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

Scott O'Neil


By John Lombardo      
Staff writer

Scott O'Neil
Age: 35 (turns 36 on March 23)
Title: Senior vice president, marketing and team business operations
League: NBA
Education: B.S., marketing, Villanova University, 1992; MBA, Harvard Business School, 1998
Family: Wife, Lisa; daughters Alexa, 6, and Kira, 2
Career: Corporate marketing manager for the New Jersey Nets from 1992-1994; 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 from 1999-2001; joined the NBA in 2001 as vice president of business consulting; named to current position in 2004.
Last vacation: Snowmobiling in Utah
Last book read: "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable" by Patrick Lencioni
Last movie seen: "The Constant Gardener"
Pet peeve: Focusing on excuses, not results
Greatest disappointment: Going broke with HoopsTV
Fantasy job: A product tester for Spalding
Business advice: Work for a company you love, a boss you respect and people who you'd have over for dinner.

As NBA senior vice president of marketing and team business operations, Scott O'Neil helped the NBA last year set an all-time average attendance mark.

So what can O'Neil do for an encore?

"We're on track to break last year's record," O'Neil said.

The league's average game attendance is up about 2 percent from last year's record-setting mark of 17,314, and the league has reversed the downward trend of season-ticket sales.

O'Neil recognizes that it's the league's star power that ultimately sells tickets. Hardcourt stars aside, though, O'Neil and his department play a pivotal role in getting teams to boost their ticket and sponsorship revenue. It's his job to help teams in their sales efforts and get them to share vital sales secrets in an effort to develop "best practices" that in the end benefit all 30 teams.

"What is sustaining the [ticket-sales] momentum is that we have teams that are open and enjoy sharing information and they believe in the best practices," O'Neil said. "Our teams are competitive on the court, but off the court, they are striving to improve business overall. If there is an idea that works in Phoenix, three days later it can end up working for everyone else."

The strong ticket sales point to O'Neil's success at helping teams build their fan bases, but the recent exodus of executives working for him who have migrated to high-level team positions speaks loudly to the league's talent pool. Three members of O'Neil's staff have moved to team jobs in the past year — Paul Mott, who is now president of the Hornets; Lou DePaoli, chief marketing officer for the Hawks; and Tom Glick, chief marketing officer of the Nets.

"[O'Neil] brings his professionalism with the team experience and he has an absolute thirst for knowledge in the area," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "He has an extraordinary set of relationships with the teams, and they have absolute confidence in what he is telling them."

O'Neil and his department spent the past year concentrating on ticket and sponsorship sales. That focus has now shifted toward boosting luxury-suite and premium-seating revenues.

"We put a lot of work into early season-ticket renewal and more sophisticated database marketing, and it's contributed to the increase in full season-tickets sales," O'Neil said, declining to disclose the specific percentage of increase. "We've gotten much deeper into sponsorship development so teams can see where there is opportunity. We're doing the same things with premium seating, and I've taken on the CRM [customer relationship management] role to try to help build databases and market to those people."

Though O'Neil has been able to point to the attendance record as a sign of strength, he feels the pressure of continuing to deliver.

"The greatest issue in selling is how do we retain the season-ticket base and how do we keep growing," he said. "The world is changing so fast, how do we stay ahead with our business practices and how do we run our business at its optimum pace?"

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