Money-Wise

Our 2008 Salary Survey of the Managed Recreation, Sports & Fitness Industry

By Emily Tipping

In each issue of Recreation Management, we spend our time looking at the trappings of the managed recreation, sports and fitness industry. We consider the various elements of your facilities, how you manage those facilities and the ways you market and program your facilities. It's not often that we get a chance to turn the spotlight onto careers in the industry, but that's exactly what we're doing in this first annual Salary Survey report.

As part of our annual State of the Industry Survey, we polled more than 2,000 professionals from across the industry and the country about various aspects of their career, including salary, education level, experience, job satisfaction and more. We've compiled the results here.

Generally, despite the widening economic woes faced by the American economy, the outlook for salaries among professionals in the recreation industry is positive. While few are laughing their way to the bank with six-figure salaries, the majority are happy in their jobs and generally positive about both their work and their future.

Who is the average participant in our survey?

In a nutshell, the average respondent is a 47-year-old, white male who has been in his job for the past eight-and-a-half years, most likely as a director of a parks and recreation agency. He has 18.8 years of experience in the industry, a bachelor's degree and earns a salary of $61,500. He most likely works in a suburban community somewhere in the Midwest, putting in an average of 47.7 hours weekly, with 12.8 employees reporting directly to him.

Of course, this snapshot represents a cascade of averages from all of our questions. The real picture is more nuanced than this, so read on to find out where you stand in relation to your peers.

Does Money Equal Happiness?

The average respondent to our salary survey has an annual base salary of $61,500. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (38.5 percent) are earning less than $50,000. More than half (52.9 percent) earn between $50,000 and $100,000. Less than 10 percent can boast a six-figure salary. (See Figure 1.)

Salaries among professionals working for recreation, sports and fitness facilities compare favorably with statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The most recent Census figure indicates a median annual household income of $48,201 in the United States, 27.6 percent lower than the average earnings of our survey participants.

That said, while more than three-quarters (75.5 percent) of respondents are expecting to see their salaries increase from 2007 to 2008, the average increase reported is 3.8 percent, which is slightly lower than the most recent inflation numbers reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From May 2007 to May 2008, that rate was 4.2 percent.

Slightly fewer respondents (73.2 percent) said that their salaries had increased from 2006 to 2007, with the average increase in that time period being 4.1 percent. More than half (52.3 percent) of those who had received a raise in 2007 indicated that their salary had gone up by 1 percent to 3 percent. Another third or so (33.8 percent) indicated a raise of between 3 percent and 6 percent. Nearly 22 percent of respondents saw their salaries increase by more than 6 percent in 2007.

For more than a quarter (26.8 percent) of respondents, though, salaries remained flat or actually decreased from 2006 to 2007. The good news is that far fewer are expecting to see decreases from 2007 to 2008, though still nearly a quarter are not expecting an increase either. (See Figure 2.)

The average respondent has 12.8 direct reports, though more than half (50.6 percent) of respondents indicated that between one and 10 people are reporting to them. Just 6.6 percent said they do not have any employees reporting directly to them, indicating the high level of responsibility among most survey participants. Nearly one-fifth (17.6 percent) of respondents indicated that they have more than 30 direct reports. (See Figure 3.)

Professionals in the recreation, sports and fitness industry are hard-working, with the typical respondent putting in an average of 47.7 hours per week. This is slightly higher than the mean number of hours worked by adults employed full- or part-time interviewed by Gallup. According to Gallup, the mean number of hours worked in August 2007 by adults employed full- and part-time was 43.6. The discrepancy could be explained by the small number of part-time workers we surveyed. Fewer than 7 percent of respondents work less than 40 hours a week. Around a third (33.5 percent) indicated that they work at least 50 hours per week! (See Figure 4.)

The majority of respondents (72.6 percent) said that their responsibilities had increased over the past year, and even more (75.7 percent) expect their responsibilities to increase even further in the coming year.

More than half (50.1 percent) of respondents feel that their salaries are too low, given their current responsibilities. Nearly half (49.5 percent) feel their salaries are appropriate, given their current responsibilities. And surprisingly, 0.4 percent of respondents feel their salaries are actually too high, given their current responsibilities. Those who reported feeling their salaries are inappropriately low were more likely to report that they worked in excess of 50 hours per week than those who feel their salaries are appropriate.

Despite the fact that so many feel they are underpaid, the majority (77.6 percent) of respondents indicated that they are either very satisfied or satisfied in their current position. Less than 10 percent (8.1 percent) said they were either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied. (See Figure 5.)

