CEO Q&A: Brett Yormark, New Jersey Nets Sports and Entertainment

Brett Yormark of New Jersey Nets Sports and Entertainment speaks to Tonya Garcia about the value of PR in the sports world.

PRWeek: Is there anything specific about the Nets as a basketball or sports organization that makes PR more important, or poses any challenges or opportunities?

Yormark: We're in a very competitive marketplace where there are nine pro sports teams. Business PR can be a differentiator and help you position yourself effectively in the marketplace. It's very much a strategic vehicle for us.

Typically, when you think about sports, you think about going to the sports pages. Our whole goal as business and revenue become more important to these franchises is to take some of the messaging off the sports pages and put them on the business pages. And the way to do that is through driving that business message through PR. Many NBA teams over the course of the last 18 months have hired people to run business communications. You're finding that trend now in all sports leagues as well as the teams and I think it's a trend that's going to continue.

PRWeek: The Nets are moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, NY. From a PR and branding standpoint, what are the challenges of this move?

Yormark: It certainly presents its challenges as you try to stay true to your core fan base in New Jersey and not alienate them while at the same time telling people across the river that you're going to be part of their community. Through advertising, marketing, and a lot of positive PR, we've been able to balance both stories, and in some cases the stories have been complementary to one another. Using PR has been a vehicle to drive our message home in New Jersey that as long as we're in New Jersey, we're going to market ourselves as if we're staying here for 20 years and continue investment spend. We've used PR in New York, in the boroughs, and specifically in Brooklyn to let them know they should sample us now so they're ensured of great seats when we get to Brooklyn.

PRWeek: When you first joined the organization in 2005, there was a perception that the team was not fan friendly. How did you use PR to overcome that reputation?

When took the job in January 2005, there were some player issues that were paramount in the league, all of which the league and the teams have responded to. When I came on board, one of the first goals of ours was to position ourselves as the most accessible team in sports. Using PR to do that was very much on strategy. If you look at all stories that have been written about us in that last couple of years, access and being player-friendly and fan-friendly is something that truly resonates to the fan now.

Over the years, we have done things like backyard BBQs to sell tickets; we've done a back-to-school promotion every year where a lucky fan gets to take one of our players to school. We've done an incredible about of community outreach, all of it being communicated through PR. I think it's truly positioned us very differently in the marketplace.

PRWeek: The Nets, and sports teams in general, are as much about the individual players as it is about the team as a whole. How do you balance that in your efforts - the individual players and their individual brands versus the overall brand?

The players aren't the brand. Our strategy has always been there is one brand and that's brand Nets. And we try to build all the equity behind that. However, the players are the communicator of that brand. The logo doesn't talk; the logo doesn't play. Our players have been great communicators of our brand and stand for what our brand represents, but the brand is brand Nets.

PRWeek: According to your bio on the Nets Web site, you started with a “determination to reinvent the culture of Nets basketball, including branding and marketing.” What goals have you achieved so far and what's left?

There are lots of goals that remain, but my first goal was to reposition our team and our brand in the marketplace, make us more relevant fans, and for our brand to mean something when our fans say “Nets basketball” and I think we've accomplished that.

The biggest goal for us is to get to Brooklyn. It's been something we've all been working toward for almost five years. This October we plan on breaking ground and that will enable us to transition our brand over to Brooklyn. And I think our brand will be bigger, bolder, more powerful, and most importantly more meaningful than ever before.

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