In each episode of The Playbook presented by FanFood, host Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment and hospitality. We invite industry veterans to talk about how customer expectation have changed in today’s world, and how businesses need to change accordingly for greater operational efficiency and better guest experience.
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Dewayne Hankins, Chief Marketing & Innovation Officer at the Portland Trail Blazers, joins Rob Cressy to talk about the Portland Trail Blazers mindset for success in social media and fan engagement. What is it like marketing around Damian Lillard? What did they learn from the NBA Bubble and what will they continue to implement moving forward? How do the Trail Blazers think about fan engagement and how has that helped them grow a thriving community? What’s on their mind from innovation and forward-thinking perspective? Why is doing a lot with a little such an important mindset and why is that a game-changer for future creators?To see how your restaurant, establishment, or venue can benefit from FanFood’s platform please get in touch here.
Rob Cressy: (00:08)Welcome to The Playbook presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment, and hospitality. I’m your host, Rob Cressy. And joining me today is Dewayne Hankins, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer at the Portland Trailblazers. Dewayne, great to have you on the show.Dewayne Hankins: (00:31)Great to be here. Thanks, Rob.Rob Cressy: (00:33)Can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?Dewayne Hankins: (00:37)Absolutely. So, as you said, I’m Dewayne Hankins. I oversee marketing innovation at the Portland Trailblazers. Been with the team for about seven and a half years now. So, in my role what that means is to oversee all of the fan-facing, customer-facing parts of the business. So, that anything from the retail piece that you come to at the arena, the game entertainment that you sense in the arena, digital social media, our corporate partnership group that does all of our sponsorships and then just lead on all the innovative technology platforms that we’re doing as well. So, it’s a blast, it’s a lot of fun. And then the sports world obviously has changed a ton over the last several months and continues to change as we move forward.Rob Cressy: (01:20)So, there’s so much that I’m excited to jam with you about, but the number one thing on my mind is I have to ask you about Damian Lillard in marketing around him because not only is he supremely talented on the court, but he has some flow, he can spit bars. So, from a marketing perspective, I’m like, wait a second. Here’s this multi-talented guy that seems to very much embrace his role in the community. So, can you share a little bit more about what it’s like marketing around Dame Lillard or sort of the tone that he sets?Dewayne Hankins: (01:55)Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Damien is one of a kind. I’ve worked in sports for almost 20 years and Damien’s one of a kind when it comes to who he is. Not just those things that you’re talking about, where he’s fantastic on the court, highly marketable off the court, but he’s just a great person, a great guy. Wants to do the right thing in the community, wants to do the right thing for himself and for the team. So for us, that really helps our job. The other thing that benefits us is Damien came from a very small school, had a chip on his shoulder, went to Weber State, came to the NBA. Now, is an all NBA player, and that made him sort of the supreme underdog, and for us as the Blazers, being the only team in Portland being 500 miles away from the nearest NBA team, we often feel like an underdog ourselves and so we’re able to take that mantra up as well.That goes for CJ too. Think about it, he went to a small school chip on his shoulder and our top two players are our guys from schools most people have never heard of. And so for us, we like to take advantage of that when it comes to marketing the team. And then beyond that, yeah, Damien he definitely, whether it’s his deal with Adidas or his side career as a rapper he’s been a phenomenal person for us to work with and market around. And yeah, I just say that we’re lucky to have him for sure.Rob Cressy: (03:18)And if you’re looking for a great podcast with Dame on it, I listened to the knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson and Derrius Miles, and they had Damian Lillard on. And it gave great insight from a basketball perspective in terms of where he came from because you nailed it from the school that he came from, being smaller in his journey. You really appreciate who he is and what he does when you understand the backstory. And then speaking of CJ, one of the things when looking at everything that happened with the pandemic early on during March Madness when it wasn’t happening, they’re showing the old games. And all of a sudden there’s a Lehigh versus Duke game. And I’m pretty sure Lehigh won that game. And all of a sudden you look and CJ went off and you don’t think about it at the time during March Madness when one of these players goes