SBJ/Sept. 9-15, 2013/Game Changers

Game Changers: Ailey Penningroth

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Photo: ATLANTA HAWKS
Penningroth’s grassroots marketing approach involves “finding champions of the Hawks out in the community to tell our story for us.”
Team Leaders
Ailey Penningroth
Atlanta Hawks / Philips Arena | Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer

A
s senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena, it’s Ailey Penningroth’s job to spotlight the team’s brand in Atlanta’s cluttered sports market. She has gone about that work in a way that has distinguished her, using nontraditional marketing efforts such as a word-of-mouth strategy to move the Hawks’ brand deeper into the community.
 
“It is very much consumer-to-consumer instead of business-to-consumer,” said Penningroth, a Harvard University graduate, of her grassroots approach. “The idea is to find champions of the Hawks out in the community to tell our story for us.”

Penningroth, a former NBA league office executive who came to the Hawks in 2004, played a key role in helping the Hawks market their bold plan that waives ticket fees for fans who buy tickets online. What started as a thank-you to fans after the 2011 lockout has become an integral part of the team’s marketing strategy. She also was the project manager for the team’s Red program, the Hawks’ sit-down, a la carte dining option offered to nonpremium ticket holders. The program included the design of a $2.6 million space inside the arena.

“We have turned our focus on making sure our fans know that we are Atlanta’s team,” she said.     

— John Lombardo


  • Crowning professional achievement: Taking my mother, who raised me on NBA basketball, to her first Atlanta Hawks game, and my father, who’s a scientist, to his first (yes, first) Monster Truck Jam, both at Philips Arena.
  • Person who had the biggest influence on your career in sports: [WNBA senior executive] Paula Hanson. She had the experience, wisdom and confidence to teach and then provide me with truly incredible educational opportunities and responsibilities.
  • Woman in sports business you’d most like to meet: Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO, New York Road Runners. I lived in New York City working for the league office after graduation. I was always fascinated by the mingling of long-distance track with towering skyscrapers.
  • Best advice you’ve received: The trick is not to rid your stomach of butterflies but to make them fly in formation.
  • The biggest challenge I face working in the sports business is …: That I can’t attend a sporting event without switching full speed into hyper-analysis of everything other than the game.

“Ailey is a smart, solution-oriented executive with a tireless work ethic. From her early days working at the league office, we all knew that she possessed that special blend of intelligence and tenacity that would greatly benefit any organization. Fortunately, the Atlanta Hawks and the NBA have been the beneficiaries of her extraordinary talents.”

— Adam Silver | Deputy commissioner | NBA

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