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20 Minutes with Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark

Photo by Marc Bryan-Brown
Yormark: "When we think about programming, we think about what makes sense for Brooklyn. We don’t really think about the other guys in town. This market is big enough for us all to be successful.”
Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark sat for a quick-hitting, one-on-one interview at the ’13 Sports Marketing Symposium, where he touched on a range of topics including the impact of the Nets’ move to Brooklyn, what he has learned from Twitter, and whether advertising belongs on NBA jerseys.

When did you know the Brooklyn rebrand was going to be a success? “Our merchandise during the first three days of our launch was over $5M gross. That compares to what we did our last year in New Jersey, which was practically nothing.”

On the thought process behind the team’s black-and-white theme: “It was an evolution. Obviously we worked with Jay-Z on it and he was pretty much the author of the black and white. We work very closely with Adidas. We wanted a color palate that was global and something that would resonate with our borough. One of the things we did in our launch period was we didn’t really launch as a performance brand, we launched as a lifestyle brand. Not knowing what kind of team we were going to have in Brooklyn, it was important we gave people many reasons to like us.”

What’s changing at the Barclays Center in Year 2? “From a building perspective I think it’s a period of refinement versus change. We want to build on some of the things that truly defined us – our programming mix … our local taste platform, which is our food and beverage …. Lastly, we want to continue to differentiate customer service.”

On whether there’s more pressure to win this year: “Last year at this time they were asking, ‘Will we make the playoffs?’ and now they’re asking, ‘Can we win a championship?’ I like that kind of pressure. It raises the bar for our fans. We’re part of the conversation, which is truly an indicator that we’re relevant, and we weren’t relevant a couple years ago.”

On season-ticket sales: “This year we’re at about 13,000 right now. I’m not sure how much more we’re going to go. We’ve got to have product for the borough, for that individual buyer, for that group buyer. Our building capacity is 17,700, and rolling up to that number with a base of 13,000 is pretty easy at this point in time.”

What are your new corporate deals? “We’re going to announce shortly an expansion deal in the financial services category that we’ve been working on for a couple years, and we’ll also announce a great airline deal. But what we’re very proud of is really breaking into new fields. So last week we announced a CBS radio deal. As I’ve often told people, we’re in a content business now. How can we modify that and truly take it national? [With] our Brooklyn Hoops franchise, which is our college basketball platform, we had 34 games last year, many of which we controlled. We’re going to partner with FS1. We will be the first arena to truly launch a national college basketball platform that originates in-arena, and they will promote our brand no different than any other major brand that they work with, or major property.”

On whether he pays attention to competition within the market: “I don’t. We compete against ourselves. We think Brooklyn is a uniquely positioned market. We think of our program as an example. College basketball has an incredible history in Brooklyn … Boxing is another example to be a programming mix for us. We’re doing some special things there, too. When we think about programming, we think about what makes sense for Brooklyn. We don’t really think about the other guys in town. This market is big enough for us all to be successful.”

What Twitter has taught him: “For me, it’s a lot about fact finding. For example, there was a big debate: Should we change the Islanders when we move to Brooklyn? And I went to Twitter and fans responded. And I became a little sensitized to their position. Initially, it was all about, let’s turn them black and white and truly embrace the borough. Because the main thing about Brooklyn is, if you’re all in, so are they. And I thought that would be the case with the Islanders, but I’ve changed my position a little based on the feedback we received on Twitter.”

What was your best deal? “I think by far it was the Barclays Center. It truly enabled us to move to Brooklyn and in many respects it’s defined me and our organization.”

On marketing to the hockey fan: “I think the Islanders present a challenge in that we need to appeal to the hardcore fan, which is obviously coming from the suburban areas of Long Island, and that needs to sync up to that new fan in Brooklyn. And it presents some marketing challenges, but I think in the end we’ll be able to track both demographics and consume both segments. But it’s a little different, that’s for sure.

Will fans follow the Islanders to Brooklyn? “We’re tracking that right now. Every new season ticket holder has to check the box, ‘Do you intend to go to Brooklyn?’ and right now 70% of the new buyers say they want to go and this isn’t just a two-year buy. Our goal is to maintain 50% of that base and bring it to Brooklyn and then grow what we have in Brooklyn.”

On putting nicknames on NBA player jerseys: “I think it’s terrific. I’m a big a supporter of it. I think it’s a new way to connect with fans. Nicknames today are really how we reference many of the players, so seeing that come to life on the court and then leveraging it at retail I think is just another opportunity to get people to engaged with the brand.”

What about ads on NBA jerseys? “I’m for it. I think it’s an incredible opportunity to truly align a team with a brand.”

Can you sell on-court, apron advertising? “We’d like to. But we have rate card integrity and we’re looking for a big number, north of seven figures. Our goal is to sell it to an international or global brand.”

What did you learn working for the France family? “How to manage up and how to conduct yourself in a family run business. As big as NASCAR is … it’s still a family owned and run business. They expect you to understand that balance and I think it taught me a lot.”

How do you manage up better? “What my guys want me to do is keep them informed, and to some degree maybe I over-communicate, but it’s really selectively using it and tapping in to what matters most.”

What can you do better as a CEO? “Probably not micromanage so much. Let people fail and learn and the next time they’ll do it better.”

What will be the biggest difference when Adam Silver takes over for David Stern? “Adam is a little bit more warm and fuzzy than David is, and he returns my calls a little quicker. That being said, both of them are visionary, both of them have done a terrific job and I think each have their own unique management style.e

Will there be any tangible differences in the NBA when Silver steps in? “I don’t think so. The foundation for the league has been set. We know where we want to go from a global perspective to a domestic perspective, and I think Adam builds on all those platforms and reaches new heights. And there might be different approaches that he takes to get there than David, but I think we’re on a great path right now for growth and success in the long term. I’m not sure that anything needs to be reinvented. Maybe it needs to be redefined, and I think under his leadership we’ll see that.”

On the next big event: “We’re going for the next Mayweather fight. We want the Super Bowl of boxing to be brought to Brooklyn, so that’s what we’re working on right now.”

How will you activate around Super Bowl XLVIII? “We are going to kick off a campaign in the next couple of months, ‘Kickoff In Brooklyn,’ that we’ll draft behind the Super Bowl here in the marketplace. Thursday night we’ll do a huge boxing event, Friday night we’ve got the Nets and Oklahoma City, and on Saturday night we have a big concert.”

What sports business stories are you watching? “I’m interested to see what [Tim] Leiweke does up in Toronto. I’m interested to see if football ever gets to L.A., and I’m also interested to see about new venues in Golden State and Sacramento.”
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Related Topics:

Twitter, NBA, Adidas

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