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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision last week to hire Mark Tatum as deputy commissioner gives an early glimpse into the league’s new order under Silver.Ultimately, executives both inside and outside the league last week pointed to what they see as Tatum’s combined skill in selling the NBA along with his ability to forge strong business relationships as being what has vaulted him to the league’s No. 2 post.
Tatum, the highly respected and well-liked veteran NBA executive, comes to his new job from running the league’s global sponsorship business. He is seen by insiders as a consummate salesman — or, as one team executive put it, a “relationship broker.” Others note a smooth style when talking about Tatum. They reference innovation, and his ability to lead a brand’s growth with a collaborative approach.
“Mark is fantastic at revenue generation and he is extremely service-oriented,” said Sacramento Kings President Chris Granger, who as former chief of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations division worked with Tatum at the league office from 1999 through 2013. “Adam is very revenue-minded and team-centric. It is a great indication of how he will approach the business going forward.”
The NBA’s move toward an international growth strategy also dovetails with Tatum’s ascension; he has worked as NBA executive vice president of global marketing partnerships since 2009. He joined the NBA in 1999.
“The league is going to be working on a number of new business initiatives globally, and he is the perfect guy to move in that direction from a business standpoint,” said Fred Whitfield, president and COO of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Other league insiders said Tatum’s appointment to deputy commissioner will help balance Silver’s duties as commissioner.
“It gives Adam an opportunity to focus on the basketball side of things, which he needs to do, but it also gives him the opportunity to focus on the long-term strategy of the league,” said Alex Martins, Orlando Magic CEO.
Outside marketing experts pointed to Tatum’s reputation as an engaging and likable executive who has been at the forefront of every major league sponsorship since 2009.
“Mark is a leader of integrity and honesty,” said Sharon Byers, senior vice president of sports and entertainment marketing partnerships at NBA sponsor Coca-Cola. “His leadership in the NBA has driven true innovation, and he has transcended this to his NBA partners.”
Randy Bernstein, president and CEO of Premier Partnerships, said Tatum’s smooth negotiating style will help drive the league’s business. “He treats people the way he expects to be treated, and when you do that, combined with amazing competence, success has been earned by him, not given,” Bernstein said.
Tatum was unavailable for comment last week. The league announced on Thursday that NBA owners had unanimously approved his selection as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer.
As for filling Tatum’s executive vice president role, sources said Emilio Collins, who has been senior vice president of global marketing partnerships, has been announced internally as the new head of the league’s global marketing partnership division, but that a new title for Collins had not been set.
While Tatum is known for his selling prowess, he also as deputy commissioner will become involved in myriad other league deals — perhaps none bigger than the upcoming TV negotiations. The NBA is looking for a deal to follow its current eight-year, $7.5 billion deal with ESPN and Turner.
“There is a learning curve whenever you take a step up, but the good news is that Mark is walking into a job with a boss that is extremely strong,” said Scott O’Neil, former NBA league executive who is now CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils. “Mark works really well with Adam, and they have a complementary style.”
Those close to Tatum see no chance of him changing his style in his new job.
“People talk about never forgetting where you came from,” said Peter Farnsworth, a former NBA executive who worked with Tatum, who has New York ties. “There’s no chance of that with Mark. Brooklyn Tech and Flatbush Avenue are as much a part of him as Harvard Business School and the NBA.”
Staff writer Terry Lefton contributed to this report.
Mark Tatum in 2008 was selected to the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Forty Under 40 Hall of Fame after his third consecutive selection for the annual recognition. Following are comments from him, and from others about him, that were made on the occasion of those selections.
“Things today are changing so quickly that if you don’t innovate and create an environment where our account team comes up with new ideas, then you are left behind.” (Tatum, in 2008)
“The challenge is to deliver value and results to our partners. The big trend now is in digital media, and we are developing more digital marketing programs that are relevant.” (Tatum, in 2008)
“The international pace is picking up and the challenge in this business continues to be developing value for our partners and what they are trying to accomplish. You’ve got to be on the same page with them while continuing to utilize the NBA’s assets.” (Tatum, in 2007)
“We don’t call them sponsors, we call them marketing partners, and that’s our philosophy. We have some of the best brands in the world, and we make sure we are talking to them and meeting their objectives.” (Tatum, in 2006)
“What is changing is that the business has gotten so much more sophisticated and decisions are no longer made on feel and relationships. There is more analysis, and companies want tangible results that resonate. So the challenge for us is that we have to continue to show real return on the investments.” (Tatum, in 2006)
“The focus is, know who our fans are and how can we help companies reach those fans.” (Tatum, in 2006)
■ Fantasy job: Owner of a professional sports team
■ Executive most admired: David Stern
■ Business advice: Always over-deliver against the expectations that are set for you.
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“Mark has grown into a true marketing most valuable player. He has outstanding relationship skills, which makes him a pleasure to deal with. We at the NBA love his easy style, as do our partners.” (Adam Silver, in 2008)
“He enjoys the confidence of our marketers on a global scale. His relationship skills are outstanding and his knowledge about our business and the way our partners can advance their goals is at the highest possible level. It has been a pleasure to watch Mark develop into a complete marketer.” (David Stern, in 2007)