Dollars and Sense

Our 2009 Salary Survey of the Managed Recreation, Sports & Fitness Industry

By Emily Tipping


ith the most recent news on employment numbers, five states (Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee) and the District of Columbia crossed into double-digit unemployment in May to join the eight that had crossed that line in April (California, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina). Many experts now expect that the national unemployment rate will rise into double digits in 2009. Already, the jobless rate has reached a 25-year high of 9.4 percent, according to government figures.

And in this economic climate, many are repeating the statement, "You should consider yourself lucky to have a job." But jobs still come with pay, and in light of that fact, we're looking this month at the most recent information we've gathered relevant to the managed recreation, sports and fitness industry on salaries and careers.

The information contained in this report is based on an extensive survey, conducted by Signet Research Inc., an independent research company. From Feb. 10 to March 2 of this year, we collected 2,064 responses from recreation, sports and fitness professionals to questions about their facilities and their careers. The first part of our study, the State of the Industry Report, was published last month. This month, we report on the information respondents shared about their salaries and careers.

The vast majority of respondent to our survey, 88.1 percent, indicated that they were either extremely concerned or somewhat concerned about the impact of the economic downturn on their facilities. Less than 3 percent are unconcerned. That concern must surely translate into worry about their employment. While many are already doing more with less, in terms of their facility budgets, they also are likely doing the same amount of work (if not more) with fewer employees. And in fact, the number-one concerns after the economy among our respondents were worries about equipment and facility maintenance (a top concern for 54.6 percent of respondents) as well as staffing issues (a top concern for 45 percent of respondents).

Survey Methodology

Signet Research Inc., an independent research company, sent an e-mail broadcast on Feb. 10, 2009, to nearly 21,000 subscribers to Recreation Management, who were invited to participate in the online survey. When the survey closed on March 2, 2,064 responses had been collected, for a 10 percent response rate. The findings of this survey may be accepted as accurate, at a 95 percent confidence level, within a sampling tolerance of approximately +/- 2.2 percent.

About the Respondents

Who are our respondents? If you take all the numbers and try to translate them into a single person, you'd have a 47 1/2-year-old white male director at a suburban public parks and recreation department in the Midwest, who manages an average of 7.5 facilities, and has been in the industry for nearly 20 years.

But of course, this paints a very narrow picture of what is actually a broad range of professionals working in facilities of all types. Here's a closer look at where our respondents come from, both geographically and in terms of their career paths.

The largest group of respondents, 28.8 percent, comes from Midwestern states. They are followed by the West, represented by 20.3 percent of respondents. The Northeast is represented by 18.6 percent of respondents. This is followed by the South Atlantic states, with 17.8 percent of respondents. Another 13.4 percent are from the South Central region. Finally, 1 percent of respondents indicated they are from outside the U.S. borders.

While the largest group of respondents (40.3 percent) indicated they work in suburban communities, another third (33.5 percent) are from rural areas, and just over a quarter (26.2 percent) work in urban areas.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) work for a public organization. Another 18.6 percent said they work for a private nonprofit organization, and 14.8 percent work for private for-profit organizations.

When it comes to industry segment, there was a wide range of groups represented in our survey. The largest group (40.3 percent) came from parks and recreation departments, but there was also strong representation by respondents from colleges and universities (13.2 percent), community or private recreation or sports centers (7.5 percent), schools and school districts (7.2 percent), campgrounds, and RV parks and youth and private camps (7.1 percent).

More than a third of respondents (34.3 percent) indicated that they are directors. The next largest group—19.7 percent—represent administration or management positions such as administrator, manager or superintendent. They are followed by operations or facility managers, such as operations managers, facility managers, building managers and supervisors, who made up 15.1 percent of the respondents. Program and activity administrators made up 11.8 percent of respondents. These include activity or program directors or managers, coordinators, specialists, coaches and instructors. Those holding the title of chairman, chief executive officer, president, vice president or owner made up 9 percent of the respondents. And just 1 percent were represented by those holding service-related titles like planner, designer, architect or consultant. Another 9.1 percent of respondents indicated they had an "other" title.

