SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40

Brett Yormark


By John Lombardo      
Staff writer

Brett Yormark
Age: 39
Titles: President and CEO
Organization: Nets Sports & Entertainment
Education: B.S., Indiana University, 1988
Family: Wife, Amy; daughter, Madison, 4; son Drake, 19 months.
Career: Spent two years with the Detroit Pistons, then worked two stints for the New Jersey Nets, first as marketing vice president in 1994, then as senior vice president of marketing; left in 1998 to become vice president of corporate marketing for NASCAR; rejoined the Nets as CEO in 2005.
Last vacation: Aruba
Last book read: "Balls! 6 Rules For Winning Today's Business Game" by Alexi Venneri
Last movie seen: "Hoodwinked" with my daughter
Pet peeve: I'm a neat freak
Greatest achievement: Rebuilding the Nets franchise and sharing a Forty Under 40 award with my brother
Greatest disappointment: Not being here when the Nets went to the NBA championship
Fantasy job: Selling time-shares in Aruba
Executive most admired: Jim Donald, president and CEO of Starbucks
Business advice: Chase your dreams.

It's taken Brett Yormark about a year to transform the New Jersey Nets from one of the worst-run NBA teams into one of the most aggressively marketed franchises in the league.

That's yet another direct reflection on the hard-charging Yormark, a three-time Forty Under 40 winner and, thus, a Hall of Fame inductee this year.

But Yormark, CEO of Nets Sports & Entertainment, knows that the bigger challenge isn't continuing to sustain the Nets' business under new owner Bruce Ratner. Instead, it's trying to still extend the Nets' reach in New Jersey while at the same time planning a move to Brooklyn in 2009.

It's a fine line to walk, even for the accomplished Yormark, who before joining the Nets last year spent eight years helping expand NASCAR into the powerhouse property that it has become.

"The Nets were a franchise that had conceded itself to other teams in tickets sales and sponsorships, and we have to build on what we have accomplished this year," Yormark said. "There was a lot of low-hanging fruit out there last year, and now we have much higher expectations to move forward."

Yormark and his season of cherry picking has brought a 20 percent increase in Nets ticket revenue and a 100 percent boost to the team's sponsorship sales, though Yormark won't disclose specific figures.

But just as notable as the crush of new business is Yormark's bold strategy.

He has opened a sales office in Manhattan, once seen strictly as New York Knicks territory. His "all-access" campaign has increased the Nets' profile in the community. He has overhauled the in-game presentation at Continental Airlines Arena, and he's added pricey bunker suites to help drive revenue. And while he's busy marketing to the team's core fans in New Jersey, Yormark also is trying to build a fan base in Brooklyn with the "If You Love Us In Jersey, You'll Love Us in Brooklyn" campaign in preparation for the team's planned move across the Hudson River.

"It's imperative that we set the table now in Brooklyn," Yormark said. "The goal is to market [in New Jersey] and to reach out to fans in [Brooklyn] to sample us. It's a delicate balance, but we are getting more people across the river."

Selling the NBA is old hat for the 39-year-old Yormark. He spent two years with the Detroit Pistons and had two previous stints working for the Nets under previous ownership. Yormark left the Nets as vice president of corporate sales to join NASCAR in 1998, where he opened a New York office and helped negotiate NASCAR's 10-year, $750 million deal with Nextel, which replaced Winston as NASCAR's primary sponsor. He returned to the Nets in January 2005.

"I have worked with Brett Yormark for a long time in his various capacities, from sales executive up to CEO. There's no question in my mind that Brett has the leadership skills to take the Nets to new heights."

Jim Donald, president, Starbucks

"Brett has created a number of rather unique grassroots initiatives, and they've certainly had an impact. And, of course, he is simultaneously creating value for the Nets' business partners. The game experience is also significantly improved. As a Nets season-ticket holder, I can see a dramatic difference."

Mike Kowalski, president of Tiffany, sponsor of the Nets' Ticket Influencer Program

"I love dealing with a creative marketer that has a lot of passion about their business because I know that he will inculcate everything the organization does to bring value to my company through our business deal. And Brett definitely has that passion."

Mike Lister, president, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, a Nets sponsor

"I am committed to pushing the envelope," Yormark said. "There is a new breed in the league that grew up on the marketing side of the business as opposed to the financial side. Look at owners like Mark Cuban and others. They know how to build brands."

When Ratner bought the Nets last year, his first major move was to bring Yormark back to New Jersey to resuscitate the team.

"Brett's impact on changing the perception of the franchise has been remarkable," Ratner said. "His ingenious marketing initiatives have created a buzz about the team, and his leadership and strategies are turning around the business side of the franchise. No one works harder than Brett."

Though the NBA and NASCAR are very different properties, Yormark sees similarities.

"When I left the NBA [in 1998], the league was riding high," he said. "When I returned, how the sport was perceived was very different. From my perspective, what I have inherited is to some degree what NASCAR was facing in the late 1990s. What was different in NASCAR was that we were making it as accessible as possible, and that is one of the things I want to do here."

While the league has taken notice of the team's business improvements in New Jersey, it's the Brooklyn side of Yormark's efforts that are earning high marks.

"He is first and foremost selling and marketing the Nets in Brooklyn," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "And he is doing it in a way where they don't hide. You tell people that, yes, we are going to Brooklyn and this is how we are going to do it."

The Nets aren't set to move to Brooklyn for at least three years, but Yormark is already consumed by the sizable task of building the proposed $430 million arena while also successfully rebranding the franchise.

"We've got the Brooklyn arena and I also need to sell [tickets and sponsorships in New Jersey]," Yormark said. "The biggest challenge for me is to play effectively in all areas of the sandbox. I have to make sure I'm ready for opening night of the 2009-10 season, and everything I'm doing now builds for that night."

Back to 2006 Forty Under 40 list.

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