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Volume 25 No. 177

People and Pop Culture

NBA Exec VP & CMO PAM EL is retiring at the end of '18 after spending four-and-a-half years with the NBA and 35 years in the marketing business. El, who was responsible for the marketing strategy, advertising and brand management and development for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League and NBA 2K League, spoke with Sports Business Journal on her tenure with the league.

Q: What prompted your decision to retire?
El: This was my dream job. It was what I wanted to do for a long time. I was a client of the NBA for many years. I knew when I came here that this was going to be my last full-time job and I had to get to a point where I thought the team was ready and where I could walk out feeling really good about what I have done. We have assembled a very good marketing team here ... and knowing I couldn’t do any better, I felt that it was absolutely the right time.

Q: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment?
El: I feel really good about a lot of things that MARK (TATUM) and ADAM (SILVER) have allowed me to spearhead over the last four-and-a-half years. The thing that I am most proud of is the assembling of the team. What am I leaving behind goes beyond the work and the campaigns and the excitement of what you are able to bring to the market. What I am leaving is an amazing team of experts around the world that will carry on the legacy of emotionally attracting fans to the NBA.

Q: What is left for your team to do?
El: There’s a ton of work to continue to do. In the marketplace, consumers have tons of choices and the job is to keep consumers engaged in your brand and keep them coming back for more. We have the fortune of having such a good brand at the NBA. Most people think there is not a lot work to keep that going, but there is. The job moving forward is to really keep the fans engaged. The game has never been better. The job of marketing is to keep the interest as high as it is and go even further.

Q: What were your biggest challenges at the NBA?
El: I never saw the job itself as a challenge, I saw it very much as an opportunity to do something I love to do and that is to solve marketing problems and help further the brand globally. What I enjoyed the most was that this is a global brand and learning how to talk about the brand in China versus Brazil and in Mexico was an opportunity, not a challenge.

Q: What is next evolution of marketing at NBA?
El: I believe that our opportunity is to do what we started -- which is how do you put this brand, the activity of the game, and keep it front of fans wherever they are and whenever they want to engage with you? We have such great reach right now, but that is what the team will continue to do.

Q: How has marketing changed at the NBA since you have been there?
El: The biggest change, and it is not unique to the NBA, is how you engage with consumers. It evolves every single day. TV is a big way that people still consume our game, but from a marketing standpoint, you have to reach fans where they are. They are on every social platform you can think of and they doing four or five things at the same time they are watching the game. You have to find different ways to remind them to tune it and watch and keep people engaged when the game is not on air. It is serving up highlights and storylines; all of that has evolved so rapidly so how you serve up those messages is the biggest thing that has changed over time.

Q: How effective have the campaigns been and will they be continuing?
El: The NBA campaign has been running for three-and-a-half years and we have data that says that it is effective. We know from internal research that the campaign has been fairly effective especially from an emotional standpoint. I do believe that the “This Is Why We Play” is a notion that from not only the league but from the players embodies the emotion of the game. Whether it continues is not for me to say. In the time it has been in the marketplace, it has been effective and certainly resonated around the word.

Q: What are your plans in the future?
El: My intention is to certainly stay very active. I am very interested in board work. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my 35 years in the business is to help integrate this business, bring more women and more muticulturals into marketing and advertising. I still want to do that. 

Golf industry veteran GREG MCLAUGHLIN has been named World Golf Foundation CEO and The First Tee President, a newly combined executive role. He also will oversee the World Golf HOF. McLaughlin, who currently serves as PGA Tour Champions President, will begin his new job Jan. 1, with the goal of expanding the reach and impact of the organizations. He replaces STEVE MONA at the World Golf Foundation; Mona will retire next year. The First Tee CEO KEITH DAWKINS left his position two months ago. JACK PETER, who has served as World Golf HOF President since '02, will retire at the end of this year. World Golf HOF VP/Business Affairs BRODIE WATERS will lead the HOF's structure, funding and operations with McLaughlin’s oversight, and will also oversee PR and communications for the World Golf Foundation (John Lombardo, THE DAILY). McLaughlin said the new roles give him the "platform to create awareness around the game." McLaughlin: "We have a duty to pay it forward for the next generation and continue to make those contributions." He added, "It's really carrying this message forward, creating a strategic direction" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 11/28). The AP's Doug Ferguson noted McLaughlin just "completed his fourth year running the PGA Tour Champions." Before joining the Tour, McLaughlin had "spent 14 years" as CEO of the Tiger Woods Foundation (AP, 11/28). 

PERFECT FIT: PGA Tour Commissioner and World Golf Foundation Chair JAY MONAHAN said that McLaughlin’s "experiences in sports, business and non-for-profit endeavors will help him further the WGF’s mission and build upon the vision of The First Tee as the restructured organizations work more closely together." GOLF DIGEST's Ryan Herrington noted MILLER BRADY, a 19-year veteran of the PGA Tour, will "take over McLaughlin’s responsibilities with the PGA Tour Champions." Most recently he "worked with McLaughlin" as the Senior VP/Chief of Operations for the Tour (GOLFDIGEST.com, 11/28).

Former MLBAM exec DINN MANN has joined the AAF on a non-exclusive basis as Head of Content. Mann, now working closely with AAF CEO CHARLIE EBERSOL, previously was at MLBAM from ’00 until late last year, most recently as Exec VP/Content. Mann also remains involved in several other undisclosed projects. His lawsuit in N.Y. state Supreme Court against MLB and the Disney-owned BAMTech for breach of contract is still ongoing.

"Going Off The Grid" is a weekly survey of sports execs and personalities offering their thoughts on a handful of pressing (and trivial) issues in sports and pop culture. This week, our panelists tell us just how sports-centric their Twitter timelines are and relive the glory days of college intramurals.

