We hadn’t spoken in forever.
But the message on my machine, asking me to call back, felt urgent, maybe even a little exciting.
It was 2011, and I needed some excitement. My company, BrandAlive, was two years old, and still lingering in that uncomfortable space between my newfound success as a business owner and the stickiness of The Great Recession.
I called the voice on my machine back — my old friend, and first boss from my Coca-Cola days. Seems that the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream was looking for a CEO, and he thought I might just be the ticket. They liked my Olympic and general management experience. While elated at the opportunity and the income it offered, I wasn’t ready to give up my dream of running my own company. After being offered the job, I suggested to the owners they allow me to take the Dream as a client. They agreed and my role began in January 2012.
Back then the WNBA had 11 teams. The biggest challenges for every WNBA team was filling seats and driving sponsorship revenue. Despite an excellent win-loss record, Atlanta, like most WNBA teams, lacked overall awareness. The best way to build awareness was to invite folks to a game. These women were world class athletes who knew their trade. The games were exciting!
My goal was to engage with as many potential sponsors as possible before the season. As a CEO, I had the chance to visit the NBA offices in NYC. They made me feel like I was inside a basketball arena. There were life-sized photos of the players and basketball nets everywhere, which was a stark difference from the Dream offices, which had a corporate feel. I believed that if we could replicate the NBA offices on a smaller scale, we could whet the appetite of new sponsors. The owners agreed with my plan, and we started an office renovation in March. In May, we held a kickoff party in our newly renovated offices right before the season started. We even recreated a “basketball court” on the rooftop adjacent to the offices. The space looked amazing, the party was well attended, and the event was magical.
We were able to grow sponsorship revenue that year, and our first half season tickets sales grew modestly as well. The USA Women’s Basketball Team went to the London Olympics and won gold. We were hopeful for a strong finish to our season, but it was not meant to be. Fans were distracted with the start of football and back-to-school activities, and the second half of the season attendance suffered.
I ended up leaving the Dream in September 2012, but will be always thankful for the incredible opportunity it offered. I got to collaborate with some of the hardest working and most dedicated people on the planet. I wish them continued success. And, if you haven’t been to a game yet, you should go this season. It truly is amazing.