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It couldn’t have been scripted any other way. The day the NBA had the entire world buzzing after LeBron James decided to take his talents back to Cleveland was also the day that the next crop of talented sports business professionals was visiting the League’s office. Barely two hours after the announcement, we were sitting in a posh conference room at NBA HQ on Fifth Avenue. Coincidently, last year’s group visited the Brooklyn Nets’ corporate headquarters just hours after the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry blockbuster trade was officially announced. Apparently, MSBA just knows when to show up – or is holding out on some sort of inside sources.
This year, the Team Marketing and Business Operations (TMBO) department hosted us. This group is one of the most highly regarded business divisions in the sports industry. Since its inception in 2000, the group has been highly touted as a trailblazer and innovative operation. While most sports teams see each other as competitors on and off the court/field, this group has been able to get all NBA teams on board with an initiative that essentially shares the best business practices of a particular team with the rest of the League. Its five main areas of focus are: new tickets, membership, sponsorship, premium seating and marketing/digital.
The group mentioned that some of the ways they facilitate its best practices sharing approach is by assigning an Account Manager to two teams, who stays in touch with his/her respective assigned teams on the daily basis to identify problem areas and growth opportunities.
One of the most intriguing points made by the TMBO panel was the differentiation in goals between ticket sales and sponsorship sales. Tickets sales are ultimately solely “about volume” while sponsorships are about “being smart” with whom you align with, they pointed out. Also, membership retention, such as for season ticket packages, was referred to as the “heartbeat of the business.”
TMBO’s rich knowledge of the marketplace and its extensive best practices database is widely recognized and admired by the rest of industry. The NFL is reportedly considering emulating the NBA’s in-house consulting department by launching its own version of it. Furthermore, other sports leagues, domestically and overseas, have made it a priority to stop by the NBA office whenever in town in order to meet with the TMBO division and seek counsel.
Additionally, we also heard from an HR representative, who briefed us on opportunities at the NBA for college students and recent graduates. While the summer internship allows students to work in a selected department and on a larger summer-long project, the Associate Program is a rotational program that allows recent college graduates (January & May graduates of a particular year) to work for an entire year in the League, rotating between four different departments. The program also offers workshops and other career resources. After 12 months, most associates are placed in a particular department full-time.
One of the biggest takeaways from the panel is how effective the NBA has been in having teams view each other as business partners off the court instead of competitors. It’s not something that teams in other leagues would easily say.
We’ll look back at this day and remember that on the same day that the greatest basketball player of this generation made his historic return to Cleveland, we met with arguably the greatest in-house sports consulting group at the NBA’s HQ. Just another Friday at MSBA.