And the activators don’t stop there. Among their other feats are the following:
*Brett convinced Wrigley to sponsor the Nets in the 2007 off-season, when the team wasn’t even playing -- an unheard-of coup. The deal included courtside gum bins for the players and Wrigley signage in the team’s locker room.
*Michael persuaded ADT, the home-security-systems giant, to advertise inside a glass elevator shaft at BankAtlantic Center, where the Panthers play.
*This past season, as the Panthers neared their first playoff berth of the decade, Michael issued the Panthers Promise, which stated that fans who bought tickets to four games would get four free tickets the following season if the team failed to make the playoffs. (They did fail, and fans did get their tickets.)
*Knowing that many people from the New Jersey–New York area visit South Florida in the winter, the brothers hatched a Snowbird Ticket Exchange, whereby each team’s season-ticket holders can swap their tickets for games or concerts at the other team’s arena.
The Yormarks’ success in boosting attendance, season-ticket sales, and merchandising dollars is even more impressive when you consider that both men took over underperforming teams that are often overshadowed in their crowded markets.
Brett’s Nets, who play at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, compete for media attention and fan dollars with the area’s eight other professional sports teams, including the NBA’s New York Knicks, the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets, Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees and New York Mets, and the NHL’s New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils. In addition, the Nets are hampered because there’s no direct mass transit from Manhattan to the Izod Center, which sits in New Jersey swampland that brings to mind the opening credits of The Sopranos, minus the “Woke Up This Morning” theme song.
Michael’s Panthers play just north of Miami, which means they scratch and claw against celebrity franchises such as the NBA’s Miami Heat and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, not to mention the gorgeous beaches and perpetual sunshine of one of the country’s most nontraditional hockey markets.
In 32 seasons, the Nets have never won the NBA championship, though they made it to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. The Panthers, also title-less, logged one Stanley Cup appearance in 1996; the team has not made the playoffs in the 2000s. But far from being depressed by the lack of athletic glory, the Yormarks seem to thrive on adversity.
“Michael’s got an undying drive to succeed on the business side, because that’s the piece he has control over,” says Chris Hibbs, who worked with Michael at the Panthers and now serves as senior director of sales and marketing for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. “He says, ‘Okay, if the hockey side is not going to drive revenue and get sponsors excited, what else about our business does?’ “
Says Adam Silver, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the NBA: “Brett knows that at the end of the year, only one team is victorious. He knows the key to selling is not to sell wins and losses. His passion for selling is such that people really enjoy doing business with him.”
For the Yormarks, being number two (or lower) in the market means needing to do some tough skating and dribbling, but it also means having plenty of running room and lots of autonomy, something the brothers might not enjoy at more established and successful franchises like the NBA’s Boston Celtics and the NHL’s New York Rangers.
“An underdeveloped property is probably best for me, because I consider myself a game changer and a difference maker,” Brett says. “I want the ball. That’s in my DNA.”
Says Michael: “My expertise has always been turnaround. That’s our niche in the market. We’re guys who enjoy challenges.”