The titles break down quite differently when considered according to industry segment. The largest segment, parks and recreation, are made up mostly of directors (39.8 percent) and administration management (23.9 percent), followed by operations/facility management (16.3 percent). At colleges and universities, there is an even higher number of director-level respondents (41.9 percent), followed by program and activity administrators (16.5 percent) and administration management (15.8 percent). Schools and school districts also lean mostly toward directors, represented by 37.2 percent of respondents in this segment, followed by operations/facility management, at 19.3 percent, and administration management at 18.6 percent. College/university respondents and schools respondents were the most likely to indicate they had "other" titles, including teaching positions and professorships. A third of YMCA respondents (33 percent) were directors, while nearly a quarter (23.3 percent) indicated they were chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner in their current roles. At camps, less than a third (29.5 percent) were in the director role, while nearly a quarter (22.5 percent) were chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner. Finally, at health clubs, the largest group, 30.7 percent, represented chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner, followed by a fifth (20 percent) in administration management positions. (See Figure 1.) Respondents were overwhelmingly male and white, representing virtually no change from last year's survey. In 2008, 70.2 percent of respondents were male, and 29.7 percent were female. This year, there is no statistical difference, with 70.4 percent male and 29.6 percent female respondents.

Nearly nine out of 10 respondents (89.3 percent) were white/non-Hispanic. The next largest group were black/non-Hispanic, represented by 3.4 percent of respondents. Another 2.7 percent were Hispanic.

Only around 15 percent of respondents were younger than 35 years old. Around a fifth (20.1 percent) were between 35 and 44 years old, while more than a third (36.4 percent) were between the ages of 45 and 54. Just under a fifth (17.3 percent) were between 55 and 59, while 8.2 percent are approaching retirement at 60 to 65 years old. (See Figure 2.) This surely reflects the higher-level positions of the respondents to our survey, and the years of experience and career-building necessary to acquire such positions.

On average, respondents have spent 9.2 years in their current position and have 19 years of experience working in the industry, reflecting a high degree of experience with their careers. Nearly half of our respondents (46.4 percent) indicated that they have been in their current position for five years or less. Another 18 percent have been in their current position for six to nine years, while 12.6 percent have spent 10 to 14 years in their current position. An impressive 23.1 percent of respondents have been in their current position for 15 years or more. (See Figure 3.)

When it comes to industry experience, most of our respondents have plenty of history. Just 12 percent of respondents have been in the industry for five years or less, while nearly half (48 percent) have been in the industry for 20 years or more. (See Figure 4.) Almost across the board, respondents have grown their experience from last year's survey. While those in the parks and recreation segment have spent the most years in their current position (10 years), those at schools and school districts have the most time logged working in the industry (21.5 years). On the flipside of that coin, those working for YMCAs and other nonprofits have the fewest years in their current positions (6.7 years), while those from health clubs have the fewest years in the industry, though still an impressive 14.3 years. (See Figure 5.)

Finally, when it comes to education, a majority of respondents (77.8 percent) had at least a bachelor's degree. While 45.3 percent of respondents indicated they have earned a bachelor's, another 30.3 percent have earned their master's degree or taken part in some post-graduate study, and another 2.2 percent have earned an advanced degree, such as a doctorate. More than one in 10 respondents (12.4 percent) have completed some college, but not earned a degree, while 6.1 percent have earned an associate's degree. Just 3.7 percent are high school graduates with no college education.

As you might expect, those from colleges and universities, as well as schools and school districts were the most likely to have continued their education after receiving a bachelor's degree. Those from health clubs were the most likely not to have completed a college degree: 21 percent of these respondents indicated they were either high school graduates or had attended some college without obtaining a degree.

Certifications represent a way to build knowledge on top of the education received in school, and many of our respondents indicated that they had earned certifications. More than two-thirds of respondents (68.9 percent) indicated that they currently have a CPR/AED/First Aid certification. These types of qualifications are most prominent at health clubs, where a full 84.7 percent said they had earned them. Another 61 percent of respondents indicated they had gone through a background check, led by those at YMCAs, where 79.2 percent had background checks. (See Figure 6.)

Other certifications were less common among all participants, though some were more prominent in certain industry segments. For example, among parks respondents, 27 percent had their Certified Park and Recreation Professional (or CPRP) certification, 12.2 percent were certified in pesticide application and 12.2 percent were certified in playground safety, compared to 13.3 percent, 8.2 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively, of all respondents. At schools, 60.4 percent of respondents had teaching certificates (compared to just 15.6 percent of all respondents), and 50.7 percent were certified as coaches (compared to 19.4 percent of all respondents). At YMCAs, 29.7 percent of respondents were certified lifeguards, and 27.7 percent were certified in aquatic management or pool operations, compared to 17.4 percent and 21.2 percent of all respondents, respectively. At health clubs, 43.1 percent of respondents had a personal training or fitness certification, compared to only 8.9 percent of all respondents. And finally, at camps, 14.2 percent of respondents had climbing certifications, compared to just 3 percent of all respondents.

