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Volume 26 No. 139
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Outgoing NBA CMO Pam El Reflects On Tenure, Talks Future

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.