Curiosity is part of who we are at MacKenzie. In fact, it’s at the forefront of our company creed: “Curious. Creative. Customer-Centric.” We are continually seeking knowledge and new information for the benefit of both our clients and ourselves.
With this in mind, we wanted to shine our spotlight on a thought leader within the world of education. Someone who is shaping tomorrow’s young business professionals by instilling in them the key principles of curiosity, creativity, and customer-centricity. We found someone that not only fits the bill, but someone who shares our passion for sports (and happens to be a sports marketing expert).
Who is this unicorn, you ask? He is a brilliant thought leader and a MacKenzie team member’s favorite college professor:
Vassilis Dalakas, Ph.D.
Dr. Dalakas is currently a Professor of Marketing at CSU San Marcos specializing in marketing, advertising, and consumer behavior, as well as sports marketing and sponsorship. He is also a Visiting Professor of Sports Marketing for the Sports MBA at San Diego State University.
In addition to teaching, Professor Dalakas conducts his own primary research seeking to better understand how the worlds of sports business and fan consumerism fit together. His papers have been featured by ESPN, Sports Business Journal, IEG Sponsorship Report, New York Magazine, and more. He has been quoted in articles for USA Today, MSNBC, US News & World Report, Yahoo Sports, and CBS News, just to name a few. In other words, Professor Dalakas is kind of a big deal.
We are very appreciative of his time and thrilled he agreed to be our Thought Leader Spotlight for June 2017:
What sparked your passion for sports?
Growing up in Greece, my family wasn’t heavily into sports but my friends at school and around the neighborhood were fans so there was peer-influence at a young age.
I remember watching and caring about sports first around 5 or 6 years old, and by 4th grade I had become a passionate sports fan. In Greece, the regional sports makeup was different than in the U.S. because most clubs have teams participating in multiple sports.
Teams used the same name and colors for soccer, volleyball, and many other sports including basketball which was getting bigger at the time; especially after Greece won the European Championship in 1987. Sports fans in Greece followed their team year-round in multiple sports, instead of rooting for different teams in different sports leagues.
When did you decide to pursue teaching?
Moving from Greece to the U.S. to continue my education, I was thinking international business for my career path. In 1990 I came to attend a small college in Indiana as a junior studying Business Administration.
Both of my parents taught at the university level in Greece, but I hadn’t considered teaching. I continued my education at Indiana University pursuing my Master’s Degree in European Studies, still thinking international business or maybe international diplomacy.
After moving to the States I quickly became a fan of football and baseball, in addition to my love for basketball. Sports offer an identity and the opportunity to experience a sense of winning; I always liked that feeling of vicarious achievement. Throughout my higher education my love for sports continued to grow.
I ultimately pursued my PhD at the University of Oregon. The faculty there had interest in sports marketing which wasn’t an area of focus at the time, just a young idea. With student interest, motivated faculty, and the support of sports business veteran Jim Warsaw the idea grew. By the end of my 1st year the idea was turning into reality and the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center was found. I was at the right place at the right time to be introduced to sports marketing, allowing me to incorporate my love for sports into my professional life.
By whom were you most influenced or inspired throughout your professional development?
The final year of pursuing my master’s I attended a seminar on consumer behavior conducted by Dr. Richard Olshavsky which changed the trajectory of my career. I was a 23 year old student, still uncertain about where I was headed with my career but Dr. Olshavsky really encouraged me and helped build my confidence to pursue a doctorate degree.
The faculty of Oregon allowed me many sports-related opportunities and experiences to do research in the area and also meet people within the industry. These experiences and people helped further my career and professional development.
As I shifted my focus to research and teaching, social psychologist Robert Cialdini made a big impact. His work on the psychology of influence and the key principles of influence largely affected my approach to my own research and teaching.
Which experience(s) made the biggest impact on becoming the professional you are today?
Back in high school I remember having conversations with my friends about how they didn’t like a certain brand of milk because a player from a rival sports team was endorsing it and that really stayed with me. Then, later down the road as I began to examine branding and consumer behavior I was able to explore this concept through my own research efforts.
In 2003 I had written a paper outlining the results of a study I conducted looking at NASCAR fans and how rival driver endorsements and sponsorships impacted negatively their brand attitudes. I sent my results paper to Darren Rovell at ESPN thinking he’d be interested in the findings. He ended up calling my office saying he was doing his own story on NASCAR and asked for quotes from me.
This validated my efforts and built my own confidence that what I was doing was relevant within the industry. It also gave me credibility in my classroom; after I gave students the link to the article they were taking a lot more notes than they were before. So I guess if ESPN thinks it’s interesting then the students are more likely to pay attention.