More than a quarter (28.6 percent) of respondents indicate that they plan to get certified in the next two years. The most commonly planned certification is the CPRP. More than one-third (36.6 percent) of those planning to earn a certification within the next two years are aiming for this credential, and 55 percent of parks respondents who are planning to get certified intend to earn it. Following the CPRP in terms of planned certifications were CPR/AED/First Aid certifications, aquatic management and pool operations certifications, playground safety certifications, and personal training or fitness certifications.

Top Notch

Once again, the Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) certification is the most commonly planned credential among respondents who plan to get certified within the next two years. While 27 percent of parks and recreation respondents currently have the CPRP behind their names, more are planning to earn it. Of those parks respondents who are planning to earn any certification in the next two years, 55 percent plan to earn the CPRP.

This certification is granted by the National Recreation & Park Association (NRPA) to individuals who work in the recreation, park resources and leisure services profession who meet certain standards and complete an exam.

To learn more about the qualifications and how to get certified, visit

The Nitty-Gritty

So what does all of this experience, education and certification add up to for our respondents? On average, respondents this year indicated they earn $62,200, an increase of 1.1 percent over 2008. This is well short of the 3.1 percent growth the U.S. Labor Department reported in hourly wages from May 2008 to May 2009, but is reflective of slower wage growth that has taken hold over the early half of 2009.

There was little change in salary distribution from one year to the next. Less than one in 10 respondents (8.3 percent) this year indicated that they earned $100,000 or more, which represented no statistical change from 2008, when 8.6 percent earned such a salary. More than half (52.2 percent) of this year's respondents indicated that they earn between $50,000 and $99,999, compared to 52.9 percent of last year's respondents. (See Figure 7.)

The highest salaries, as well as the greatest salary increase, for our respondents were found among those working for golf clubs or country clubs, who earn $97,300 on average, up substantially from last year's reported salary of $73,900 for this segment. They were followed by smaller increases seen among those from colleges and universities, who reported a 5.2 percent higher salary this year than last, those from YMCAs, reporting a 3.5 percent higher salary, and those from schools and school districts, reporting a 3.3 percent higher salary.

Likewise, the segment reporting the lowest salary for our respondents also reported the greatest decrease from 2008 to 2009. Those from resorts and resort hotels reported the lowest average salary, of $49,000, a drop of 26.2 percent from last year's reported salary for this group. The travel industry has been hit extremely hard by the recession, and these numbers may reflect that reality.

Also reporting decreases were respondents from community and private recreation and sports centers, who saw a drop of 9.8 percent from last year's reported salaries, as well as those from health clubs, who reported a drop of 8.7 percent, and those from parks and recreation departments, reporting a 2.1 percent decrease from last year's salaries. (See Figure 8.)

Broken down by the communities where they reported from, the average salaries of our respondents fell along expected lines, with those in suburban communities earning the highest salaries, and those from rural areas earning the lowest. In fact, suburban respondents earn 26.7 percent more on average than those from rural communities. (See Figure 9.)

Likewise, this year's survey followed a similar regional trend to last year, with Midwestern respondents again earning the lowest average salaries, at $58,800. That said, Midwesterners' salaries saw an increase this year of 1 percent over last year's reported salary for this region. Other regions reporting an increase were the West, which saw a jump of just 0.3 percent from the salary reported last year, and the South, which reported the highest increase, of 1.9 percent. The Northeast, by comparison, saw a drop of 1.2 percent. (See Figure 10.)


This year's respondents were far less likely to report that they had received a raise from 2007 to 2008 than last year's respondents expected, and they were also more likely to report a lower salary. While more than three-quarters (75.5 percent) of last year's respondents reported that they expected a higher salary from 2007 to 2008, this year, just over two-thirds (67 percent) reported such an increase. And while less than 1 percent of respondents last year were expecting a decrease in that time period, this year, a full 9 percent reported such a decrease. That said, these numbers fall more closely in line with what last year's respondents reported for 2006 to 2007, when 73.2 percent saw an increase, but 8.8 percent saw a drop in their salary.

Respondents are even more cautious looking ahead, and only 44.2 percent expect a higher salary in 2009 than 2008, while just over half (50.2 percent ) expect their salary to remain unchanged. (See Figure 11.)