Not surprisingly, respondents who received a raise in 2007 were more likely to indicate that they were either very satisfied or satisfied. A full 80 percent of respondents whose salaries were higher in 2007 than in 2006 said they were happy in their work. Interestingly, those whose salaries were lower were more likely than those who had seen no change in salary to indicate higher levels of job satisfaction. Nearly 14 percent of those who saw no change to their salary said they were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied, compared with 9 percent of those whose salaries were lower. And while 73.2 percent of those with lower salaries in 2007 indicated they were very satisfied or satisfied, just 65.6 percent of those whose salaries had remained the same felt this way. This could reflect people switching careers or jobs into lower-salary positions that offer more fulfillment.

Demographics & Salaries

When it comes to demographics, respondents to our survey were more likely to be male than is typical of the overall American workforce. While women comprised 46 percent of the total U.S. workforce in 2007, they made up only 29.7 percent of our survey respondents. More than 70 percent of survey respondents were male.

For women in the recreation, sports and fitness industry, our survey does reveal a pay gap, but it is not as large as the national average. Across the entire U.S. workforce, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, a 29.9 percent difference. Women responding our survey reported earning $54,600, which is 18.1 percent less than the $64,500 earned by men responding to the survey. (See Figure 6.)

There are a couple of additional factors that help to further explain the pay disparity between men and women responding to our survey. On average, women reported having 17 years of experience in the recreation, sports and fitness industry, compared to an average of 19.6 years on average for the male respondents. In addition, women were less represented by higher-level job functions, such as chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner; director; and operations and facility management.

Program and activity administrators, including activity and program directors, managers, coordinators, specialists, coaches and instructors, were more evenly split between men and women, with 55.2 percent of respondents in this category being male and 44.8 percent being female. (See Figure 7.) Respondents whose titles fell in this job category also reported the lowest average salary.

While the vast majority (91.9 percent) of respondents to the survey were white/non-Hispanic, respondents from the black/non-Hispanic and Hispanic groups were more likely to report earning a higher salary. Among whites responding to the survey, the average salary was $61,000. For blacks, the average was $68,700, 12.6 percent greater than the average for whites, and for Hispanics, the average was $69,400, 13.8 percent higher than for whites.


Figure 7: Job Title, by Gender
PERCENTAGE
MALE
PERCENTAGE
FEMALE
Chairman, CEO, President, VP, Owner 78.3%21.7%
Director 74.1%25.9%
Administration/Management (Administrator, Manager, Superintendent) 65.9%34.1%
Operations/Facility Management (Operations Manager, Facility Manager, Building Manager, Supervisor) 75.5%24.5%
Program/Activity Administration (Activity or Program Director, Manager, Coordinator, Specialist, Coach, Instructor) 55.2%44.8%
Services (Planner, Designer, Architect, Consultant) 70%30%

The average participant was 47 years old. Just 6 percent of respondents were younger than 30. The largest group—more than a third (36 percent) were in their 50s, while just under a third (32.3 percent) were in their 40s. This likely is reflective of the higher-level positions held by the majority of respondents. Only 2.1 percent were older than 65. As might be expected, salary tended to increase with age, until the older-than-65 group was reached, where salary tapered off a bit. (See Figure 8.)

In addition to variations according to age, gender and race, there was a great deal of disparity in salaries, as well as salary increases, depending on the type of facility the respondent worked for.

The highest salaries were reported by respondents from golf clubs or country clubs, who reported earning $73,900—20.2 percent higher than the average across all respondents. Others who reported earning salaries that were higher than the average included those working for military installations (13.5 percent higher), resorts and resort hotels (8 percent higher), schools and school districts (7.3 percent higher), and parks and recreation departments (2.9 percent higher).

The lowest salaries were seen among respondents from campgrounds and RV parks, who reported earnings of $52,200—17.8 percent lower than the average across all respondents. Others earning salaries that were lower than average included those working for youth and private camps (16 percent lower), sports clubs, health clubs and fitness clubs (14.1 percent lower), colleges and universities (7.5 percent lower), YMCAs, YWCAs and Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) (7.3 percent lower), community recreation and sports centers (5.7 percent lower) and private recreation and sports centers (1.5 percent lower). (See Figure 9.)


Despite the fact that they fall relatively close to the middle in terms of their overall average salary, respondents from parks and recreation organizations were the most likely to have seen a salary increase from 2006 to 2007, and they were the most optimistic about their likelihood of receiving another salary increase in 2008. More than 80 percent of respondents from parks and recreation departments said they had received a salary increase in 2007, with an average raise of 3.9 percent. More than 81 percent are expecting an increase in 2008, with the average raise being 3.4 percent.

