Names in the Game
The NBA’s top power players are well-known. NBA Commissioner David Stern, National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver are among those firmly entrenched as industry leaders. But the NBA also teems with talent below the top rung of its leadership.
From team and league executives, to media and business partners, these dynamic and innovative executives are making some of the biggest deals and creating new strategies as they make their mark on the industry. In the pages that follow, we’ll introduce you to some of the people you should get to know.
— Compiled by John Lombardo, John Ourand, Terry Lefton and Don Muret
Senior VP, chief revenue officer
Sims came to the Cavaliers in May from the NBA and he’s wasted little time in bringing a leaguewide perspective to the franchise, which has battled plummeting attendance in the post-LeBron James era.
The chief revenue officer is a new job at the Cavs, marking a shift in front-office strategy as the team puts the entire sales and marketing operation under Sims’ watch.
One of Sims’ first moves was to create a digital sales department designed to drive social and digital revenue. It’s a structure that the rest of the NBA will watch as teams work to leverage their digital business opportunities.
Sims doesn’t focus solely on the Cavs. He also leads the sales efforts for the Dan Gilbert-owned D-League Canton Charge, the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters and the AFL’s Cleveland Gladiators.
VP, corporate marketing
Certainly the NBA was happy last summer when Sprint signed one of its largest corporate sponsorship deals in the midst of a lockout that eventually lopped 16 games off the season. However, even with a shortened season, Gaffney ended the year feeling good about Sprint’s first year as the NBA’s official wireless partner.
“Despite starting in the headwind of a shortened season, I would call our first season a success,” Gaffney said.
Sprint had been seeking a large sports property since losing NFL rights to Verizon in 2010. The NBA and Sprint’s NBA Game Time app have helped attract new customers and, just as importantly, reduce churn in a saturated and competitive category. Still, Gaffney said this year “is really our coming-out party.”
Look for more retail activation, additional club deals, and a new emphasis on social media as part of Sprint’s NBA playbook.
“The NBA and its players have a huge social media following,” Gaffney said. “We should be able to capitalize on that, because our category lends itself nicely to the mobility that’s at the heart of social media. We see an opportunity to engage with the fan base there and drive our business.”
Senior VP, deputy general counsel
Rube plays a critical behind-the-scenes legal role at the NBA, where his collective-bargaining and negotiation skills were tested and ultimately proved during last year’s lockout.
Rube has worked for the NBA since 1995. Along with his labor relations work, which includes management of the league’s salary cap, Rube was deeply involved in crafting the league’s new revenue-sharing system. Creating that system was one of the most contentious issues for the league, and Rube this year has oversight of the plan, which is designed to narrow the gulf between large- and small-market NBA teams.
If that weren’t challenging enough, Rube is also responsible for navigating legal issues related to the NBA’s deal with FIBA. It’s an area that may see big changes as the league ponders an age limit for NBA players participating in the Olympics as well as creating a World Cup-type tournament format.
Senior VP, team marketing and business operations
Loehrke is one of the most analytically astute members of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department. Since joining the NBA in 2007, he has earned high marks by managing the league’s immensely valuable and sophisticated customer relationship management system, which uses a vast amount of data to help teams sell tickets. The data has been put to great use as the NBA begins its 2012-13 season with a record season-ticket renewal rate around 88 percent.
But Loehrke is more than a number cruncher. As the most tenured account manager in the department, he is known as a creative executive who can deftly manage the relationships between teams and league marketers.
This year, Loehrke played a key role in creating new sponsorship revenue streams for teams as they rolled out digital courtside advertising systems and new LED stanchion signs. He is also deeply involved in the league’s potentially lucrative proposal to sell game jersey sponsorships.
Senior VP, general manager
Madison Square Garden
Diaz has played a key role in developing two NBA arenas in New York: the transformed Madison Square Garden and the newly constructed Barclays Center.
Diaz is in charge of daily operations at MSG, which is entering the home stretch of a three-year renovation topping out at just short of $1 billion. The project’s third and final phase will be completed in the fall of 2013.
MSG hired Diaz in the spring of 2011 from across town in Brooklyn. For five years, Diaz was the Nets’ official in charge of developing their facility, New York’s first new arena built in 40 years. Before he came to the Nets, Diaz was general manager of AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, home of the Heat.
VP, coordinating producer
Fox Sports Net
Fox Sports Net holds the local rights to 14 NBA teams, meaning that it produces more than 1,000 NBA telecasts each season. It’s up to Hamilton to make sure that the productions carry a similar look and feel whether they are in Los Angeles (Clippers) or Miami (Heat).
