statistics. You collect their cards and their replica jerseys. When you were playing sports, you pretended to be them.
And then you grew up and—if you're like most people—realized you'd never be a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. You channeled your love of sports into fandom and you learned to watch, understand, and analyze the game. You had long arguments with friends over whether on-base percentage or slugging percentage was the more valuable statistic.
At college, you were a reporter or editor for the school paper's sports page. Or you worked on radio broadcasts of your school's games. Or both. You did what you could to build a reputation and make useful contacts.
After getting a bachelor's (and possibly master's) degree in a relevant field, you found a job in a small market and started working your way up to bigger and bigger markets. Bob Costas' first job was at a Syracuse television station; very few people start anywhere near the top.
Most sports analysts spend their early careers advancing from one market to another, looking for the right long-term opportunity. It's possible to spend an entire career this way, since the media and data landscape is continually shifting and creating new challenges and opportunities. Only a lucky few make it onto the national stage, but even at the local level sports analysts enjoy the perks of stardom, which include adulation and a sizeable paycheck. And they spend their lives following a pastime they love. Some would say it's a lot better than being a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. At the very least, you're more likely to make it to your old age with functioning knees.
Further Resources for Becoming a Sports Analyst
- Sports Management Worldwide offer courses in many different aspects of the sports industry, including sports analytics.
- The Columbia Journalism Review offers a list of colleges and universities with sports journalism degree programs. The article also discusses in some depth what you can expect to learn at these programs.
- What Are the Responsibilities of a Sports Analyst? This helpful article by Chelsea Levinson appears on the Career Trend website.
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