Professor Profile: Dan Bruton

Equipped with years of firsthand experience, Marketing Professor Dan Bruton brings his vast industry knowledge to students of the Sports MBA program. As former Vice President of Marketing at Upper Deck, he has worked with iconic athletes such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and Kobe Bryant. In addition to teaching, Bruton currently serves as President at SportRx, a San Diego-based company that takes pride in creating the best prescription eyewear for the specific needs of athletes in a range of sports.

Given his comprehensive background in sports business, Professor Bruton’s opinions and expertise are sought out by media outlets such as ESPN.com and digital financial media company, TheStreet.com. (Click here for Bruton’s thoughts on the business implications of the MLB Biogenesis scandal, the A-Rod PED case settlement, and the Aaron Hernandez murder trial.)

Amidst teaching and SportRx, Professor Bruton took the time to share some of his experiences working with professional athletes and being the president of a rapidly growing company before providing a preview of his upcoming book, Sports Marketing, the View of the Industry Experts. 

Dan Bruton blog photo
      Bruton in the SportRx showroom                     Photo credit: Alexandra Green

Stephanie Kimberling: You have been in the sports industry for quite some time. In your experience, what are some qualities that you have seen as imperative for being successful in this industry?

Dan Bruton: Competitive in nature. Especially having an athletic background. Playing competitively translates into business and sales really well, and the sports industry in general.

SK: How has the industry changed since you began working in sports?

DB: Technological advances have changed the way we do things. We opened our first web site in the late ’90s and it was very basic. We still had pagers and beepers – we’re talking 1995. Before, the internet used to be all about email; now social media plays a huge role. Today, having an online presence is a huge part of what we do.

SK: When you introduced yourself at the beginning of class, you said you were not so much a professor, but rather, “a business person who teaches.” What would you say is the greatest difference between academia and the sports industry?

DB: I think the main difference is I’m doing it every day. I am not prepping out of a book or preparing PowerPoint slides. I talk about what I am doing on a daily basis versus a case study out of a book. I mean, that works too, however I feel that talking about what is happening on an ongoing basis is so much more relevant. My goal is that it is more relevant to the student.

SK: You have a new Sports Marketing book, Sports Marketing, the View of the Industry Experts, which drops next year. What inspired you to write a book and what was the author experience like?  

DB: What inspired me was the books that were out there were not really relevant to what was out there in sports. They were retro-fitted like, “insert sport here.” There is so much happening in sports and so much relevant material out there. What I did was I picked the top niches of the industries and featured the top person in that niche. So each section starts with a bio and a Q&A session. That way, a student can get a feel for the day-to-day of that position, and then in the chapter, read about how things are done in that position. The book features leagues, properties, and players’ unions…things that are not found in other books in order to give students a real-world perspective.  

As for the author experience, it was interesting because there was no training. It was more like, “that sounds like a good idea – ok now just go do it.” It took a few chapters to really get into the rhythm of things. At the beginning I was not really sure where to start.  But once I figured it out, it was fun. I enjoy what I do so it was fun. It was also a learning experience. Trying to explain sports marketing through writing required me to break things down into a step-by-step process. Now when I am doing things in my job, I stop and think about those details and make sure I’m doing them. So it made me better.

SK: You worked with a plethora of celebrity athletes during your time at Upper Deck. Who would you say is the most interesting personality you have encountered?

DB: I think the most interesting was Dennis Rodman. On TV he is probably one of the most flamboyant people you’ll ever see and when he’s in the limelight he knows how to market himself. But when I met him in person, he was one of the shyest people you could ever meet.

SK: You took over as President of SportRx last fall. What has the past year been like for you and what do you look forward to in the next coming year for SportRx?

DB: The last year has been fun. It’s fun to be in a business that is growing rapidly because things are happening so fast. In a small company, you can make decisions quickly and try out new ideas whereas in a large company, you have to go through all sorts of layers before things can happen. Trying new things and seeing what is effective – that’s the most fun part of the job.  And so far it’s worked. We are growing at a significant rate. The goal within the next couple years is to grow into a midsize business and who then go from there. It’s really exciting.

SK: Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for our blog. Do you have any concluding words of wisdom you would like to leave with your SMBA students?

DB: The biggest thing they should be thinking about is building their network. 98 percent of the jobs are going to be found through networking. That is what students should be doing in this program. Get in front of as many people as you can.