Respondents from sports, health and fitness clubs were the least likely to report receiving a salary increase in 2007. Less than half (49.3 percent) of respondents in this category indicated that they had received a raise in 2007, though those who did receive a salary increase reported the highest average increase—of 4.8 percent. Respondents in this category were slightly more optimistic about the likelihood that they would receive a salary increase this year. Nearly 70 percent are anticipating a raise in 2008, with the average expected increase being 6 percent. (See Figure 10.)


Figure 10: Salary Increases, by Facility Type
PERCENTAGE OF RESPONDENTS WHOSE
SALARY INCREASED FROM 2006 TO 2007,
AND AVERAGE INCREASE
PERCENTAGE OF RESPONDENTS WHO
ANTICIPATE SALARY INCREASE FROM 2007
TO 2008, AND AVERAGE INCREASE
Parks & Recreation Department 80.6% (3.9%) 81.4% (3.4%)
College/University 76.7% (3.5%)72.5% (3.2%)
School/School District 70.7% (3.3%)67.9% (3.1%)
Sports/Health/Fitness Club 49.3% (4.8%)69.6% (6.0%)
YMCA/YWCA/JCC71.8% (3.8%)77.1% (3.2%)

Those at sports, health and fitness clubs were the least likely to report that their responsibilities had increased over the past year. Just under 59 percent of health club respondents said they had taken on greater responsibility in the past year. Those at YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were the most likely to report an increasing work load over the past year. At these facilities, more than three-quarters (76.5 percent) said they had taken on more responsibility in the past year. In 2008, parks and recreation professionals were the most likely to be expecting greater responsibility, with 77.1 percent of respondents in this category reporting they were anticipating greater responsibility in 2008.

Respondents working for schools and school districts reported working more years in their current position than those in other types of facilities. On average, respondents from schools and school districts had been in their current position for 9.4 years. Those with the least amount of tenure in their current positions were respondents from sports, fitness and health clubs, who on average have put in 6.3 years in their current position. The same holds true for respondents' number of years of experience in the recreation, sports and fitness industry. (See Figure 11.)


Figure 11: Years of Experience, by Facility Type
AVERAGE YEARS
IN CURRENT POSITION
AVERAGE YEARS
IN INDUSTRY
Parks & Recreation Department 8.9 19.9
Colleges & Universities 8.819.3
Schools & School Districts 9.4 21
Health/Fitness Clubs 6.313.9
YMCAs/YWCAs/JCCs 7 18.1

As you might expect, the highest levels of education were seen among respondents from colleges and universities, as well as those from schools and school districts. At colleges and universities, more than three-quarters of respondents (77 percent) had a postgraduate degree, either a master's or a doctorate. Another 16.7 percent had a bachelor's degree. Among those at schools and school districts, 56.1 percent reported they had a postgraduate degree, and 19.7 percent had a bachelor's. Respondents from fitness clubs and health clubs were the most likely to report less education. Among these respondents, more than a third (34.2 percent) said they had either completed high school, some college, or had an associate's degree. More than three-quarters (76.9 percent) of respondents from parks and recreation departments said they had either a bachelor's degree or a post-graduate degree, and 83.5 percent of respondents from YMCAs reported that level of education.


Where It's At

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income varies widely across the regions of the country, with those in the Northeast and the West earning at least 8 percent more than the nationwide median, while those in the Midwest earn just 0.8 percent less, and those in the South earn 9.8 percent less than the median average.

Our survey reflected somewhat similar results, with those in the Midwest earning the lowest salary nationwide. At $58,200, Midwesterners' salaries are 5.8 percent lower than the nationwide average for recreation, sports and fitness professionals. In addition, Midwesterners saw the smallest pay increases in 2007, at just 3.5 percent, though nearly three-quarters (74.4 percent) of respondents in this region had received a raise.

Those in the South fare better working in the recreation industry than those in the Census Bureau's report. Our Southern respondents earned an average annual salary of $59,800, just 2.8 percent less than the nationwide average. Respondents from the South Atlantic states were also the most likely to report that they had received a raise in 2007. They also reported the highest percentage increase, at 4.7 percent. Respondents from the South Central states were the least likely to report that they had received a raise in 2007.

And while those in the Northeast and West earned more than average, their salaries were not quite as disparate as the Census Bureau's figures. The highest earners were in the West, earning 7.6 percent more than average, at $66,200. Participants in the Northeast earned $65,000—5.7 percent higher than average.


