The Hornets executive leadership shares what it’s like working with MJ and marketing to millennials


CharlotteFive recently sat down for a conversation, moderated by SouthPark Magazine’s Editor in Chief Caroline Portillo, about the work environment of a professional sports team and what it’s like working for Michael Jordan with the Hornets executive leadership, including Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, Donna Julian, senior vice president of arena and events operations and Spectrum Center general manager, and Mike Cristaldi, vice president of communications.

The conversation was for our 35 Below speaker series and was recorded for this week’s CharlotteFive podcast.

What is it like working with Michael Jordan?

Guelli: “It’s great. As MJ bought the team and transitioned into ownership, there’s never been anyone with that type of profile who has ever bought a professional sports team. There are a number of high profile owners, but that profile was created because they own the team. MJ has been this billion-dollar brand and billion-dollar enterprise long before he got into the basketball business. He’s an incredible brand, he’s an amazing resource and has a high degree of business acumen that we tap into all the time relative to major projects and endeavors we are taking on as an organization. He’s incredibly supportive. I mean, you really can’t pick a better owner.”

Pete, you started your career in the NFL, spending 11 years with the Buffalo Bills. In your final position there as senior vice president of business ventures, a lot of what you did was overseeing the revenue generating properties and you worked to regionalize the team’s business efforts. What was it like helping regionalize efforts at the Bills?

Guelli: “A lot of things I learned in Buffalo applied down here. With the Bills, it was a relatively small market, really diminishing in a lot of ways. These are multibillion-dollar franchises – Buffalo is not big enough to support an NFL team on its own. As we started to grow the business in Buffalo, we looked elsewhere and asked, how do we expand our brand, our operation and our revenue opportunities so we can keep the Bills in Buffalo and continue to make them a solvent business property?

“Not unlike you would do here, we looked at some of the local markets – What were the closest? Where were other season ticket holders coming from?  Where were the television ratings being generated? What were markets that had interest that we could actually move into?

“So not unlike we were doing here, if you are going to regionalize, you need to put a stake in the ground. For us, we thought what do we have that’s a significant property, outside of the games themselves, that we could expand into the marketplace and we took that opportunity to really evaluate our training camp. This camp, which at the time was really just about football, and we picked it up from a sleepy college town and moved it to Rochester, which is every bit as big as Buffalo. We created a marketing platform around it. It generated enormous interest and a ton of revenue.”

How are you trying to connect with the millennial market?

Cristaldi: “In regards to the millennial market, obviously a big touch point for us is social media and our digital media. In general, our whole media landscape is changing. When I first started, if we wanted to have a press conference we’d fax out a press release hoping that media would show up. You were reliant upon media coming, shooting it and then hoping you’d see it on the nightly news.

“Now, what do we need to get our news out? We just need a camera and hit our consumer directly through social, through our website. We are always trying to find new ways to reach folks. Another aspect of that in years to come will be our TV broadcasts. How does that change to reach the viewer now with all the options that everyone has?

“We were just at some NBA league meetings, you see some teams experimenting with basically being able to choose the type of format you want to see. Do you want to hear the home team’s call or the visiting team’s call? Do you want a certain camera angle? The Clippers are experimenting with what they call a kids’ view, where Blake Griffin goes for a dunk and a graphic comes up and says ‘Bam!’. It’s all about trying to reach all of the consumers.”

What kind of relationship building do you take time for?

Julian: “I get it, it’s tough because you are consumed with trying to do your job, but I do think you need to take time to go get coffee with people. Even in a work environment, I think there is value in seeing what people do and what their job function is and so getting out is important. You do have to build relationships because you can learn from other people and grow from other people. You never know what that relationship may lead to.”

Want to learn more about the 35 Below speaker series? Click here to find out how your company can get involved. The speaker series is sponsored by Charlotte Financial Group.

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The CharlotteFive Podcast — presented by The Charlotte Observer and powered by OrthoCarolina — is a weekly podcast that aims to get you Charlotte Smart, Fast with fun, interesting and useful news about the city. It’s co-hosted by Sean Clark-Weis and Sallie Funderburk and is a production of the Charlotte Observer and 2WAVES Media.

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Photos: Charlotte Observer 


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