Inside the Philadelphia 76ers’ Marketing Locker Room with CMO Tim McDermott

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Professional sports marketing is truly in a league of its own. In fact, being CMO for a pro team requires many analogous skills to actually playing said sport: agility, flexibility, a winning strategy and, increasingly, a cunning grasp on a whole lot of stats. Come with me as I venture behind-the-scenes of the Philadelphia 76ers’ marketing department with Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer Tim McDermott, who’s so adept at crunching numbers for his team that he took home a Programmatic Marketing Award from last year’s CMO Club Awards.

The Game Plan

Prior to joining the 76ers, Tim McDermott was CMO with the Philadelphia Eagles. When I inquire about the differences in marketing the two sports, McDermott says that in basketball, “You have so much inventory that you’re very focused on ticket sales, ticket sales, ticket sales, much more than I think a lot of NFL teams.” Thanks to a longer season and larger volume of games, McDermott has had to approach his role as CMO a little differently with the 76ers. “I think a lot more about pricing and promotions every day,” he says, “testing the different levers that you can pull, very similar to a retailer.”

Aside from the everyday goal of getting fans in seats, McDermott was also handling a brand revamp when we spoke. “We’re in a bit of a turnaround situation,” he says. “This team has a tremendous heritage, a tradition and is tied with the Eagles for most championships of any team here in Philadelphia.” To achieve both its branding and marketing goals, McDermott and his department focus on the following few key areas.

Star Players: Data, Content & Social Media

Because the 76ers are still a relatively young team, McDermott says that the company’s primary focus is on ticket sales and sponsorship sales. To drive these purchases, McDermott helped re-tool how his domain operates to match the demands of today’s digital landscape. “We’ve re-engineered our digital department,” he says, “not just as means of advertising, but also when it comes to content creation, building our database and improving our CRM activities.”

First, lets shine the spotlight on CRM and data. It’s a major part of the 76ers’ marketing strategy, as better data means better marketing decisions and better ticket sales, and McDermott has reshaped much more than just his own department to achieve results. “We’re really heavily invested in infrastructure, software and human capital in order to re-engineer what we’re doing on the data science side,” he says. This includes rolling out Salesforce to the entire company and retooling both internal processes and staffing efforts. The overall goal, of course, is more advanced marketing across the board. “We’re trying to be much more a data-centric operation, using the data to help us make more sophisticated and objective decisions.”

When it comes to content, McDermott’s department employs what he calls a “content factory” to produce all of the posts, photos and videos that fans enjoy. “This content also helps with our sponsors, so there’s revenue attached to it as well,” he says. In fact, content holds another crucial position on the court: “The more people that we’re bringing to our site to view this content, the more opportunity to sell tickets.” Cha-ching!

And let’s not forget about the star rookie, social media. Says McDermott: “Social media is essential, especially if we want to be at the front of the millennials, so we are actively involved in just about every platform that exists.” His team is constantly testing, testing, testing new tactics for better reach, but like many marketers today, is discovering that there’s no silver bullet when it comes to engagement. “We’re still trying to figure out the best way to optimize it as well, and if there’s a direct sales component to it.”

The Team Effort

Like with any team, the unsung players are also integral to its success. As coach, McDermott says he’s responsible for overseeing every area of marketing—”advertising, content creation, website, mobile, social, CRM and public relations”—but it’s his team that controls the movements of the ball, so to speak. Therefore, he says, “I think the number one priority for the CMO is to create a performance driven culture.” After that, it’s his or her responsibility to choose the best players for the roster. “You can’t be afraid to hire people who are much, much better than you. And, quite frankly…you need experts in those sectors,” says McDermott. “If I don’t have experts in those areas, then I’m not doing my job the best that I could be doing it.”

What McDermott can’t manage? The players themselves—the ones actually shooting hoops. “The hardest thing for a marketer of sports brands is you really can’t control the product the same way that you could if you’re marketing Starbucks or marketing an iPhone,” he says. “I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a strong correlation between wins and off-the-court success rate.” Here’s hoping for a great season, Tim.

In partnership with The CMO ClubThe CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. These interviews are now the basis of Drew’s upcoming book, “The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing,” now available for pre-order here.  

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