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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Are Sports Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

The age-old question rages on. Are entrepreneurs born or are they made? Back in 1985, Peter Drucker noted that entrepreneurship is a discipline that can be taught. This belief continues to be upheld by entrepreneurship education theorists Jerome Katz and Donald Kuratko. These men believe that students of entrepreneurship can be taught the skills, characteristics, and practices associated with owning and operating a business. Does this also hold true for sports entrepreneurs?

A sports entrepreneur is a person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a sport-related business venture. There are many visible sports entrepreneurs in the United States, like New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Others, some famous but not necessarily known for sports entrepreneurialism, include President Bush, who owned the Texas Rangers at one time.

While some students attend sports management programs to become owners and managers of sports franchises, there is a misconception that most students in sports management programs take sports entrepreneurship courses because they have dreams of running a professional sports franchise. This may be true to some extent, but those jobs are far and few between. Some students just wish to open sport-related businesses. Kurtzman (2005) identified such businesses as: sports tour operators, sporting good stores, sport facilities, athletic clubs and organizations, sport bars, and health clubs, just to name a few. The question remains; can a sports management student be taught to become a sports entrepreneur?

The City University of New York believes that students can be taught entrepreneurship. The Institute for Virtual Enterprise (http://www.ive.cuny.edu) is a City University of New York Special Initiative to promote the experiential method of teaching entrepreneurship in higher education. Virtual enterprise is an experiential entrepreneurship methodology in which students operate virtual businesses by performing functions such as: sales and marketing, finance, accounting, administration, and human resources. Students buy and sell products and services in a closed, global, economic network of similar firms.

In the spring of 2006, a virtual enterprise was formed by a group of students at Brooklyn College. (BC) As part of a small research study, the students were asked to create a fictitious sports related business to fulfill their virtual enterprise program requirements. Most of the students did not have an interest in sports whatsoever; most were business management and finance majors.

The students embraced the idea of experiential learning, but loved the idea of creating a sports oriented business even more. After analyzing the VE Global Marketplace, the group agreed that a health and fitness club would be ideal. They researched trademarks and came up with a name and logo: Driven Fitness and Spa. Students researched location, equipment, insurance, and start-up and operational costs. Each student had a job within the firm, as well as a part of the business plan to write. All of the preliminary tasks led up to a group presentation for ‘venture capital.’

During the research, the students became sports entrepreneurs. They quickly learned that fitness equipment would require more square footage, as well as higher insurance rates, than a typical retail store. They also learned that a health club and spa business would require special permits and licenses, as well as special contracts for independent contractors/employees. Finally, they realized that the marketing strategies and revenue generation models would not be the same as those which they had studied in previous courses.

The VE Global Marketplace consists of students in virtual enterprises throughout the world, so the main age demographic is typically 16-25. The Brooklyn College students realized that the marketing mix for their VE would have to appeal to this age group. The BC students created market research surveys to see if their plans for the firm’s marketing mix would be supported by sales within the virtual enterprise simulation. The results from the market research indicated it would be, so the students went on with the campaign.

The BC students created and priced various membership plans, but quickly realized that it would be difficult to sell virtual memberships to a virtual health club. In addition, the memberships weren’t generating enough profit for the company, so they expanded their product offering to fitness clothing, individual training sessions, and a nutritional food line complete with sports drinks, protein shakes, power bars, and vitamins. Shortly after these changes, sales starting booming and profits increased.

Ultimately, the BC students wrote their business plan and presented the plan to a group of ‘venture capitalists.’ The venture capitalists were impressed with the overall presentation and offered the students valuable insight to improve the plan. Finally, the students were awarded ‘virtual seed money’ to continue their plans for operating Driven Fitness and Spa.

Did virtual enterprise teach these students to become sports entrepreneurs? These students were given exit interviews to ascertain the effect that virtual enterprise had on them. These interviews consisted of surveys that utilized the National Content Standards for Entrepreneurship Education as developed by the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education (http://www.entre-ed.org/StandardsToolkit/standardssummary.htm ).

There are 15 National Content Standards: entrepreneurial processes, traits and behaviors, business foundations, communications and interpersonal skills, digital skills, economics, financial literacy, professional development, financial management, human resources management, information management, marketing management, operations management, risk management, and strategic management.

Students were asked if it was important to learn the individual content standard in order to become successful sports entrepreneurs. In addition, students were asked if the virtual enterprise course taught the individual content standard. Students agreed or strongly agreed that the following individual content standards were important to learn in order to become successful sports entrepreneurs: entrepreneurial processes, traits and behaviors, business foundations, communications and interpersonal skills, digital skills, economics, information management, and operations management.

Students also strongly agreed, agreed, or were neutral for the following content standards: professional development, human resources management, marketing management, risk management, and strategic management. There was only disagreement from 20% of the students that the content areas of financial literacy and financial management were important.

Although this was a very small group, the results indicated that all students felt that the virtual enterprise taught the individual content standards. Additional analysis indicated that those students who disagreed with financial literacy and financial management had taken a non-financial related position within the virtual enterprise, avoiding having to do in-depth finance related tasks. However, these students still felt that they learned some of these skills and traits by performing financially-related tasks.

Are sports entrepreneurs born or made? While this is was not a scientific study, it did serve for these students and the virtual enterprise program. Various sports-related virtual enterprises have been created since this inaugural firm was created. A quick perusal of the Institute for Virtual Enterprise website indicates that sports entrepreneurs can be made. Sports related virtual enterprises, such as competitors to Driven Fitness and Spa, as well as “Coliseum Sports Bar”, Fitness Gear and Apparel, and Sports Tourism virtual enterprises have been created by students yearning to become future sports entrepreneurs.


Katz, J., (2006). And another thing. A Coleman paper presented at the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship annual meeting, Tucson, AZ, January 13, 2006.

Kuratko, D. (2005). The emergence of entrepreneurship education: Development, trends, and challenges, entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Vol. 29, No.5.

Kurtzman, J. (2005). Sports tourism categories. Journal of Sport Tourism, Vol. 10, No.1, p. 15-20.

The Institute for Virtual Enterprise website. All data retrieved on November 21, 2006 from: http://www.ive.cuny.edu.

Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education, National Content Standards for Entrepreneurship Education. Retrieved October 30, 2005, from http://www.entre-ed.org/StandardsToolkit/standardssummary.htm

For more information on the Virtual Enterprise Program at the City University of New York, please visit the IVE website or contact the author at: professorborgese@aol.com