nuts, but all of a sudden, a few years later when you see how incredible CJ was and then you see that come on March Madness. And you’re like, well, wait a second. This makes complete sense now.Dewayne Hankins: (04:15)Yeah, I remember I remember CJ busting my bracket pretty well that year. So yeah, it’s funny how that stuff comes back around and he had the game that he had for sure. But yeah, it’s a lot of fun. Damian, also just a quick story about him. One of my first interactions with him as a player was when I had first gotten to the Blazers and we had to do a video shoot with him. There’s like five or six people in the room who are doing various versions of lighting or camera operations or making sure different things are happening. And Damien kind of went out of his way to just sort of introducing himself to everyone in the room and you just don’t see athletes do that. It’s just who Damien is. He really wants to get to know folks and, and as I said, he’s a great person sort of inside and out.Rob Cressy: (05:01)And I think there’s actually a great success principle in there because you don’t have to be Damian Lillard to go and introduce yourself to a bunch of different people in the room. But if we think about our own habits, it’s uncomfortable for most of us to do it. So, I was like, well, maybe Damon is a lot more comfortable or maybe that’s one of the reasons why he is successful because he’s willing to put himself out there. And when you introduce yourself to other people, all of a sudden you create new opportunities, you create new relationships. And it’s really about that personalization because now you’re telling us about what he did then. How many different people have a story similar to that rinse and repeat?Dewayne Hankins: (05:38)Right. Exactly. Yeah, I mean, it illustrates who Damian is as a person. Over the years of getting to know him, just can’t say enough about how, how much of a phenomenal person he is. He obviously wants to win. You see that every day on the court, but off the court, he’s just a great guy.Rob Cressy: (05:58)So, looking at how things have gone over the last six months, obviously, the NBA bubble was a big thing. I absolutely loved it. We had basketball all the time. It’s like noon in Chicago and here are games. I’m like, this is phenomenal. I’m curious what you guys learned from the bubble and what you can take away from it moving forward?Dewayne Hankins: (06:19)Yeah, there’s so much that we learned from the bubble, where to start. So, for us, we’re going to be starting up games here in a little over a month in our own arenas which is an exciting opportunity without the bubble. I don’t think we could have been as ready as we are right now. So, in two specific areas, one being broadcast. So, during the bubble, we broadcast all the games remotely from our facility in our arena. And so in doing that which is something we had never done before, we really had to get all of our systems ready, all of our software, hardware upgrades down, down in the arena basement basically ready. Our broadcasters are calling the game from screens in our studio and really, really challenging situation. But we were able to pull it off. We’re probably gonna have to do something similar at least for the road games. And so we’ve learned a lot about how to broadcast those games. I don’t think we’re going to be traveling with the team, but we’ll see, we’ll see still. Lots of details to get ironed out there.And then game entertainment, our game entertainment director, Todd Bosley has been here for 20 years. He’s done a few all-star games for the NBA. One of the most highly regarded sorts of game entertainment directors in the league. He was asked to go down to the bubble. Did not want to be away from his family for that amount of time, which is probably a good thing for his marriage. But, he did a lot to help them get the bubble up and running. And so just all the things that we needed to understand about what a fan this game would look like because you still have the video board in the arena, you still have entertainment that you want to provide the players and you want to pump the players up. So, all the sound and the videos and those things that you need to prepare and get ready. We still need to do some of those things because we’ve learned the players, they still want to have that atmosphere. They don’t want it to sound like a quiet arena. So, at first, I think when they talked about the bubble the players were a little bit they weren’t sure what to think of fake crowd noise and things like that. It turns out they really liked that. They weren’t sure what to think of activating the video board. It turns out they would want that. We need to have replays on the video board because coaches still rely on those. So all of those learnings that we had on the bubble about how games operate completely help us for these games here.And then as it relates to social and digital content, each team was allowed to take one person from a social content standpoint. So, we took our social media manager and Amara Baptist, who is one of the best as well. And she was down when the bubble with the team and was