Feature Article - July 2020
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Money Matters

Our 13th Annual Salary Survey

By Emily Tipping


Over the past decade, our Salary Survey has shown a fairly steady upward trend, with salaries increasing 15.4% between 2010 and 2020. That said, we know that COVID-19, with its dramatic effect on employment numbers across the country, is likely to have an impact on the careers of professionals in recreation, sports and fitness, too. It simply might be too early to tell how much of an impact.

For our 2020 Salary Survey, more than 1,300 professionals working in the recreation, sports and fitness industry responded to the annual questionnaire, sent in late January 2020. We followed up that survey with a COVID-19 Update Survey in early May. This briefer survey aimed to measure the immediate impact of measures taken in light of the pandemic. Given the extreme level of uncertainty at that time, we kept the questions minimal. Next January, when we follow up with our next Industry Report Survey, we will get a much clearer picture of the impact of the pandemic on careers in recreation, sports and fitness.

In the meantime, welcome to Recreation Management's 13th Annual Salary Survey. In these pages, we'll focus on what respondents to the Industry Report Survey had to say about their salaries, experience, careers and expectations.

About the Respondents

There's a wide range of career paths for those involved in recreation, sports and fitness, from park district directors and aquatic center managers to athletic directors, sports club owners and so much more. All of the ways that people recreate, get fit and engage in sports and other community activities take a vast cast of characters with a broad range of ideas and experiences to get the job done effectively. Let's take a look at some of the characteristics of the Salary Survey respondents.

Three out of 10 (30%) respondents were from the Midwest, the largest region represented in the survey, by number of respondents. They were followed by the West (22.3%), the South Atlantic (19.6%), the Northeast (15.3%) and the South Central region (12.6%). Another 0.2% of respondents were from outside the United States.

Respondents were more likely to be from suburban communities than other community types. Some 41.2% of respondents said they were located in suburban communities, while 35.4% were in rural areas, and 23.4% were in urban communities.

A majority, 71.7%, of respondents said they work with public organizations like park departments and school districts. Another 19% said they were with private nonprofit organizations, like Ys. Some 9.1% of respondents were with private for-profit facilities like health clubs. And 0.3% said they work for "other" types of organizations.

When it comes to the type of facility respondents represent, nearly half (47.1%) said they work with parks and recreation departments and districts. Other more common facility types represented include: schools and school districts (10.5%); colleges and universities (9.5%); Ys, JCCs and Boys & Girls Clubs (6.6%); community or private recreation/sports centers (6.5%); campgrounds, RV parks, and private or youth camps (5.7%); sports, health and fitness clubs and medical fitness facilities (2.8%); and golf or country clubs (2.5%). Other facility types that were home to smaller numbers of respondents include: resorts and resort hotels (1.8%); waterparks, theme parks and amusement parks (1.1%); homeowners associations (0.9%); ice rinks (0.5%); racquet or tennis clubs (0.5%); stadiums, arenas and tracks (0.5%); military installations (0.2%); and corporate recreation and sports centers (0.2%). Another 3.1% said they work for other types of facilities.

Respondents were likely to be older professionals, with more than half saying they were at least 50 years old. Some 32.5% were 50 to 59 years old, and 21.7% were 60 or older. Another 26.3% were between 40 and 49 years old, and 15.8% were between 30 and 39 years old. Just 3.8% were less than 30 years old. This likely reflects the fact that respondents tend to be serving in higher-level management or director-level positions.

Nearly two-thirds (64.6%) of respondents were male, while 35.4% were female, representing almost no change over the past few years. The survey audience is also predominantly white­—87.9% of respondents. Another 5.5% were black, while 4.6% were Hispanic, 1.6% were Native American or Alaskan Natives, 1.4% were Asian/Pacific Islanders, and the rest were of "other" or "unknown" ethnicity.

When it comes to the positions held by survey respondents, a majority are in leadership positions. Well over a third (35.2%) are directors. Another 20.3% are in administration management, which includes job titles such as administrator, manager or superintendent. Some 16.1% of respondents are in operations and facility management, including such titles as operations managers, facility managers, building managers and supervisors. Another 11.8% are in program and activity administration, including activity or program directors, managers, coordinators, specialists, coaches and instructors. Another 8.2% of respondents are the chairman, CEO, vice president or owner of their organizations. Some 1.2% are faculty or teachers, while 0.5% are in services, which includes planners, designers, architects and consultants. Finally, 6.8% said they were in "other," unspecified job roles. (See Figure 1.)