Operator Spotlight: NBA Chief Fan Officer Danielle Lee

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Danielle Lee, Chief Fan Officer for the National Basketball Association.  

You became the NBA’s Chief Fan Officer last year, overseeing fan marketing and the NBA brand. How do you build relationships with NBA fans when there are so many out there?

DANIELLE: The NBA has a massive global fan base and it is important that we meet our fans where they are – across social, gaming, audio, and video platforms. We look for ways to create native experiences on each platform that bring fans closer to the game, deepen their fandom, and ultimately make them ambassadors for the NBA. One of the experiences I loved during the NBA Restart was the “Oculus Front Row View.” The courtside view in basketball is the best seat in all of sports, and our partnership with Facebook gave fans the opportunity to live out that experience from anywhere in the world. 

Professional sports have been leading the charge when it comes to social justice. How is the NBA supporting its players, while also staying connected to its fans? 

DANIELLE: Placing Black Lives Matter on the court or having players wear social justice messages on their jerseys is in keeping with the league’s longstanding tradition of addressing issues of equality. In addition to our on-court efforts, the NBA, in partnership with the players and the NBPA decided to make social justice – with voting in particular – a major focus of the restart in an effort to affect real change. In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors worked with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election. The purpose was to allow for a safe, in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID. We also established a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches, and governors, that’s focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.

We’re fortunate that the NBA values are aligned with those of our fans, who are among the youngest and most diverse in sports. 72% of NBA fans support the Black Lives Matter movement, and  42% of NBA fans said they would have felt negatively towards the league had it not taken a stand on social justice issues. Fans have a much greater expectation of brands today. They expect brands to contribute positively to society, address the problems facing their communities, and have a lasting impact.  

What are some of your top marketing priorities for 2021?

DANIELLE: A top marketing priority for 2021 is to develop a much richer understanding of our fans. We need to go beyond avidity to understand beliefs, values, lifestyle, habits, and motivations. A lot of our investments are to further our fan understanding in order to inform creative development, product positioning, and channel strategy. From a leadership perspective, I’m also keen to shift the culture of our marketing team to be far more fan centric. We need to put the fan at the center of everything we do. That’s the filter by which we will design experiences to drive a variety of brand and business outcomes.

Metrics are a top tool for marketers. How do you like to use data and metrics to strengthen customer and fan relationships? 

DANIELLE: I use data to inform brand storytelling and to understand what resonates with fans, both emotionally and culturally. It’s important to garner insight from fans through qualitative and quantitative research when developing creative. It’s equally important to see how they actually react, engage, and behave in the world.  

How do you believe the role of marketing is evolving when it comes to the future of work?

DANIELLE: Marketing has evolved into a more growth-oriented role over the past decade. The need to articulate how marketing investments are driving business growth is imperative. Going forward, I believe marketing will have an outsized impact on shaping culture in the workplace. More and more a company’s brand values will shape how decisions are made and the behaviors that are rewarded in the workplace.     

What’s your secret super power? 

DANIELLE: My secret super power is courage. I have an innate ability to push past my fear, which is incredibly useful in business. I’ve learned that you earn people’s respect and build trusted relationships when you have the courage to have honest conversations. People may not always like what they hear, but they will respect you for telling them your truth and trust you to come to them directly instead of talking behind their back.  

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