Data Dunk Booth Marketing Club Hears From Chicago Bulls Marketers

Booth Marketing Club members at the United Center

As co-chair of the Booth Marketing Club leading Events, I’m always looking for new ways to help our members supplement the theory we learn in the Gleacher Center classrooms with real world marketer interactions. We recently hosted Juan Bell from Google, who spoke about how the fundamentals of marketing have remained constant through the digital revolution. We also took a Marketing Trek to some top companies with offices in Chicago - Tyson Foods, Wrigley and LinkedIn (you can read more about this Trek in an upcoming blog post!)

In my early quarters at Booth, I found these types of experiences to be among the most impactful elements of my educational process, so now as events lead for the Booth Marketing Club, I try to arrange as many of these activities as possible so that our new members can be exposed to what marketing looks like in its real world applications

For this reason, when a former co-worker of mine who now leads digital strategy for the Chicago Bulls offered us the opportunity to meet with senior members of the Bulls marketing team, I knew it was too valuable an experience to pass up. Recently, a group of 25 Booth Marketing Club members attended the Chicago Bulls game at the United Center vs. the Miami Heat - but first, we had a meeting with a special panel comprised of some of the top minds driving the marketing behind the local team.

The panel was impressive indeed. Represented on it were members of the Chicago Bulls marketing team:

Susan Goodenow, VP, Branding and Communications
Matthew Kobe, Director - Business Strategy and Analytics
Kevin Brilliant, Manager - Business Strategy and Analytics
Lisa Nucci, Senior Manager - Branding
Josh Kahn, Senior Creative Producer - BullsTV
Luka Dukich, Manager - Digital Content

The hour-long panel, which was driven primarily by Booth Marketing Club member questions, covered a range of interesting topics, and shed new light on everything that goes into creating a sports brand behind the scenes. Far from the “jock” stereotypes, the brains behind the Bulls are strategic and deliberate in how they maintain an iconic brand with a heavy focus on measurement and analytics.

We learned about how the current Bulls marketers balance the legacy of Michael Jordan - which defines the brand for a generation of sports and culture fans alike - with an emphasis on the present. Kevin Brilliant, manager of business strategy and analytics, pointed out that even today, the most popular colors for basketball shoes globally are red and black; certainly a byproduct of the six-time Champion, His Airness. But, Jordan hasn't played for the Bulls in more than a decade, and Jordan brand isn't even currently officially affiliated with the Bulls at all. Why has this shoe trend maintained for so long? In many respects, the players on the current Bulls teams embody the same characteristics of the teams of the 90‘s; grit, workmanship and a blue-collar toughness. The Bulls marketers have managed to identify this, and thereby translate the success of the past into equity in the present.

With a diverse student body at Booth, we were fortunate to have students in the Booth Marketing Club attend this event that grew up overseas and could speak to what it was like following Jordan on the other side of the world. In fact, we learned that experience was not unique and the Bulls have a massive following all over the globe. The challenge they have faced is monetizing that, due to the franchise model. The Bulls can‘t sell products outside of a defined geographic territory, so they spoke to us about some of the creative strategies they use to connect with their passionate fans overseas.

Finally, there was a large amount of discussion around the fact that no matter how much data and advanced marketing the six people in the room with us deployed, they had no ability to control the product on the floor. This is different than in a traditional consumer packaged goods marketing environment, where a brand manager can pull the “product” lever in a number of ways. With sports, whether the team is competitive or not has a major impact on the level to which fans engage, but there is nothing that can be done to control team quality from the marketing suite. The Bulls laid out a number of ways that they work to “record-proof” their team, from showcasing the in-arena experience to building equity in characters like Benny the Bull.

Following the panel, a number of the panelists generously stayed and answered individual questions from students. We then all posed for a picture at mid-court, and went to our seats to enjoy a competitive game vs. the Miami Heat. Both Marketing Club was even featured on the jumbo-tron at half time! While the Heat won a close game at the end, without a question the experience for all attendees was a slam dunk - a great opportunity to see the back of the house at one of the most legendary brands in the world.

Jake Toplitt | Current Evening MBA student | Co-chair, Booth Marketing Club