Hamilton gained fame in the late 1970s as a basketball player for UCLA — he was one of legendary coach John Wooden’s last recruits. Now, he has made his name behind the camera, providing quality control to make sure that FSN’s interests and the NBA’s interests are aligned in terms of TV productions.
Manager of marketing communications
Times Square on New Year’s Eve isn’t as noisy as the contentious insurance category, in which marketing spending by the top 10 brands has exploded from $1.7 billion in 2005 to a forecast $3 billion-plus this year.
How do you fight all that noise? Three years ago, State Farm became an NBA corporate sponsor, a move that Fischer said has helped the insurer achieve relevance and distinction.
“The NBA has allowed us to expand our brand and make it more contemporary,” he said. “We were looking to attract a demographic that was younger and more multicultural. And as the game continues to grow, there is mass appeal that fits well for a brand of our size.”
Fischer and State Farm are espousing the mantra of so many contemporary marketers: In an age of fragmented media consumption, multiple consumer touch points are a necessity, not a luxury.
Accordingly, State Farm now has 23 team sponsorships, adding Minnesota and Utah in the offseason, and continues with significant TV buys.
“You have to be connected in multiple ways,” Fischer said. “It is crucial to bring it to life across all channels.”
Senior director, programming and acquisitions
ESPN’s day-to-day contact with the league, White was instrumental in cutting the eight-year media rights deal that was signed in 2007. That deal gave ESPN more postseason exclusivity and digital rights than it had before.
White joined ESPN in 1993 as a graphics operator. He’s been in his current role since 2008, where he also manages ESPN’s relationships with poker, Olympic sports, professional lacrosse, billiards and cycling.
Executive VP, marketing
The NBA in the past few years has cycled through several senior-level marketing executive positions. None of the executives, however, came to the job with the professional pedigree of Gallo, who in June was hired to lead the league’s marketing efforts.
At the time of Gallo’s hire, NBA Commissioner David Stern said the league needed someone who had run “something big.” Gallo certainly fits the bill.
The former president of TBWA/Chiat/Day’s New York office is taking an increasingly global view of the league’s marketing strategy. Social media and digital marketing are Gallo’s chief focus as he seeks to create a consistent branding effort across all of the league’s assets.
So far, Gallo is sticking with the NBA’s agency of record in Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and its “Big” leaguewide campaign, but it bears watching how Gallo puts his own stamp on the league’s brand.
Golden State Warriors
No NBA team is in the midst of as much change as the Warriors, with their overhauled front office and an ambitious plan to move from Oakland to downtown San Francisco. As the front office ramps up its arena development efforts, it begins the season with some new faces, including the addition of Bowers, who was hired in July.
CMO is a new position within the Warriors’ front office and Bowers is banking on his past success as senior vice president of corporate partnerships and marketing for the Orlando Magic to drive the Warriors’ business.
Though the central Florida market is far smaller than the Bay Area, Bowers is used to big deals. He helped secure all of the Magic’s founding partnerships and helped negotiate the naming-rights deal at the Amway Center in Orlando.
The challenge for Bowers is to help centralize the team’s previously fragmented marketing, corporate sponsorship, ticketing and digital media duties in a large market.
VP, executive producer of production
Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley have won Emmy awards for their roles in the popular studio show “Inside the NBA.” But the behind-the-scenes executive most responsible for the show’s popularity could be Kiely, who has produced the show since 1995. He has advanced to a role inside Turner Sports that has him overseeing all studio and remote productions, as well as overseeing the production staff.
Kiely has been with Turner Sports for 17 years. During that time, he has helped produce the company’s coverage of everything from NASCAR to Atlanta Braves baseball and college football to Wimbledon.
Johnson holds a unique position among NBA arena managers. As executive director of Orlando Venues, a group of publicly owned and operated facilities, he operates Amway Center, home of the Magic. In other NBA markets, arenas are run by the team or a third-party management firm. In Orlando, where public money paid for most of the $480 million arena project, Johnson, a city employee, is in charge of operations and booking the building.
One of the facility management industry’s most respected leaders, Johnson has been in Orlando since September 2004, when he was hired to operate Amway Arena, the Magic’s former home. For the new arena, Johnson worked closely with the Magic to develop a cutting-edge facility that quickly became the benchmark for other NBA teams planning to build new arenas or renovate their existing venues.
Albert “Scooter” Vertino
VP, executive producer of content
Vertino is the executive Turner chose to oversee the NBA’s digital properties — one of the most important relationships Turner has with the league. Turner has managed the NBA’s digital assets for more than three years, and Vertino has been the executive overseeing the NBA’s digital content since September 2010.
Vertino has the NBA in his blood. He has covered the league for Turner since he started at the company 17 years ago. He was a producer on TNT’s NBA coverage before taking the digital job, which includes NBA TV, NBA.com and NBA Mobile.