Keeping careers on track

University sports business associations guiding students out of pandemic

For most Canadian university students, the job search begins in the early months of the new year. With applications and interviews completed, many students have employment by March. 

Thousands of them graduate each year with hopes of starting careers in the sports industry. For sports management students across Canada, 2020’s post-graduate job hunt was no different than it had been in previous years. That is until the COVID-19 pandemic forced much of Canada to go into lockdown. 

Many industries were affected and likewise, the sports industry was put on pause. Thousands of students scrambled for jobs after learning many of their positions had been abolished.  

In a normal year, the sports industry job market is hypercompetitive. Now, with the additional strains to the job market provided by the pandemic, Canadian sport management students looking for entry-level positions are almost guaranteed disappointment. 

Rebounding to help fellow students 

In Antigonish, N.S., students at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) are still wrestling with the burdens of the limited and crippled job market in the sport industry. Students felt there was a growing need for a way to expand and develop their skills, and to help them stand out amongst the competition when vying for employment positions. This fear of the post-pandemic job market led to the founding of the StFX Sport Management and Marketing Society (SMMS).  

Duncan Lovell, co-founder of the SMMS, was looking forward to working in the marketing department of a sport industry company when COVID-19 hit. His employment position was cancelled and he felt dejected.  

“You get all your hopes up. I was going to have a great job and was going to work with some great people and knowing that that was so close and that has now been cut off, it hurt,” he said. 

The situation, while challenging to overcome, led Lovell to help establish the SMMS to sharpen the skills of students and help separate themselves from other applicants.  

“This project has been a great way to get myself into the industry and to find jobs in that industry as well,” Lovell said.  

Since its inception, the SMMS has organized a series of online events, engaging both members and students at StFX.  

“We have learned through COVID how to present a sport to people from [a] distance,” Lovell said. “You really gain the attention of people even though they cannot be there in person. It can only go up from here.”  

Students band together 

Similar feelings are shared with students across Canada. Namely, graduates of Ontario universities struggled with strains on the sports industry. This tension has led to the emerging appreciation of sports business associations and similar organizations, and the events they have been able to arrange for students at their universities.  

Sports business associations (or SBAs) are university clubs run by students. SBAs provide students with the chance to network with sport industry professionals and gain experience through planning and marketing intercollegiate events.  

Established in 2016, Brock University’s Sport & Business Association has been especially active in organizing events such as virtual networking forums, educational workshops, and other virtual events designed to prepare members and attendees for careers in the sport industry.  

Jadon Bernatsky and Kaz Alguire, the president and vice-president of the Brock SBA, used the circumstances of the pandemic to focus on becoming more well-rounded.  

“My online and digital skills have strengthened. I took a LinkedIn class on Photoshop to develop my graphic design abilities,” Alguire said. It’s one of the positive outcomes he’s experienced in spending more time online. 

Recognizing the current issues facing students in SBAs across the country, the Brock SBA and representatives from McMaster University’s Sports Business Association founded the University Sport Business Alliance (USBA). Now, students in 13 SBAs across Canada can connect and collaborate easier. 

Late last year, students at Brock and Ryerson University had the chance to connect through a collaborative club event that helped raise money for charity.  

“This event was exactly the reason why the USBA was created in the first place,” said Bernatsky.  

The USBA’s upcoming plans include engaging with more students and motivating them to develop SBAs in western Canadian universities where none exist right now. All of this will provide students with experiences that will better enable them to enter the sports industry when things return to normal. 

The future of the sports industry after the pandemic is widely unknown, but at least one thing is clear: thriving communities like SBAs are on the rise tools for students to build their skill sets after university. 

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Adam Douglas

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