Experience & Education Count

The most commonly held job title among survey respondents was director. More than a third (36 percent) of respondents reported holding this job title. The next largest group (20.9 percent) represented administration and management, with job titles like administrator, manager and superintendent. Just over 14 percent represented operations or facility management, with titles like operations manager, facility manager, building manager and supervisor. Less than 10 percent of respondents came from the other categories.


Figure 12: Job Titles and Salaries
PERCENTAGE OF
RESPONDENTS
SALARY
Chairman, CEO, President, VP, Owner 9.3% $79,500
Director36.0%$67,000
Administration/Management (Administrator, Manager, Superintendent) 20.9% $63,100
Operations/Facility Management (Operations Manager, Facility Manager, Building Manager, Supervisor) 14.1%$50,400
Program/Activity Administration (Activity or Program Director, Manager, Coordinator, Specialist, Coach, Instructor) 9.3% $42,100
Services (Planner, Designer, Architect, Consultant) 1.5%$65,500
Other 8.9% $57,500

The highest salaries were reported by those holding the title of chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner, who earned an average salary of $79,500—29.3 percent higher than the average for all respondents. Other job titles earning higher-than-average salaries included directors (8.9 percent higher), professionals performing services such as planning, design, architectural work or consulting (6.5 percent higher), and those in administration and management positions (2.6 percent higher).

The lowest average salaries were earned by those working in program and activity administration. Respondents in this category, which includes activity and program directors, managers, coordinators, specialists, coaches and instructors, reported earning 46.1 percent less than the average respondent, with an average annual salary of $42,100. Those working as operations or facility managers, including operations managers, facility managers, building managers and supervisors, also reported earning a less-than-average salary, of $50,400, 22 percent less than the average respondent. (See Figure 12.)

More than three-quarters of respondents (76.6 percent) reported having earned at least a bachelor's degree, with more than a third (34.4 percent) having completed postgraduate work, earning either a master's or a doctorate. As one would expect, salary levels climb as participants reported a higher degree of education, with those at the doctorate level earning 14.3 percent more than the average respondent, while high school graduates earned 25.8 percent less than the average.(See Figure 13.)

For some professionals, in addition to attending college and earning an education, additional post-college education is warranted. In many industries, certification programs serve as a tool to further educate professionals and verify their knowledge in specific fields. The recreation, sports and fitness markets are no exception.


More than three-quarters (77.3 percent) of respondents to this year's salary survey indicated that they have earned a CPR, AED or First Aid certification—by far the most commonly held credential among our participants. Other common certifications included: aquatic management or pool operations certification (held by 21.8 percent of respondents), coaching certification (held by 20.3 percent of respondents), teaching certificates (held by 18.6 percent of respondents), and Certified Parks & Recreation Professional (CPRP) and lifeguard certifications (held by 16.8 percent of respondents each). (See Figure 14.)

More than a quarter of respondents indicated that they intend to earn additional certifications within the next three years. The most common certification these participants were planning to add was the CPRP certification. Nearly 40 percent of respondents who are planning to earn a certification within the next three years were planning to add the CPRP to their title.

Other credentials found among the top five planned certifications were: CPR, AED and First Aid; playground safety; aquatic management and pool operations; and turf and grounds management certifications.

Another marker of higher salaries is always level of experience, and the recreation, sports and fitness industry is no exception. The average survey participant has been working in his or her current position for 8.5 years, and has been in the industry for 18.8 years. Salary levels tended to climb alongside these professionals' growing experience.

More than a third (35.4 percent) of respondents indicated that they had been working in their current position for at least a decade. Nearly half (45.4 percent) have been in their current position for at least 3 years, but less than 10. The lowest salaries were reported among those who had been in their positions for less than a year. (See Figure 15.)

For the most part, similar trends are seen relative to time spent working in the recreation, sports and fitness industry. A third (33.2 percent) of respondents to our survey reported that they have been working in the industry for at least 25 years, and among those with this level of experience, average salaries exceeded $70,000 annually. More than 44 percent of respondents indicated that they had at least a decade but less than 25 years of experience in the industry. And just 22.6 percent indicated that they had 10 years of experience or less. (See Figure 16.)

Despite a gloomy economic outlook, with the United States either already in or teetering on the brink of a recession (depending on which economist you talk with), the salary news for professionals in the recreation, sports and fitness market is relatively positive. Most are anticipating their salaries will grow, and as long as inflation rates do not climb too steeply, those salary increases should keep those in the profession at least breaking even, if not earning more. A majority of professionals in this industry feel positive about their jobs, and report that they are satisfied or highly satisfied with their work, even though many feel they are not paid enough, given their level of responsibility. And the great news is that: the more you learn and grow in the industry, the greater your earning potential!



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