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SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40
Published February 28, 2005
SCOTT O'NEIL, NBA
BY JOHN LOMBARDO
It’s Scott O’Neil’s job to make it as easy as possible for NBA teams to steal from each another.
|• Age: 34|
|• Title: Senior vice president, marketing and team business operations|
|• League: NBA|
|• Education: B.S., marketing, Villanova University, 1992; MBA, Harvard School of Business, 1998|
|• Family: Wife, Lisa; daughters Alexa, 5, and Kira, 18 months|
|• Career: Corporate marketing manager with the New Jersey Nets from 1992 to 1994; joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994 as director of corporate sales; rejoined the Eagles after business school as vice president of sales in May 1998; president of HoopsTV 1999-2001; joined the NBA in 2001 as vice president of business consulting; named to current position in March 2004|
|• Last vacation: Phoenix|
|• Last book read: "Leadership and Self Deception" by The Arbinger Institute|
|• Last movie seen: "Million Dollar Baby"|
|• Fantasy job: Backup point guard for the Nets|
|• Business advice: There is nothing more important than the quality of the people around you. Work for the best, hire talent and create an environment that allows people to do what they do best every day.|
“Selling tickets is hand-to-hand combat,” O’Neil said. “The more we can interact and leverage information at the league level and help teams, the more effective we will be.”
The team business operations department was created in 2000 under the leadership of Bernie Mullin, who left the league offices last spring to run the Atlanta Hawks. O’Neil, who was working under Mullin as a vice president, was promoted to take his former boss’s job.
Since then, O’Neil has been putting his own stamp on the division, which when first created, ran into some resistance from teams not convinced that sharing would be worthwhile. That suspicion has diminished, thanks largely to seeing some early returns. Teams now are leaning on the department, affectionately referred to as the “best practices” division, more than ever.
“Bernie set the foundation, and we are growing it a bit,” O’Neil said. “One of the biggest things was a push to integrate the information and be more of a resource to teams.”
Under O’Neil, the NBA has refined its own business intranet site that lets league executives log on and copy various marketing plans, promotional efforts and other business strategies. His group also is developing a new database that will include extensive sponsorship data for all teams so they can share values, categories and activation efforts of every local sponsor in every NBA team market.
O’Neil’s current focus is to study season-ticket retention patterns for each franchise so teams can swap strategies for that business, too.
O’Neil’s staff includes 30 employees, with six executives assigned directly to NBA teams to help with marketing efforts.
In a business environment that finds the NBA continually battling for the entertainment dollar, the slightest increase in average annual attendance is seen as a victory. Last year, attendance climbed 1 percent to an average of 17,050 fans per game, up from 16,883 during the 2002-03 season. Teams played to a collective 89 percent of capacity in their arenas, the fourth-highest mark in league history, according to league officials.
There’s no doubt the rookie seasons of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony helped fuel that growth, but O’Neil and his staff take some credit as well. This season, leaguewide average attendance through Feb. 14 was 17,006, up 1.6 percent through the same date last season.
“Scott has the hardest job in the NBA,” said Adam Silver, president of NBA Entertainment, which oversees the team business operations department. “He’s supporting nearly 25 million ticket sales between the NBA and the WNBA and he’s continuing to grow the business in a mature business with enormous competition.”