  • Hero World Challenge Tournament Dir Mike Antolini
    -- Enjoys Barstool's golf and hockey podcasts, and SiriusXM's Pearl Jam Radio.
  • Trail Blazers Senior VP/Revenue Steve Scott
    -- Can't get enough vinyl records.
  • Golf Channel analyst Paige Mackenzie
    -- The former LPGA pro is a sucker for airport bookstore novels.
  • Franklin Group CEO Steven Zuller
    -- Counts himself as a loyal WFAN listener.

The USTA named PATRICK GALBRAITH Board Chair & President. Galbraith succeeds KATRINA ADAMS, who "served an unprecedented two consecutive terms." Galbraith has served on the board "in various capacities" for 12 years, and will begin his two-year term Jan. 1 (AP, 11/27).

EXECS: Asics named Under Armour GM & Senior Dir of Sales SEAN MANNION VP/Sales. Mannion will lead and oversee all commerce functions for the brand in the U.S. Mannion also previously worked at Nike and Saucony (Asics)....Artificial intelligence-focused sports production tech company Pixellot has hired DAVID SHAPIRO as President of its U.S. youth division and Head of U.S. Sales. Shapiro previously was CEO of youth sports company Steel Sports. The Israel-based Pixellot earlier this year closed a $30M Series B funding round led by Shamrock Capital Advisors (Eric Fisher, THE DAILY)....The Mets named Red Sox Senior VP/Player Personnel ALLARD BAIRD VP & Assistant GM/Scouting & Player Development. Baird was previously the Royals' GM from June '00 to May 06. Baird "spent the past 12 years" with the Red Sox (AP, 11/28)....The Flyers fired Dir of Player Personnel & Assistant GM CHRIS PRYOR yesterday. Pryor had spent 20 years with the team and was the "right-hand man" for former GM RON HEXTALL (PHILLY.com, 11/28)....Dallas-based construction firm Beck Group CEO FRED PERPALL was nominated to join the USGA exec committee (BIZJOURNALS.com, 11/27)....Valparaiso named St. Bonaventure Associate AD/Compliance SARAH PRUESS Associate AD/Compliance & Senior Woman Admin (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/28)....Single-A Florida State League President KEN CARSON will retire after the '19 season (BIZJOURNALS.com, 11/28).

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Warriors President & COO RICK WELTS was profiled on HBO’s “Real Sports” last night, with HBO’s Soledad O’Brien saying Welts is a “master of marketing” and has “helped build the NBA as we know it.” O’Brien: “What truly puts Welts in a league of his own is that he is the only man to run an American sports franchise who is openly gay.” NBA Commissioner Emeritus DAVID STERN: "This is a hard business and I would say that Rick Welts, although it pains me to say it, probably understands it better than anyone, including me.” Warriors coach STEVE KERR said Welts is "one of the most prominent figures in the sports world to ever come out." Kerr: "That's a pretty big step and a pretty courageous act.” Welts: “I hope in some ways just the way I'm leading my life and what I represent to other people can be that person that I didn't have. That person that they can look at and say, ‘I could really relate to that,’ and, ‘Wow, that worked out pretty well for him'" (“Real Sports,” HBO, 11/28).

USA Water Polo now can be held responsible over serious head injuries after a new ruling
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

CHANGING TIDE: A federal appeals court yesterday said that USA Water Polo "can be sued for failing to protect an athlete from serious head injuries by letting her return to play after she has suffered a concussion." Sports organizations and managers of recreational areas "cannot be sued for injuries that are considered an inherent part of the sport, like a hard tackle in football or a hit batter in baseball." But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in S.F. yesterday said that injuries to a player who is "sent back to the pool after a concussion are not 'an inherent risk in water polo,' and the sponsoring agency, USA Water Polo, can be held responsible" (SFGATE.com, 11/28).

FOR A GOOD CAUSE: ESPN.com’s RACHEL NICHOLS yesterday discussed the net's Kicks To Beat Cancer initiative which benefits the V Foundation. Nichols:  We dug around in the closets of more than 25 current and former NBA superstars (and) asked them to donate one of their favorite pair of sneakers." The autographed sneakers will then go on eBay. ESPN’s NICK DEPAULA said the initiative began with “ESPN talent” of former NBAers and “once guys around the league got word of it, they all wanted to jump on-board as well.” DePaula said there are “tons of huge names that have been donating stuff and so far, some of these bids are really getting up there” (“The Jump,” ESPN, 11/28).

NAMES: Cowboys QB DAK PRESCOTT will "match EZEKIEL ELLIOTT's donation of $21,000 to the Salvation Army." Fans can also "buy a t-shirt of Prescott standing in The Salvation Army kettle" at AT&T Stadium, like he did following a touchdown on Thanksgiving. All proceeds will go to The Salvation Army (DALLASNEWS.com, 11/28)....The Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary raised about C$12.35M for "youth-based charities throughout the province," the "largest charitable gift in PGA Champions Tour history" (CALGARY SUN, 11/29)....MLB Network’s PETER GAMMONS will be “one of six honorees inducted” into the Cape Cod Baseball League HOF on Saturday morning in ceremonies at the Chatham Bars Inn (BOSTONGLOBE.com, 11/28)....Sportsnet’s JEFF BLAIR has been named the winner of the Canadian Baseball HOF’s ’18 Jack Graney Award. The award is given annually to a member of the media who has made significant contributions to baseball in Canada (Canadian Baseball HOF)....NASCAR Chair & CEO JIM FRANCE last night was named the recipient of the ’18 Myers Brothers Award (NEWS-JOURNALONLINE.com, 11/28).