Jon Spoelstra is an American writer, sports marketer and former long-time National Basketball League executive who oversaw the Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, Buffalo Braves, and Portland Trail Blazers. As a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, Jon’s work has had a major impact in the sports industry. Jon’s marketing books, written in the late 90s: Ice to the Eskimos: How to Market a Product Nobody Wants and Marketing Outrageously, continue to be used as Sport Management textbooks all over the world. At SPMA, we consider being able to interview Jon an honor. Each and every single one of us has been influenced by Jon’s books in some way, thus getting to speak with him was incredible. If you’re involved in the sports industry in any way, shape or form, Jon Spoelstra is a name you’ll want to know!
The interview with Jon Spoelstra was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Wow! You have had such an unbelievable career in the sport industry. Tell us about what you’re up to currently.
The coronavirus hasn’t affected me much—I retired from the sports business, even selling my interest in my baseball teams, the Savannah Bananas and the Macon Bacon. In retirement, I was reading where there’s a trend with business books.
The trend: faster-cheaper-one subject-flash-bam!
The trend goes: Instead of 300 pages, how about 50-80 pages? No paper, strictly electronic. Instead of charging $27 each, go with $3-$5 Kindle book. Cover one subject only, but cover it in depth. It made so much sense that I found myself agreeing halfway through the story.
I thought: I could do that. So, I wrote a 76-page one-subject book. Get Your Ideas APPROVED, Job Skill #1: How to Get Your Boss to Approve Anything You Want to Do. I launch it on Amazon on July 20 as an ebook, paperback and audible book.
In between writing, I’ll play over 100 rounds of golf this year.
Do you think being able to market a sports product that nobody wants is easier said than done today as opposed to when you wrote Ice to the Eskimos: How to Market a Product Nobody Wants?
I’m not sure it’s ever easy marketing an unpopular sports product. That being said, there is at least one inviting attribute with that sports product that would appeal to some folks. In the case of when I was president of the New Jersey Nets, their one attribute was that they played somebody else. We focused on teams that were exciting like Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics. If you wanted to see those stars, you’d have to buy tickets from us.
Identify the attribute(s)
Identify who would be interested in that attribute
Identify how to reach that group and go for it.
There are more tools to use in marketing than ever before.
You are revered in sport business schools across North America for some of the concepts written in your book Marketing Outrageously. Of the 17 ground rules set out, tell us which are the MOST and LEAST applicable to modern day sport marketing?
The two that I mention the most are from Marketing Outrageously Redux.
#8: New as a way of life
#2: What’s it gonna take?
This doesn’t mean you have to be Elon Musk, but it’s vital to be aware of new applications and new tweaks to various things you do for a living.
‘What’s it gonna take’ is a simple question that needs a more complex answer. I’ve asked that question more than a thousand times when a department head would complain that something was impossible. When I asked the question, the answer usually came back as ‘money.’ I would then, of course, ask, “How much?” Invariably, they wouldn’t know, and invariably when we dug down on the numbers it was far more financially doable than ever thought. Then the question would be: how do we do it?
How important is it to think "outside the box" in the sport industry, and sport marketing specifically? Additionally, can thinking outside the box be taught? How does one go about "thinking outside the box" and then presenting that to upper management without feeling like they are "too out there"?
I think it’s important to think outside the box in any industry. I think far more people actually do this type of thinking but are often too intimidated on doing what it takes to get that ‘outside the box idea’ a reality. That’s why I wrote the book Get Your Ideas APPROVED, Job Skill #1: How to Get Your Boss to Approve Anything You Want to Do.
Thinking outside the box and getting approvals are part of the same process. Getting an idea approved by a boss is a skill that can be learned, and not surprisingly, the more times you get outrageous ideas approved, the easier it is to come up with the next ideas.
Getting the approval of an idea is like going in front of The Supreme Court. If you had a case in front of the Supreme Court to save your life, how much would you prepare? Would just wing it?
Well, your boss is, in essence, your Supreme Court. Your judge and jury rolled into one. How would you prepare to get a crazy idea approved? What’s the format? What’s the clincher?
In your book Marketing Outrageously, you wrote about how when crafting the book, you realized your greatest successes came in a "crummy economy." How can sport organizations use that advice in such a time of great economic and social uncertainty?
In a bad economy, many managers just hunker down and go to great lengths to avoid risks. That means they avoid thinking. They become less competitive. While many of my ideas seemed a bit crazy (or a lot crazy) to outsiders, our staff did a tremendous amount of thinking, planning, plotting and preparing and with that type of effort the ideas did not seem risky at all.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Jon Spoelstra has had such a successful career in the sports industry! From serving multiple NBA teams to writing multiple cherished book, Spolestra’s reputation as being one of the most innovative, creative-thinkers in sports marketing is well-deserved. Despite retiring from the sports business, Jon Spoelstra continues to write. His books have been and continue to be inspiring to future sports industry professionals. Even Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban said he continually picks up Marketing Outrageously for guidance! Even if sports marketing isn’t your area of interest, I highly recommended picking up one of Jon Spoelstra’s books. His insights are bound to help you in any aspect of life!