SBJ/November 7-13, 2011/Franchises

76ers’ Aron new to sports, not customer service

Philadelphia 76ers Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron begins his new job with no previous basketball experience, but the travel and resort industry veteran knows a thing or two about customer service.

ADAM ARON


Age: 56

Professional:
World Leisure Partners, chairman and CEO (2006-11)

Apollo Global Management LLC, senior operating partner (2006-11)

Vail Resorts, chairman and CEO (1996-2006)

Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., president and CEO (1993-96)

United Airlines, senior vice president of marketing (1990-93)

Hyatt Hotels, senior vice president of marketing (1987-90)

Education:
B.A., cum laude, in government from Harvard College

MBA, with distinction, Harvard Business School

“I am an outgoing person who enjoys people and entertaining,” said the 56-year-old Aron, who has been involved in resort hospitality for years.

Look for Aron to push for a more open Sixers organization as he brings an extroverted and analytical style of management to the franchise. He’s wasting little time changing the team’s business approach.

After the Sixers’ new ownership group, which includes Aron, closed last month on its deal to buy the franchise from Comcast-Spectacor, the team immediately cut ticket prices on 9,000 tickets inside Wells Fargo Center, some by nearly 50 percent. The team also launched NewSixersOwner.com as a way for fans to give feedback directly to Sixers management.

Aron, a Philadelphia native, said last week he is close to finalizing an overhaul of the team’s game presentation in an effort to revive fan interest in the unprofitable Sixers franchise. The team also is planning to upgrade its practice facilities.

“Plain and simple, the Sixers don’t sell enough tickets. They do not have sufficient interest among sponsors, and there is a need to reconnect with the fans,” Aron said. “We understand how important it is to integrate the new ownership into the community.”

While Aron has no professional sports front-office background, he knows about customer hospitality. He was CEO of Vail Resorts from 1996 to 2006 and was CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. from 1993 to 1996.

As senior vice president of marketing for United Airlines from 1990 to 1993, he said he helped negotiate the company’s United Center naming-rights deal in Chicago. In 2006, Aron joined the investment firm Apollo Global Management, which is led by Joshua Harris, who leads the Sixers’ new ownership group.

Aron approached Harris in August about joining the franchise as CEO as the group waited for the team sale to gain NBA approval. The sale was officially announced on Oct. 18.

“Not to say that I have run the Celtics or the Lakers, but I bring a track record of success in running $2.5 billion businesses for the past decade and a half,” Aron said.

Last season, the Sixers averaged 14,567 fans per game at 20,328-seat Wells Fargo Center, the seventh-lowest attendance in the 30-team NBA.

Aron said he expects no major changes to the team’s executive front-office staff.

The Sixers’ new owners immediately cut prices on 9,000 tickets inside Wells Fargo Center.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
“In all our key positions, we are staying with incumbent personnel,” he said. “We might flatten out the reporting relationships, but we are going to take existing personnel and be a lot more successful.”

Aron is the second executive with no prior professional sports management experience recently named to run an NBA team. In October, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver hired former Dial chief executive Brad Casper to replace Rick Welts as Suns president.

“It did surprise me a bit [that Aron joined the Sixers], but he is an awful quick study,” said Frank Del Rio, chairman and chief executive officer of Prestige Cruise Holdings, where Aron is a board member. “Adam has been involved in many facets of the entertainment and hospitality industry, and that is what the NBA is. He doesn’t purport to have all the answers, but he is good at reaching consensus.”

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