able to get a bunch of content that we hadn’t been able to really get before. So, learning to do a lot with the little I think is another key learning that we’ll have because however, this all shakes out when the season starts. We know we’re not going to have the same amount of access that we’ve had to players in the past because we want to make sure people are saying socially distant and healthy. So yeah, I could go on and on about things that we’ve learned in the last seven months about how to get ready for games. And then there’s the whole part of how we’re trying to evolve our business in a world in which we rely so heavily on, ticket base revenue and event income.Rob Cressy: (09:25)So I want to dig a little bit deeper on learning to do a lot with a little because to me that’s a mindset. It’s something that as someone who’s been a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I know what it’s like to have limited resources, limited budget. And quite frankly, I taught myself how to do everything that I do today. And it’s both one of the biggest opportunities and biggest excuses that I see out there in the market. Why is it an opportunity? Because the barrier to entry is zero. Anyone can go on YouTube or LinkedIn learning, and you can teach yourself Photoshop, audio, and video editing on camera. You can become your own media company for $0. On the flip side, I think one of the biggest things that I hear in the overall market when it comes to social is you know what, Rob, we just don’t have the time, the knowledge, the resources, the budget, and they use their own perceived limitations as an excuse. And one thing that I think is abundantly clear from the pandemic is those who did not invest in digital are going to be in big time trouble. So, I’m curious to hear a little bit more from your mindset around learning to do a lot with a little. Because you guys aren’t in the biggest market that’s out there and you’re not using that as an excuse because the Blazers have one of, if not the best social, as well as fan engagement and fan bases.Dewayne Hankins: (10:47)Well, I appreciate you saying that first of all, thank you. It means a lot to us and our team for sure. Yeah, everyone could fill their day with busy work. I think there’s no doubt everyone could say that they’re busy and say that they don’t have a budget, and all those things and they ultimately are excuses. For us, we really try to focus on things that matter. And part of that is figuring out what matters. So for us, we really lay out those goals at the beginning of the year. We don’t worry about having the most fans, most followers, or sending the most posts. We want to have the most engaging content. We want fans to think about our content. We want to analyze the content that we do post and say, was that worth it? Was it not worth it? Should we do something like that again? Should we try something different? We constantly sort of iterating on the things that we create because we don’t want to waste time and we don’t want to spend a ton of time being inefficient. I think efficiency is really, really key. So for us, we know we’re always going to have limited resources to do things, so how do we think about the world in that way? When it comes to our staff, everyone can do a little bit of everything. I think it’s important that our staff understands, especially on the digital side, how to use Photoshop, as you said. How to be on camera if they need to be.I think of a story a couple of years ago when we needed a host for a pre-playoff studio show. And we use Brick Walls who was our phenomenal courtside reporter and we needed a guest, and so we had Amara on our social media person. And everyone’s able to just sort of step up and do what it is that they need to do. And I think that makes people, it does a couple of things. One, it really creates team comradery which is something that I think is really important for us to have our team feel like anyone can step in and fill in when someone’s down and out or someone needs to go do something else, or there’s, this game and this concert on the same night. And the second thing it does is it really helps people understand how they contribute to the whole. People love to make meaningful contributions and they just need the opportunity to do so.I can go on and on about our staff, but Adam Ward who’s also on our digital team and has basically re-imagined our entire YouTube channel and really rethought how our content is placed. And doing the small things like that has meant so much for our future YouTube content. And no one asks them to do it. He just stepped up and did it, and had done a great job. And again, I think those are the types of things if you give people a little bit of time to again, focus on the things that are important, but then also realize the other things that they can take advantage of that they can take the initiative on. It goes a long way.Rob Cressy: (13:25)There are so many things that you said that I love. So, number one, you talked about how you set goals. I’m guessing there’s a large majority of people listening right now that do not have a social media strategy or social