Things Are Looking Up

Our Ninth Annual Salary Survey

By Emily Tipping

Unemployment reached its lowest level in nearly nine years in May 2016, hitting 4.7 percent, well under the high of 10 percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for October 2009. The last time employment numbers were this positive was in 2007, before the onset of the Great Recession.

The most recent numbers available from the U.S. Census Bureau show median household income was 8 percent lower in 2013 than in 2007. That said, our annual Salary Survey shows that for professionals who manage and operate recreation, sports and fitness facilities, things are looking up.

This year, respondents reported a 2.6 percent increase in average annual salary. At the same time, job satisfaction remains overwhelmingly positive, with 92.1 percent of respondents reporting that they are either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs.

Read on to learn more about how more than 2,100 respondents to our annual survey are doing in their careers, from education and salaries to career paths and more.

Who Are You?

Within the realm of recreation, sports and fitness facilities, there is a tremendous number of job roles and responsibilities, just as there is a wide variety of organizations and facility types providing myriad activities and programs. In other words, it would be folly to report that there is a "typical" respondent to our survey. However, if you take the averages and majorities, the "average" respondent is a 50.1-year-old white male working in the Midwestern suburbs as a director of a parks and recreation department or district, earning $67,300.

Some 31.2 percent of respondents were from the Midwest, the largest region represented in the survey. They were followed by the West (21.4 percent); Northeast (17.6 percent); South Atlantic (16.8 percent); and South Central (12.1 percent) regions. Another 1 percent of respondents reported from outside the United States.

Nearly half (45.2 percent) of respondents said they worked in suburban communities. Another third (33.6 percent) were from rural communities, while 21.1 percent were from urban areas.

Two-thirds (66.6 percent) of respondents work for public organizations. Another 21.4 percent are with private nonprofit organizations, and 11.3 percent said they work with private, for-profit facilities.

When it comes to the type of facility or part of the industry respondents were serving, the largest number—41.9 percent—were with parks and recreation organizations. Other more prominent facility types included: colleges and universities (11.9 percent); schools and school districts (10.5 percent); community or private recreation or sports centers (7.9 percent); campgrounds, RV parks, and private or youth camps (6.5 percent); YMCAs, YWCAs, JCCs, and Boys & Girls Clubs (5.5 percent); and sports, health, or fitness clubs (3 percent). Others that were home to smaller numbers of respondents included: golf or country clubs (2.9 percent); resorts and resort hotels (2 percent); waterparks, theme parks and amusement parks (1.7 percent); military installations (1 percent); medical fitness or wellness facilities (0.8 percent); ice rinks (0.6 percent); racquet or tennis clubs (0.5 percent); corporate recreation or sports centers (0.4 percent); and stadiums, arenas and tracks (0.1 percent). Another 3.4 percent work for other types of facilities, including homeowners associations, churches and more.

Well over a third (35.8 percent) of respondents said they were between 50 and 59 years old, the largest age group represented. They were followed by respondents between the ages of 40 and 49 (24.7 percent). Around one-fifth of respondents were 60 or older (20.4 percent) or younger than 40 (19 percent).

Nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent) of respondents were male, with 35.8 percent female. In addition, the survey audience is overwhelmingly white, with 91 percent of respondents identifying as such. Another 3.8 percent are black/non-Hispanic, while 3 percent are Hispanic, 1.4 percent are Native Americans or Alaskan Natives, 1.4 percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 1.4 percent are of "other" or "unknown" ethnicities.

When it comes to job titles represented by the survey, a majority of respondents—as is the case with the Recreation Management readership—are in leadership positions. More than one-third (34.4 percent) hold the title of "director." Another 20.8 percent are in administration management, which includes such job titles as administrator, manager or superintendent. Some 15.5 percent of respondents were in operations and facility management, including operations managers, facility managers, building managers and supervisors. Another 11.2 percent are in program and activity administration, which includes activity or program directors, managers, coordinators, specialists, coaches and instructors. Some 8.1 percent of respondents were the chairman, CEO, vice president or owner of their organizations. Some 2.5 percent were faculty or teachers, while 0.5 percent were in services, which includes planners, designers, architects and consultants. Finally, 6.9 percent were in "other," unspecified job roles. (See Figure 1.)

Career Paths

As might be expected, given their career achievements, the majority of "Click to enlarge", ""vey were better educated than the U.S. population as a whole. Nearly 40 percent of Americans of working age held a college degree as of 2014, according to the Lumina Foundation. This compares with 78.9 percent of survey respondents. Some 44.8 percent had earned a bachelor's degree, while 31.4 percent have a master's degree, and 2.7 percent have earned an advanced degree or Ph.D. Another 12.5 percent said they had attended some college without earning a degree. Some 6.3 percent have an associate's degree, and 2.3 percent have earned a high school diploma.

On average, respondents have been working in their current position for 11.9 years. Some 46.6 percent of respondents have been in their current position for at least 10 years, with 19.4 percent reporting they've been in their current jobs for 20 years or more. Just over a fifth (21.5 percent) said they'd been in their current position from five to nine years, and 31.8 percent have been in their current jobs for less than five years. (See Figure 2.)

