4 questions for Milwaukee Bucks comms head Barry Baum on opening two sports arenas

The former Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment chief communications officer shared lessons learned from opening the Barclays Center and Fiserv Forum.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ comms SVP Barry Baum was instrumental in the August opening of the team’s new arena, the Fiserv Forum. It was the second such opening Baum helped promote.

Baum also worked in a series of communications roles for the Brooklyn Nets - and their predecessor the New Jersey Nets - for more than a decade, and managed comms for the team’s relocation and the September 2012 opening of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Baum sat down with PRWeek to discuss the challenges behind opening a major new arena for a professional sports franchise.

What lessons did you bring to Milwaukee from your Brooklyn experience?
With Brooklyn, we had a long lead time between starting construction and the opening [of the Barclays Center]. It actually worked out well because it gave us a lot of time to create and generate anticipation and buzz for the building, the opening, and the [Brooklyn Nets’] eventual move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. During that time, we announced a lot of the programming and revealed the various aspects of what the building would look like.

That’s something I brought to Milwaukee. I really wanted to create a lot of anticipation for this new building’s opening too, explaining what we were doing. We were working on making people really excited about what was to come.

Can you talk about the messaging?
The opening of the Milwaukee Bucks' Fiserv Forum meant more than just a sports team coming to the city. I wanted to be sure people knew about the shows the area would host that Milwaukee never had before.

Milwaukee had concerts and events, but it wasn’t at the volume we were going to be delivering and we had to tell that story on a daily basis. I knew that continuing to repeat the facts of the building, the excitement of the shows and [what acts] this building would bring to the community was going to resonate. To me, that was the most important aspect of promoting the building during the lead up to the opening.

What kind of media placements were you able to get?
One of first things I did starting at the Bucks was I found out who the right person was to  contact at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the main paper in Milwaukee. That was James Nelson [deputy business editor].

He was covering the roll out of the building and I told him, "I want to tell stories about this every day. I want to go to you and pitch on a regular basis, go to you every day, maybe twice a day." [Nelson] and I developed a great relationship. He’s a great writer and has a great sense of how to do a story. Locally, it was critical to have a relationship with a specific writer at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

When TNT or ESPN were in town to broadcast the Bucks game, we would make sure to invite the reporters and photographers to come in and take a tour with Bucks president Peter Feigin so he could tell the story of what was coming. That generated incredible awareness.

In March, 60 Minutes did a big piece on Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 13-14 minute piece. It was too good of opportunity not to promote the arena and the business side of team. We worked really closely with producers, gave them a tour with [Feigin], and Steve Kroft was allowed to have full access to the building. It was an incredible interview.

Any recommendations?
One of the things I would recommend to anyone in this position is to walk the halls of your office every day. Talk with head of marketing, of business development, of community, of ticket sales, your president, and your HR person. Every day I want to know what we’re working on and how we can work together and I want to maintain a feel for the pulse of what’s going on in the company.

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