media goals written down. They’re just sort of flying by the seat of the pants. And because you know what? We can just hire an intern to go and post this stuff for us. And then number two is a lot of companies believe the act of posting is the success metric. So, when you talked about, Hey, we might not have the most amount of pieces of content that’s out there. A lot of people use that as their metric that just says, Hey if we get it out, it’s good. But I actually liked what you talked about in terms of you want the most engaging content because, Oh, by the way, when content is more engaging, it is going to perform better. But the name of the game is, you do want to be building these relationships. I think one of the big things that I take away from the last six months is personalization in the community and how important it is for you to be a team, league, brand, company where people look forward to hearing back from you again because you meet them on their level. You’re relatable, you’re fun, and you’re engaging. The simplest action item that I can give for this is to look at your social media marketing and see, do you ever ask any questions? Because if you don’t, Hmm, maybe that’s one of the reasons you’re not getting any engagement back. Because how would I ever engage back with your brand if you never give me that opportunity to do so?Dewayne Hankins: (15:00)Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. I think it’s one of the top rules around social media is that it’s not, you’re not talking at people, you’re talking to people. You’re having a conversation on their level, as you said. And I think our fans, especially as I’ve said in Portland, we talked about this earlier just how tribal the support is here in Portland and how passionate Blazers fans are about this team. In a lot of ways, they feel like they own the team. And so we’re kind of the information tellers. We’re the Paul Revere’s of the team. We’re just telling you what’s happening. And they’re the ones that own the team. And so if we have that mindset about it, then then we’re just here kind of cheering along with them and keeping a conversation.Rob Cressy: (15:45)And I do want to touch on one other thing you mentioned that you have stabbed that can do a little bit of everything. I believe looking forward that the key is going to be people who can be multi-tool creators. Like myself, video, audio, on-camera all of these different things because quite frankly, that’s the level of expectation that our audience has for everything that we do, and no longer can you just be a writer? Because unfortunately, as I look at the sports media landscape, the number of companies that are laying people off that are just journalists and I sit there and I’m like, man, that’s gotta be tough when your only skill set is writing. And for me, I don’t want to get backed into a corner where you say you are just a writer. No. You need to be a multifaceted creator. And Oh, by the way, that’s going to make you have a higher output and be more efficient because imagine your ability to shoot a live streaming video, which then gets chopped up to a video on YouTube, which the audio then becomes part of a podcast, which then you have the ability as a graphic designer to create a pull quote image that promotes all of those different things. One piece of live streaming content can turn into 10 pieces of content. And if you’re the person who knows how to do all of it, and it’s not hard, it’s just processing knowledge. You become incredibly valuable. And then as we look at teams, leagues, and companies if you can have a roster full of people who are multitalented Holy smokes, Batman. That’s where the recipe for success is.Dewayne Hankins: (17:17)Yeah, you said it. I think about my journey. I have a journalism degree from Iowa State that I got 18 years ago. And it is so different journalism than it was 18 years ago. We were the things we were learning in journalism school compared to what hopefully they’re teaching kids these days is very different. As you said, you need to be able to do a little bit of everything. You can’t just be in one bucket you have to sort of life in all buckets because content has become ubiquitous in that, yeah, people want the written word, they also want video. They also want podcasts. They also want infographics. They also want storytelling. I mean, you have to be able to delve into all those areas. I think journalists, the most successful people in journalism are the people that tell meaningful stories.And so that can be in a gift, which is nothing in terms of your time. And it can be in the 3000 pages, 3000-word essay. It really could be either of those things and then everything in between. And you need to be able to understand in our business anyway, what fans want to hear, what they want to see. And then convert that into a few different platforms and a few different formats that make sense for them to get it how they want. We still have fans that want to read articles, and we have fans that want to watch gifs and 10 second video clips. And we have to sort of meet fans where they are because in the real world, where they