On average, respondents have been working in the recreation, sports and fitness industry for 22 years. More than half (55 percent) reported that they have been working in the industry for at least 20 years, and 27.4 percent have been in the industry for 30 years or more. Those with less than 10 years of industry experience make up 17.2 percent of the survey population. (See Figure 3.)

Let's Talk Money?

Last year's salary survey showed a 2.7 percent decrease to salaries year over year. In 2016, that loss was nearly recovered, with a 2.6 percent increase in the average salary reported by respondents. On average, respondents earn $67,300.

There was an increase in the percentage of respondents who reported they earned more than $100,000, from 11.8 percent in 2015, to 12.1 percent in 2016. Likewise, the percentage reporting a salary of between $50,000 and $100,000 also increased, from 54.3 percent in 2015 to 57.9 percent in 2016. At the same time, the number earning less than $50,000 dropped slightly, from 34 percent in 2015 to 30 percent in 2016. (See Figure 4.)


While overall, respondents saw a 2.6 percent increase in their average salary, some industry segments fared better than others. The greatest increase was seen among respondents from health clubs, with an increase of 8 percent, from an average of $58,800 in 2015 to $63,500 in 2016. They were followed by YMCAs, with a 7.9 percent increase, and community recreation centers, with a 7.7 percent increase. Also reporting increases this year were schools and school districts, with a 6.7 percent increase in average salaries, colleges and universities (3.3 percent) and parks and recreation (1.8 percent). (See Figure 5.)


The greatest decreases were reported by respondents from resorts and resort hotels, who saw their average salary fall by 10.3 percent, from $62,300 in 2015 to $55,900 in 2016. They were followed by those from military installations, who reported a 10.2 percent decrease, golf and country clubs (down 6.5 percent), and camps (down 4.3 percent).

As is usually the case, respondents from the Northeast region continue to be the highest earners, followe d by the West. That said, the greatest increase to average salaries from 2015 to 2016 was reported by Midwestern respondents, who saw their average salary increase 4.8 percent, from $60,400 in 2015 to $63,300 in 2016. They were followed by the West, with an increase of 4.2 percent, and the Northeast, with an increase of 2.5 percent. Southern respondents reported a 2.1 percent decrease to their average salary, from $65,500 in 2015 to $64,100 in 2016. (See Figure 6.)

Respondents who are chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner of their organizations again earned the highest average salary by job title, and they also reported the greatest decrease from 2015 to 2016, with an increase of 10.3 percent. They were followed by respondents in operations and facility management, with an increase of 4.8 percent; program and activity administration (4.1 percent); administration management (2.6 percent); and directors (1.3 percent). (See Figure 7.)


Generally speaking, the higher level of education achieved, the better your earnings. This industry is no exception to that rule. Respondents who said they had earned an advanced degree or Ph.D. reported the highest average salary of all respondents, at $87,100. This represents a 5.6 percent increase from 2015. The next greatest increase was seen among respondents who had earned an associate's degree, whose salaries rose 5.5 percent. They were followed by those with bachelor's degrees (4.8 percent) and master's degrees (3.4 percent). The greatest decrease to average salaries was reported by respondents with a high school diploma, who saw their average salary fall 4 percent from 2015 to 2016. (See Figure 8.)


Over the past several years, the percentage of respondents who have seen their salaries increase has gradually climbed, from 44.1 percent who reported an increase from 2011 to 2012, to 57 percent who saw an increase from 2014 to 2015. At the same time, the percentage reporting a lower salary has fallen. (See Figure 9.) Generally, the percentage of respondents who report that they expect an increase in the year of the survey falls short of the percentage who actually receive such an increase. In 2016, 29.7 percent of respondents said they expect their salaries will increase. Expect this number to increase dramatically when we report the actual percentage who got an increase in next year's salary survey.


Respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to see salaries rise from 2014 to 2015, with 69.8 percent reporting they had seen an increase in that time period. They were followed by those from parks and recreation, 62.2 percent of whom reported an increase, colleges and universities (59.1 percent) and schools and school districts (52.9 percent). Respondents from health clubs were the least likely to see salaries go up in that time frame, with just 35.9 percent reporting an increase. (See Figure 10.)


Looking ahead, respondents from health clubs are the most likely to expect an increase to salaries in 2016, with 34.1 percent reporting they expect an increase. Those from schools were least likely to expect salaries to increase in 2016.

Hard at Work

The percentage of respondents who are reporting that their level of responsibility is increasing year-over-year is starting to drop off. While 66.1 percent said they had a greater level of responsibility in 2014 than in 2013, only 59.8 percent said their level of responsibility increased in 2015. Looking ahead, fewer (57.9 percent) expect their level of responsibility to increase this year. (See Figure 11.)


As has been the case in every year we've reported on the salary survey, the vast majority of survey respondents are happy and satisfied with their work. Some 40.4 percent of respondents in 2016 said they were very satisfied, while 51.7 percent were satisfied. Only 6.2 percent said they were unsatisfied, and just 1.7 percent were very unsatisfied. (See Figure 12.)




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