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

Michael Yormark

MICHAEL YORMARK
SUNRISE SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT

By Andy Bernstein      
Staff writer

Michael Yormark
Age: 39
Title: Chief operating officer
Company: Sunrise Sports and Entertainment
Education: B.S., University of Maryland, 1988; master's degree, sports administration, Ohio University, 1990
Family: Wife, Dana; baby girl Sophia
Career: Started as an account executive for the New York Yankees in 1991; was director of sports sales at Katz Communications from 1993-1995; vice president of sales at Wayne Huizenga's Front Row Communications from 1995-1998; became vice president of integrated sales and broadcasting for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 1998; joined the Tampa Bay Lightning as executive vice president and chief marketing officer in late 1999; left in September 2003 to be COO of the Florida Panthers franchise.
Last vacation: Christmas in Aruba
Last book read: "Winning" by Jack Welch
Last movie seen: "Far from Heaven"
Greatest achievements: Bringing financial stability to the Florida Panthers; and the birth of our baby girl
Fantasy job: General manager of a five-star hotel on Aruba
Business advice: The true keys to success are hard work, passion and a daily commitment to excellence.

Every morning when Florida Panthers employees come to work, they're greeted by an e-mail from the club's chief operating officer, laying out some new initiatives or accolade. The time signature says as much as the body — they're usually sent before 4:30 a.m.

With this daily act, Michael Yormark sets the tone for the Panthers and their newly dubbed parent company, Sunrise Sports and Entertainment. It's a fitting name, as many employees arrive to work before 6 a.m.

"Whenever you turn around a company you've got to change the culture, change the attitude," said Yormark, who shares a distinct style of high-energy salesmanship with his twin brother Brett, president of the New Jersey Nets and also a Forty Under 40 honoree. "The primary reason we've turned the corner here has to do with the atmosphere we've created."

When Yormark joined the Panthers in September 2003, it was a moribund organization, hemorrhaging money, struggling on the ice and facing an uncertain future.

What Yormark did was try to shift the emphasis of the company from marketing the team to marketing its home arena, then called the Office Depot Center, and becoming more sales than operations focused.

The mantra he handed down was "Dream big and dare to fail."

The result has been that sponsorship revenue has nearly doubled, to around $15 million, helped by a new 10-year, $30 million arena naming-rights deal with BankAtlantic.

It's very much the same story Yormark helped weave across the state in Tampa, where he was executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 1999 to 2003, growing sponsorship revenue from $4 million to $16 million during that time.

"I don't know if I know a better, you hate to use the word 'salesman,' but overall sports marketer in the business," said Scott Carmichael, the former vice president of club marketing at the NHL and now executive vice president, marketing development, at ANC Sports Enterprises. "Much of that is driven by his work ethic."

The Yormark approach — you'll find Brett doing similar things in New Jersey — is to constantly create new inventory and then sell, sell, sell. For Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, that included "Live on Stage," a free entertainment magazine distributed throughout South Florida, and "Unrestricted," a sports lifestyle magazine with features on various South Florida athletes. Yormark said both will earn a $750,000 profit this year.

Then there's the 3,000-seat configuration of the arena dubbed the "Sinatra Stage," hosting about 30 events per year and also operating in the black.

Challenges still exist for the Panthers in terms of getting hockey fans into the arena, but Yormark has spearheaded a slew of ticket sales initiatives, enlisting players to have pancake breakfasts with season-ticket prospects and sign autographs for kids after every home game in January. Players, like the rest of the club's employees, have reacted to his infectious ambition.

"Our players ask me every day, 'How's the crowd going to be tonight?'" Yormark said. "I know that's something that resonates with them. They also know they can impact what my answer is going to be."

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