live and in the consumer things that they participate in, they have the full range of options. So, if we’re not giving them the same full range of options, we’re going to fall behind.Rob Cressy: (18:56)So, with fans not currently in the stadiums and games, eventually going to be played again, I’m curious how you guys transfer the in-game experience digitally. So, you guys do a phenomenal job when someone goes to the arena, but guess what? We don’t have that opportunity right now. So, how can I feel some sort of way about the blazers on game day when I’m not at the stadium or arena?Dewayne Hankins: (19:23)Yeah. I really think a lot of our social media is really built around a sort of being that game entertainment apparatus for fans that aren’t in the building. You know, I go back to years ago when teams were spending a lot of their time on their social media platforms posting out press releases and announcements and things like that. And we had said at the time. We really can have a tilt here. We can have an angle that’s more towards cheering on the Blazers and being about game entertainment. So, I think in some ways we’ve done that. But in other ways, it’s really going to be about a couple of things. One the social and digital piece, and being able to do things that we probably weren’t able to do before because fans were in the building. So, whether that’s the unique camera angles access, which again I don’t know what that’s gonna look like as we get ready for the season, but the more that we can show fan things behind the scenes. The league has offered opportunities for us to be able to do more during the broadcast on a second screen. So, that second screen opportunity could be pretty meaningful for us. We’re still diving into it and figuring out what that looks like, but that’s something that we can drive. And then finally, on the broadcast side, which I know is only for fans in Portland here who get our network, but because of that and not having fans, we’re looking at some really interesting and creative camera angles. We’re looking at ways to engage fans, the team in a totally different way to take advantage of the fact that while there are no fans here, we need to do everything we can to make people feel sort of closer to the game.Rob Cressy: (20:57)From an innovation or social or content standpoint, what has your eye right now from a forward-thinking standpoint? Where you’re audited in the landscape and you’re like, you know what? What sort of is looking at this right now?Dewayne Hankins: (21:11)Yeah, definitely. Over the last seven months, we’ve all learned in sports how much the fan’s ticket is a big chunk of our revenue. And Adam Silver says this all the time, but 99% of fans of the NBA never come to an NBA game. So what are we doing to work and engage with that 99% of fans who never come to games? Those fans live all over the world. They buy merchandise. They engage in our content. So, I really am thinking about, and we’re really thinking about as a business, how hard business looks going forward. And what does that mean for fans who can’t come to games? How can we engage them? How can we keep them excited? I also think about our TV deals. I worry about that. Obviously, it was a big headline this summer around TV ratings at sporting events. The big stat was that ratings were down. I think the thing that gets often forgotten is that sports viewing was still up 7%. I think fans just had to pick what they wanted to watch because there was so much competition. But I am still worried about where sports go from here. If cable companies, people are continuing to cut their cable, they’re continuing to drop their cable. They’re continuing to be really interested in things that aren’t live programming because the Netflix and the Amazons of the world are creating outstanding scripted content and documentaries.So, what are we doing to continue to be in that space? And how do we make it easier for fans to watch games? In a lot of markets, fans only have one way to watch games and that’s by having a cable subscription and that cable subscription then allows them to access said channel. And if you want to watch that streaming, it’s like an authenticated mess sometimes. So, we’re competing with league of legends, for instance, which is two clicks away on Twitch. And you’re into the league chat, you’re watching the world champion. So, we need to make our games easier to watch. We need to make the games more ubiquitous. And I think the league in the NBA certainly is thinking about that. So that’s another thing that’s just on my mind.Rob Cressy: (23:15)Yeah, and I think the evolution of fandom is going to be interesting because I’m someone who loves basketball, who loves sports. I listen and consume as much basketball content as pretty much anyone, but I don’t necessarily watch Blazers games because I’m in Chicago. The only time I’m really going to see you guys is when you’re on TNT, but guess what? I follow Dame and CJ. I love throwback jerseys, all of this different stuff. So, I’m someone who has a positive brand affinity for the Blazers, but I’m not going to the games. How do you think about someone