The All-Time Greats in Sports Marketing: Jon Spoelstra
Profile of a Sports Marketer: Jon Spoelstra
Over the last couple of weeks I have been re-hashing what was a phenomenal season for the NBA while working my way through Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball. (As a side note, if you haven’t read this book you should do yourself a favor and check it out. Simmons is a genius and he just so happens to love my favorite sport, basketball.) Simmons talks a lot about the all-time greats of the NBA and it got me thinking about the all-time greats in sports marketing and who they might be. It would be hard to come up with a top 5 without going back in time and finding out all of the inside stories from front offices through the decades and the difficulties those leaders of the industry had to overcome. Nevertheless I will take a crack at putting together a list, in no particular order, of some of the all-time greats in sports marketing.
The head coach of the Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra, was at the helm of the NBA champions this year and he comes from an NBA pedigree. Erik is the son of Jon Spoelstra and the elder is the equivalent of the Babe Ruth of marketing in the NBA. Although Jon is now retired from the league his impact still lives on in the challenges he faced and overcame throughout a phenomenal career that helped to serve as a model for marketing in more professionals sports teams than just the NBA. Most notably are the impressive results he had as the President of the New Jersey Nets. When he first came on as a consultant he asked the owners who would ever want to sponsor this team because no one goes to the games and those who do are a little suspect. In his first season as President he sold out 5 games, the next season 15 and the following 31. This was done with a downright awful team on the court. You are thinking, how could that be? I’m glad you asked. Jon developed mini-game plan ticket packages, which today are common but in the early 90’s were rare. He packaged games to see the league’s elite teams come in to play the Nets. Teams with superstars like Magic, Bird and Jordan. Through selling the other team’s star players when his team had none he succeeded in building a brand and selling out the arena. He used a simple marketing plan not convoluted with multiple contrived strategies but a defined message: how to sell the last seat in the house. Jon believed in spending your advertising dollars in a focused manner, using the money on mediums that he knew NBA basketball fans used. Why spend money on target markets you are only going to get a small portion of tickets sales from? Instead focus heavily on heavy users of your product. An NHL executive once asked Jon how to sellout a game and he said sign Shaq to play goal and it will be easy. Uncommon in the world of sports Jon, as a marketer, influenced the signing of players by pushing for high character guys who people would want to pay to see. Jon had a lot of success in sports marketing and still does as a keynote speaker and consultant. With over thousands of sellouts in professional sports to his credit Jon Spoelstra is a giant in the sports marketing world and ranks as one of the greatest in sports marketing history.