How has studying sports from a business perspective impacted your perspective as a fan? In what way(s) has it been a good thing, and in what way(s) a bad thing?
I wouldn’t say it’s a good or bad thing, but you notice more things. I pay more attention to fan behavior and the fan experience. I see what teams are doing during games to engage fans, or what they’re doing outside of the stadium with their marketing or promotions. In noticing these things I find ideas for my own research.
Occasionally I annoy friends by pointing things out while at a game. Here I think I’m adding value to their experience by showing them an advertisement or entertainment highlight when really they just want to watch and enjoy the game.
I guess a challenge would be balancing my identity as a professor and a fan. There’s occasional cognitive dissonance where I like a team but the things they do frustrate me. On the other side there’s a team I don’t like but some of the things they are doing impress me. Ultimately I’ve accepted the business side of sports as a reality so I can still enjoy sports as a fan while being an industry professional.
In terms of business objectives and fan experiences, how has rapid advancement in technology benefited or presented challenges for sports teams and/or leagues?
Digital content and social media have shifted how business is done. There are many opportunities for fans to engage and interact with the team, and there are many opportunities for players to personalize themselves by sharing pictures of their family and life outside of the sport. However, the direct connection with fans can be dangerous; there’s a fine line between what is funny and what is offensive. Once something is out there, deleting the post won’t change public perception.
In general, technology provides an opportunity to connect with teams. Fans can live stream a game on their phone no matter where they are. This is much different than in the 1990’s when I couldn’t follow my favorite teams in Greece because I had not direct access to current events or information. I had to call family in Greece to hear how things went and to hear the outcomes.
Not only does technology connect fans and teams, it allows fans to learn and follow sports at a deeper level. Kids now understand the rules and individual player skills better than ever before. We now have the “yellow line” during football games to show the first down marker, and we can’t imagine watching a game without that line. Tech is now the standard, but it’s hard to remember that it’s still a young standard. This can present a generational disconnect between modern sports fans and traditional sports fans.
Now, the question becomes: what technology is relevant? Trends may not be related to existing team business strategies, neither are they guaranteed to stick around as part of fans lives. Some people in the industry don’t want to adopt tech because they don’t understand it, and then they fall behind or miss opportunities. Then other people want to adopt everything because they don’t want to fall behind, even when it may not be relevant to their business strategies.
What are some of the top trends you see impacting the future of the fan’s in-game experience?
eSports are gaining a lot of momentum capturing the attention of established leagues and investors. This will change the perception of sports and what a sport actually is. No longer is a professional sport limited to live-action on the field. There are professional eSports players and colleges offering eSports scholarships.
Parents used to say, ‘stop playing video games, how will that help you?’ Now I can say to my kids, ‘Play video games, it might get you a college scholarship.’
The playing aspect is fun, people like to play eSports. However the spectator aspect will be interesting. Will fans make a connection and root for their favorite teams to win even in an eSports competition?
As technology continues to advance, teams will need fans who see the on-site experience as an entertainment experience. Teams and leagues need to keep up with other entertainment options. These shifted consumer expectations must shape the experience to entice average spectators without alienating the hardcore fan.
What are the most important concepts, related or unrelated to sports, you hope students take away from your courses?
Being social and socialized content are big parts of who we are as a society. We see the world and process information based on social identities. We are not necessarily as objective or rational as we think we are. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing if we aren’t aware of it. We need to understand that other people see things differently, and it’s ok.
Concept of positioning and differentiation:
Find out who you are and why you matter. It’s important for students to present themselves in a way that is special and genuine. Whether selling a product to a consumer or yourself to an employer, something has to be unique to stand out from the rest.
What makes a brand appealing? This is more about brand identity and what it is connected to than it is about product quality. Connecting to endorsers or causes will be a reflection of who the brand is on the inside. This can enhance the appeal, but it can also decrease the appeal. It depends on the product, the industry, and the audience.
If you had to decide, and you do because I’m asking you, which sport and team are you most passionate about? Why?
If I didn’t have to pick one sport, I would say Oregon athletics across the board. I like the passion and excitement within college sports.
But since I am choosing one sport, it would be the Green Bay Packers (NFL).
Coming to the U.S. the notion of teams switching cities was confusing and new. In Greece our sports makeup was such that we couldn’t imagine a team leave its city. It didn’t make sense.
The Green Bay Packers are owned by the city, so they can’t move. They have passionate fans and a unique scenario. This is as close to a college scenario I’ve seen in professional sports. Every fan, no matter their sports loyalty, should appreciate the emotional connection Green Bay has with its Packers.
What is your favorite quote?