like myself? Because I’m probably, there’s probably a lot of people like me. I listened to Jalen and Jacoby, and knuckleheads, and Bill Simmons, and Zach Lowe and I love NBA TV. So, I’m all about NBA culture and NBA life and I love the teams including the blazers. But where does someone like me fit into your world and how can you guys benefit from it?Dewayne Hankins: (24:15)Yeah. I’d say how we benefit you is we could probably do more to create engaging content. I think there’s a platform for us where we can have content that no one else can. And how do we take advantage of that? And then how do we bring that to our fans? So, I think that’s the first thing. The second thing is obviously merchandise where I think there’s plenty of opportunities for teams to do a better job on the merchandise front. Oftentimes we’ve left it to others and that’s been fun, but I think teams are starting to realize there might be more of an opportunity in merchandise than maybe they had thought. And then third is that connection with the players is huge. And when you have players as I said, CJ and Dame is one of a kind in a lot of ways, how are we taking advantage of those opportunities with our players and with our fans to get to know those players better, tell those stories better. Talked a little bit earlier about storytelling and how important that is. There are so many stories that happen in an NBA season. Some bigger than others, but they’re all meaningful and all impactful. I go back to it was actually in Chicago where Carmelo Anthony finally had one of his big breakout games against the Bulls and his wife was sitting in the crowd and faced timed their son, and pointed the camera at Carmelo on the bench. And he and his son had a moment sort of over FaceTime. And we caught that on social media and it got viewed millions and millions of times.So, those little stories are so meaningful. They bring fans closer to the team. They bring fans closer to those players. And I think us being able to make sure we capture those moments I think means a lot to again, our fan base. It means a lot to us as a business if we can generate revenue from that sort of content. And it’s all stuff that we can do no matter whether or not we have fans in our building. I haven’t talked to our staff about how we’re being disrupted. The pandemic has disrupted the traditional sports industry. We will be able to come back eventually. A vaccine appears to be on the way and sports hopefully by next fall will be back to normal, who knows. But we’re being disrupted right now. There’s a lot of businesses that get disrupted and they never have a path back. So, if we’re disrupted and we know it’s temporary, what are the things we can do that can strengthen the business for the long-term and for later when we get this event income, this ticket base income back?Rob Cressy: (26:39)And I’ll leave with this. I love how you said that because for me, what am I doing? How do I make sure I’m not getting disruptive? Because I couldn’t believe sports didn’t exist. So, let’s call it April 1st hits in sports is like the entire everything that I do. And all of a sudden it no longer exists and never at any point in my life did the thought that sports weren’t a thing ever crossed my mind. And you know what I realized? I had a blind spot. I was like, wait for a second, there’s this thing that can happen that all of a sudden disrupts my entire business as crazy as that is. So, you know what I decided to do? Triple down on structure and process. The things that are repeatable, that I can do over and over again. they’re not sexy, no one sits there and says, Oh man, Rob, tell me about the structure you’re building in your business. But guess what? I had to have a long-term mindset for where things are going and how I’m going to succeed and grow out of this. Because a lot of companies, they, unfortunately, are going to go out of business. Not me. I’m going to be the complete opposite because I’m going to double down on the things that I know are going to build support in the foundation for everything I’m going to do moving forward.Dewayne Hankins: (27:54)Yeah. I think that’s very similar to what we were doing on our business side as well. I think that’s really smart. In a lot of ways, you can’t give up. You can’t wait for something to come back. You have to be able to be nimble and active and change your business all the time. Always be looking over your shoulder. Always be looking forward. It sounds like you’re doing that. So, that’s great.Rob Cressy: (28:14)Dewayne loved jamming and with you. I love following the Blazers. sending tons of good vibes and success your guys’ way. Where can everybody connect with you?Dewayne Hankins: (28:24)You can find me on LinkedIn or I guess you can reach out to me on Twitter. Dewayne Hankins is my handle, so feel free.Rob Cressy: (28:33)And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. And there was so much goodness. I’m curious, what is one thing that you took away from this episode? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @FanFoodondemand. On Instagram @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @RobCressy.