The average increase among those reporting one from 2007 to 2008, was 3.9 percent. Of those who reported receiving a salary increase in 2008 over 2007, nearly two-thirds (61.8 percent ) said the increase was between 1 percent and 3 percent. Another 28.6 percent reported a salary increase of between 4 percent and 6 percent.

In 2009, the average increase among those reporting one is expected to be 3.5 percent. More than two-thirds (66.7 percent) of respondents who expect a salary increase in that time frame are expecting a raise of between 1 percent and 3 percent, while another quarter (26 percent) expect an increase of between 4 percent and 6 percent.

Respondents from parks and recreation departments were the most positive last year about salary increases, and that has not changed this year. Last year, 80.6 percent of park respondents reported seeing an increase from 2006 to 2007, and 81.4 percent expected an increase from 2007 to 2008. This year, that second number falls slightly, and just over three-quarters (76.6 percent) reported an increase from 2007 to 2008. Less than half (49.6 percent) expect an increase from 2008 to 2009.

Respondents from health clubs, on the other hand, were among the least positive last year, and that did not change for this year's results for 2007 to 2008. Last year, 49.3 percent of health club respondents reported receiving a salary increase from 2006 to 2007, and 69.6 percent were expecting an increase from 2007 to 2008. This year, just 46.1 percent of health club respondents reported an increase from 2007 to 2008, though for those who did receive a raise, they reported the highest increase of all the industry segments, of 5.7 percent. Health club respondents were the most likely to report a decrease from 2007 to 2008, with 19.2 percent of respondents in this segment indicating that their salaries had fallen. From 2008 to 2009, just 41.1 percent of health club respondents expect an increase, though again they expect the highest increase—4.8 percent—of all the industry segments. (See Figure 12.)


While many people in all industries are reporting that they are working longer hours as staff cutbacks are made, in our survey, respondents reported no statistical difference in the average number of hours worked this year compared to last. Last year's respondents averaged 47.7 hours weekly, while this year's respondents average 47.8 hours weekly.

Fewer respondents this year reported that they are working 50 or more hours a week, while more are working from 45 to 49 hours a week. Last year, 33.5 percent of respondents said they worked 50 or more hours per week, while this year, 32.3 percent reported working those hours. (See Figure 13.)

Respondents at schools and camps were most likely to indicate they worked more than 60 hours a week. Nearly a third of respondents in each of those categories indicated doing so. In fact, only a little over a third of respondents from schools said they worked less than 50 hours a week. (See Figure 14.)

Overall, more respondents than not feel that their salary is appropriate given their current responsibilities, representing a slight increase from last year's report and perhaps reflecting the "I'm lucky to have a job" sentiment that predominates in the current economic climate.

While 50.1 percent of last year's respondents felt their salaries were too low, this year 47.3 percent of respondents reported feeling that way, while 52.3 percent feel their salary is appropriate. Another 0.5 percent said they felt their salary was too high, given their current responsibilities.

Respondents from schools and school districts were most likely to report feeling their salaries were appropriate. Some 60 percent of respondents in this segment said they feel their salaries are appropriate. Respondents from health clubs were the most likely to report feeling their salary is too low, with 62.2 percent reporting they feel this way. (See Figure 15.)

Fewer respondents this year reported that their level of responsibility had increased over the past year, compared to last year's survey. While 72.6 percent last year reported a greater level of responsibility in 2007, 68 percent this year reported such a change. This is 7.7 percent fewer than expected their responsibilities to increase last year. (See Figure 16.)

Respondents from parks and recreation departments were the most likely to see an increasing level of responsibility in 2008, followed by those at schools and school districts, while those at camp facilities were the most likely to expect their responsibilities to decrease (though only 5 percent expected a decrease). In 2009, parks respondents again are the most likely to expect rising levels of responsibility, followed by those from YMCAs.

While responsibility levels were up, job satisfaction also saw a jump this year. This could again be reflecting the increasing sense among employed professionals that they're lucky to be where they are. Last year, 31.9 percent of respondents reported that they were very satisfied with their jobs, while 45.7 percent were satisfied. This year, 37.1 percent report feeling very satisfied, while 55.3 percent report they are satisfied. (See Figure 17.)

Respondents from health clubs were by far the most satisfied with their current position. 44 percent said they were very satisfied. Those at YMCAs were most likely to report dissatisfaction, though only 12.9 percent indicated they were not satisfied.

Your Two Cents

How does your salary stack up against our survey results? What career concerns are you facing? Do you have a positive story to tell that goes against the grain of the negative economic news? We'd love to hear your thoughts! Drop us a line at to let us know what you think.

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