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Incoming Professor Ryan Spalding Talks about a Major Career Change

April 23, 2015
A conversation about the similarities between aerospace and sport management.

Aerospace engineer Ryan Spalding developed his engineering skills at Purdue and Stanford. He received an award as the outstanding master’s degree student when he earned his M.S. in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford in 2005. For nearly three years he worked as a software engineer for Lockheed Martin in the Silicon Valley, concentrating on a Trident missile program. Ten years later, he’s an incoming Girard School faculty member for fall 2015.

So how did you end up teaching sport management?  

“It came down to finding something that I am passionate about and look forward to every morning when I wake up. Sport management – especially the sub-areas of statistics, finance, economics and analytics that I work in – combines my life-long love of math with my passion for sports. I also really value the intellectual stimulation of working with my colleagues on the latest areas of new research and disseminating my knowledge to an eager generation of students.”

What skills do aerospace and sport management share?

“The biggest transferable skills involve the sophisticated data analysis for mathematical models that I use in my research. Statistics, economics, and finance all share an underlying mathematical foundation that I honed through my aerospace schooling as well as working at Lockheed Martin, and so I am very competent and comfortable teaching this information in the classroom.”

To change careers, Spalding enrolled at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and received both his MBA and an M.S. in sport management in 2010 and his Ph.D. in sport management in 2014. He also received an outstanding doctoral student teaching award. His interests range from fan attendance at professional sporting events to poker tournaments.

What can we learn from your dissertation?

“My dissertation actually consists of several studies that look at the importance of competitive balance in driving fan interest and attendance at the major U.S. professional sport leagues. One study looks at the importance of the percentage of teams that qualify for the playoffs in a given league in generating fan interest. The results show that there is an important trade-off when increasing the number of teams that qualify for the playoffs between increasing the pool of teams that are fighting for a playoff spot (positive effect on attendance) and decreasing the value of the regular season (negative effect on attendance). The results suggest that the NBA and NHL have too many teams qualifying for the playoffs, and the NFL and MLB too few.”

What have you learned about the World Series of Poker?

“So far, my work on poker as a skill sport is showing that for no-limit Texas Hold’em tournaments, contingent on reaching the final table, there is very little skill involved in determining the winner.  And, the size of one’s chip stack at the beginning of final table play is the most important factor in determining the final results. However, this study does not investigate what it takes to accumulate a large stack and actually make it to the final table, which likely involves some combination of luck as well as skill.”

What appeals to you about Merrimack?

“First and foremost is its commitment to students and their education. The most rewarding part of the job to me is my time spent in the classroom and in my office interacting with students. I take a strong interest in the success of my students not only on an academic level, but also on a personal level, and I believe that Merrimack shares this philosophy.”

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  • Incoming Professor Ryan Spalding pauses for a photo at the Grand Canyon during a road trip last summer.
    Incoming Professor Ryan Spalding pauses for a photo at the Grand Canyon during a road trip last summer.

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