Interview: Chris Breeze, Marketing Partnerships, NBA EMEA.
We speak with Chris Breeze, Marketing Partnerships at the NBA EMEA, to get his insights and advice on building a career in sport and working in the demanding world of sports marketing.
Can you share a little about your career to date and how you came to be at the NBA?
I started my career at Microsoft on their graduate scheme and stayed there for 12 years, predominantly working in media and digital advertising sales, latterly within the Xbox division. I then decided it was time for a new challenge so left to take 3 months off to travel the world with my wife before joining the NBA and fulfilling a dream to not only work in sports, but specifically the NBA; I have now been for over 3 years now.
What does your role within the Marketing Partnerships (EMEA) team at the NBA entail?
I joined the NBA with a digital focus, to lead the relationships with media agencies within the UK and wider Europe – part of the reason for my hire was to lean on my relationships with media agencies from my previous roles. This involved meeting media agencies, and clients, evangelizing the NBA offerings in Europe whilst showcasing the various opportunities. Connected to this, I was also responsible for repositioning what our digital landscape was within the portfolio. This meant I had some influence from a European perspective into New York regarding redevelopment of our online presence including website and app development. Another project included introducing to the UK a programmatic offering, which was brand new to the NBA, this was delivered in partnership with GiveMeSport who were our local destination partner. I also helped influence and bring in advertising opportunities more aligned to what consumers expect from a leading brand. I introduced additional research, looking at our fans, not from a fandom perspective but more from a psychographic behaviour type scenario.
Over a year ago, I changed roles to manage the UK from a new business perspective which means I look after marketing partnership opportunities – this focuses on 3 key pillars: marketing rights and IP, media and events such as the annual NBA London Game.
What are the challenges of working in commercial sport?
From my perspective, working within sales & marketing, it’s a very competitive environment, even cut throat at times, with some strong personalities and opinions that can be tricky to manage.
It also a tough commercial market, especially within the UK (although also internationally to some extent). When you look at commercial partnerships, even before talking about sport or specific brands, the way they invest has completely evolved. Compared to say 5 years ago, when it was more like the ‘good old days’ of bright LEDs and VIP hospitalities, these are not the basis of partnerships now, although important to some extent. Brands have smaller budgets, focused on KPI’s and go into very specific details very early on when addressing partnership and sponsorship opportunities.
So, for someone like me, when I approach a brand, you need to find the right people with the decision making powers, which is very tricky to do, and then find where they want to spend their budget, such as: do they want to be in fashion, culture, music or sport; if it is sport, great, but if you look at the UK and sports events over the last 6 plus month period; we have had the Ashes, the British & Irish Lions, Winter Olympics, football World Cup, Wimbledon, the Ryder Cup, plus more - all as standalone events that brands want to associate themselves with. Then you have actual sports teams and sports leagues. Meanwhile the NBA is an American sport trying to crack the UK. So there are many levels you have to filter through and all the while create a convincing and compelling argument for brands. It can be very difficult, but it is very rewarding.
What advice would you give those looking to break into the sports industry?
I am a sports fan, and always wanted to work in sport if the opportunity came along. The one piece of advice I would give others is ‘patience’.
I was looking at the NBA and other sports rights holders and brand for a couple of years, loving my job at Microsoft but also wanting to be aware of when the right job in sport came along. As we know, many people want to work in the sports industry but its expanding all the time, with new opportunities opening up thanks largely to technology developments. I think patience is really important, to not only take time to identify the opportunities suited to you, but also because retention is high within the sports industry, people simply don’t move around the industry as much as other sectors. So you need to wait for the right role at the right company at the right time. So, patience is key, and then obviously a little bit of luck and the right skill set will also play their role.
What one piece of advice has most influenced your career development?
I don't know there has been ‘one single’ piece of advice. For me, I have always been blessed with good managers and having a manager on your side who supports you makes a big difference to how your career progresses.
When I joined the NBA, I was new to working in sport; therefore, having managers and a team around me wanting to help guide, educate and support me made all the difference. Being surrounded by smart, intelligent and supportive people creates a productive environment. I was able to bring my own experiences and skillsets to the NBA share these educating and advising teams on media and digital – so it then goes both ways.
What do you look for in in new talent looking to join your team?
Looking beyond the natural skill set fit, I look for people with a good cultural fit. Can I see myself working with this person and would they thrive in the existing team and wider business? I also want people who are ambitious, who want to learn, adapt and improve. It is important they show a desire to succeed, not just as an individual within their career progression, but to bring success to that team and a business as a whole.
Finally, what do you believe makes a good leader?
Rudy Giuliani, the New York Major during 9/11, said that any great leader is always surrounded by people better than him or herself; you cannot be master of everything and you need great people around you to deliver excellence. Whilst at Microsoft and the NBA, I have been very fortunate over the years to have some amazing leaders surrounded by amazing teams.
A good leader for me, is someone I look up to – someone who either inspires me or I aspire to be professionally. I believe leaders need to be able to clearly articulate the objectives and ambitions for the business and the teams, and importantly, to ensure that individuals and teams can buy into the journey. This clarity is not always a given but a critical element of successful leadership.
This interview was conducted by GlobalSportsJobs insights team.
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