|A Summer Sitdown with the CEO
--Nets CEO Brett Yormark discusses the season in sales--
By Ben Couch -- NJNETS.com
August 19, 2009
East Rutherford, N.J.—With so much focus on the tough economic climate that sports teams (and all businesses) are operating in, NJNets.com checked in with Nets CEO Brett Yormark to discuss how the team's been handling an eventful offseason on the business end of the operation. Yormark breaks down the current state of sales and sponsorship, how the team has been able to leverage the schedule and also new initiatives in ticket sales, marketing and sponsorship, all as the sales team prepares for the annual post-Labor Day push.
NJNets.com: How has business been this summer with regard to ticket sales and sponsorship?
Brett Yormark: Surprisingly good. Our ticket sales versus this time last year are up approximately 10 percent in revenue. We just surpassed 1,000 new sales for full-season seats, and that’s before we head into our post-Labor Day advertising campaign. Given the economy, given the comps of other teams, we’re really pleased with where we are right now. We’re going to launch some new marketing programs, the Match-Up Plan in particular, which I think are going to drive a lot of interest for the casual sports fan out there to sample Nets basketball. Our goal is to give them every reason to come see us. For the most part, I’m pretty happy with ticket sales.
And we’re about to announce 10 new sponsors, which certainly pleases me as well. In a year when we had some really big renewals, we’ve been able to bring back every one of those partners. In some cases, people have reduced their spending, but overall they’ve decided to remain with the Nets. They love the platform and they love the involvement.
NJNets.com: You recently took a 10-day business trip to China. What did you take away from your meetings and interactions?
Brett Yormark: The biggest takeaway is that the Nets brand is bigger there than it’s ever been. Obviously, a big part of that is Yi Jianlian. Sixty-two Nets games are televised over in China now, maybe even more this year with Yao not playing. We spent time in Shanghai, Beijing and then Hong Kong, and we expect to be able to consummate a couple of good deals from that trip. We also visited many of our partners that were with us last year: Haier, Nike China, Peak and Sina.com. They’re all returning and we were very pleased with what we were able to deliver. I look at China as a great opportunity for us, both short-term and long-term.
NJNets.com: How have you worked to counteract the dampening effect of the current economic climate?
Brett Yormark: The economy’s challenging for everybody. Our goal early on during the sales season was “Try to get a ‘maybe,’ but definitely don’t get a ‘no.’” Because you can always turn a “maybe” into a “yes.” We figured time was on our side: as we got to the latter part of the summer and early part of the fall, we thought the economy would turn and those fans who said “maybe” in the spring would say “yes” now, and in fact they have been.
The economy is getting better; there’s greater optimism than there was four or five months ago. The market seems to have stabilized and I think it’s a good time for us because the team is going to be exciting. We’ve got a great schedule, with great teams coming in before the holidays. Hopefully fans will see that as an opportunity to get to know us. And once they get to know us, they’ll like us.
NJNets.com: That in mind, what kind of leverage has the schedule offered you, now that you know the official matchups, like Vince Carter returning for the home opener?
Brett Yormark: I think having a schedule that’s to some degree front-loaded with better teams helps us because if people aren’t Nets fans, maybe they’re NBA fans and Vince Carter or LeBron James or other players get them in to the IZOD Center. Once they see the Nets and the kind of basketball we’re going to give them every night -- exciting, hard and aggressive -- then they’ll come back on the merits of seeing the Nets again.
But you’ve got to get them there and you’ve got to give them the hook to come out, and in our case it’s selling the better teams – that’s going to get them to sample us. Hopefully, after that they like what they see and then come back because they want to see more Nets basketball.
NJNets.com: So that plays into marketing initiatives like the 10-Game Match-Up Plan or Kids Country?
Brett Yormark: Absolutely. The Match-Up Plan, if nothing else, is a great sampling plan for that casual fan. And we’re giving that casual fan not only 10 great games, but also five jerseys with 10 great players on them, both Nets players and the great stars of the NBA. The NBA’s made of stars -- it’s a star league. And you can’t question what David Stern and the folks in New York have done with respect to marketing the stars. Our fans are no different than any others: they come out when the great names are in town.
We also instituted a program which offers a free season ticket for any kid under 13 years old, with the purchase of an adult one, for just $15 per seat per game. Gate D will be known as “Kids Country,” where fans can interact with our mascot, Sly, and the Nets Dancers. And we’ll present an exclusive Kids Event during the season. One of our goals is to provide a family-friendly environment at the IZOD Center, and Kids Country is part of that effort.
NJNets.com: How have you reasoned with fans concerned about the direction of the team following the Vince trade?
Brett Yormark: You try to appeal to their senses. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This team is not rebuilding, but in many cases is retooling. We loved Vince, and still do. He’s a terrific guy on and off the court. But we’ve decided to go in a different direction, and that direction is based on youth. It’s also based on being good and competitive now, but being great for the next couple of years.
We think that with Courtney Lee and some of the other pieces we got back in return for Vince, we have the opportunity to do just that. When you have Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Courtney Lee, CDR, Terrence Williams and Yi, you’ve got a nice young foundation. They’re only going to get better and next season we’re going to add more to the core. I certainly feel that Rod and Kiki have us going in the right direction.
NJNets.com: What’s been new on the sponsorship end?
Brett Yormark: Late last spring, we introduced the sky banners, which are another way to increase a brand’s dominance in the building. We’ve had the courtside signage for the last four or five years. We’ve installed the LED ring in the lower bowl, as well as one in the upper bowl; we’re now adding that where we’re putting digital signage in the corners. We’re very excited about that.
I think what you’re going to see from a sponsorship perspective that’s different is new types of sponsors, sponsors that typically didn’t have a chance to get in the game before, but are now. These are sponsors you wouldn’t typically see advertising with a pro franchise and particularly the Nets. Some of them are international companies, some are national companies and some are local. So you’ll see new sponsors and a lot of unique activation around those sponsors. I’m very excited with regard to some of the new companies that we’ve got on board.
NJNets.com: What goals do you have on the business side as we approach the start of the season?
Brett Yormark: Well, we’ve got revenue numbers we need to hit and we’ve got to drive toward those numbers. The latter part of August is always challenging: a lot of people are on vacation. So when we come back right after Labor Day, we’ve got to come back ready to go. We’ll break a fully integrated marketing campaign based around the Match-Up games, we will be very aggressive in closing out business with regard to sponsorship and will also be making sure that Opening Night is a special night for everyone that’s with us.
October 30 will be a big night as Vince returns here to the IZOD Center, and we’re excited for what’s in store for the season. The September/October months, that period is critical for us as we really set the stage for what hopefully will be a very successful season.