On September 9th, the Dream announced the hiring of Alton Byrd in the position of Chief Revenue Officer. Byrd, a graduate of Columbia University, is very well known in British basketball circles as an overseas player for 17 years and the subject of a Sports Illustrated article highlighting his exploits as the closest thing in the UK to a household name in men’s basketball.
Byrd graduated from Columbia with degrees in urban planning and economics. He had developed his own sports marketing agency in 1989 before his retirement and as served (among other things) as the General Manager of the NFL Europe London Monarchs, in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, as the host of a sports radio show in the UK, and as a business coach.
Swish Appeal had the opportunity to ask Byrd a few questions about his new role with the Dream and about his background.
Swish Appeal: The position of Chief Revenue Officer seems to be a new one in the Dream organization. What areas will you be overseeing?
Alton Byrd: Presently, my role is to work closely with our CEO Ashley Preisinger and oversee ticket sales, corporate partnerships, and brand marketing. It is my intent to encourage and leverage the great strides that have already been made by a terrific team that is already in place to ensure that we meet the objectives set by owners and the high standards required by our fans and corporate partners.
SA: What are you doing right now with the Atlanta Dream? What current project is on your desk right now?
Byrd: The current projects on my plate right now are twofold. One, to plan for a hopeful long run in the playoffs and two, to review our corporate partner agreements and learn about our partners businesses to see how we can enhance their business.
SA: In July, Sarah Ryan was hired by the Dream as a sponsorship sales consultant and high profile hire. Does your job overlap with hers? Will you be working together?
Byrd: Sarah has been a terrific addition to our team and we will be working together. Sarah has great energy for Atlanta Dream basketball and I am excited to work with her going forward.
SA: The description for your position stated that you would be the primary custodian of the Dream brand and would oversee corporate imaging. Are any changes to the Dream logo, colors or other trademarks being planned?
Byrd: At this stage, we have a very solid brand. I am going to be working with our CEO and the owners to ensure that the brand communicates the message we want to send to women, families and kids in the Atlanta area. I do not foresee any changes to the colors or logo at this time.
SA: In identifying corporate sponsors, how does the Dream compete or work with the established sports properties – the Falcons, Braves, etc. – that are chasing the same corporate dollar?
Byrd: Great question. I believe there is a uniqueness about the Atlanta Dream as a sports property and that there is plenty of room in the Atlanta sports market for the Dream. Yes, we do share the ability to connect with the same corporate dollar but our connection to consumer decision makers (82% of consumer decisions are made by women) makes us a real player in the corporate market. Our CEO Ashley Preisinger has been doing terrific in building connections over the last year with the Falcons, Hawks, and Braves. In essence, I believe that the market is not competitive and that all of the teams in the market root for each other and really help each other. The collaborative nature of each of the teams has made it even more of an opportunity for us to thrive. I hope to build on what our CEO and owners have started through collaboration with the other Atlanta sports teams.
SA: Another facet of the description for your position – the hiring and mentoring of the corporate sales staff. You’ve only been in the position for a short time, but are there certain characteristics you want the sales staff to possess? If so, how do you bring them up to speed quickly?
Byrd: In our business, our goal is to completely understand our corporate partners business and their objectives. My goal is to help our team understand how to “ask” the right questions to get answers that will allow us to align our assets with their objectives. We have a terrific group of talented team members who are all very keen to enhance their skills so that we can truly be great listeners to our corporate partners. In doing so, we focus on getting results for our partners.
SA: Discuss the role of new technology and new media in the sales process: what is the definition of “new media”?
Byrd: New media is really how we leverage social media interaction. New media means capturing moments in real time and sharing those moments with our fans. The implication of new media means that when Usher or R. Kelly show up to a Dream game, our fans can get real time Atlanta Dream “experiences” through our use of social media. Our sales process will continue to leverage new media so that our fan base and our corporate partners are completely included in the Dream Experience. We can do exciting things with new media and one of my projects will be to learn how best to create technology and new media brand opportunities for the Atlanta Dream.
SA: Have you had the opportunity to introduce yourself to our current sponsors, such as Aaron’s?
Byrd: I have met several sponsors, but I have not met all of the sponsors as of yet. I am looking forward to meeting and listening to our corporate partners within the next 2-3 weeks.
SA: You used to be the CEO at Clear Focus Marketing in Sacramento. One sentence at the website was “The Myth: Thinking sports sponsorships are only for major companies and large retail brands.” In your role as CRO, what can the Dream offer to smaller companies and retail brands?
Byrd: What we can offer is an opportunity to connect directly with their targeted customer base. The Atlanta Dream can offer smaller businesses a way to connect their brand to consumers on the court through our in-arena experience, off the court through our players, mascot and community affairs initiatives, and through connecting with our many community based organizations that make up the backbone of our customer base. All of this for an affordable investment that we believe will show a solid return on investment.
SA: When you worked for the Maloofs, you had once mentioned that the Sacramento Kings had “great support, but they just haven’t had a great team.” Is the reverse the case in Atlanta, i.e. Atlanta is a great team but the greatness does not translate into support? I believe the Dream are 11th out of 12 teams this year in attendance.
Byrd: I believe that our support is very solid. I also believe that we will continue to grow our support and fan base through continued investment in our “12 Month Year Round” connection to our fan base. Rest assured that we will be seeking to improve our standing in terms of attendance and you will see improvement in attendance next season. We have already seen significant growth in paid tickets this year to the tune of 8-12 percent and also good growth in total attendance at around 5 percent. We are near the top of the league in terms of growth year on year. I am encouraged with the direction we are moving, and I expect we will see even more growth next year with newly standardized reporting systems at the league level.
SA: What sort of work did you do for the Sacramento Kings when you worked for the Maloofs? How much experience have you had with the WNBA?
Byrd: My previous role at Maloof Sports and Entertainment was Vice President of Strategic Alliances for the Sacramento Kings, Sacramento Monarchs, Knights (Indoor Soccer), and The Senior PGA Tournament held in Sacramento. I was responsible for sponsorship sales, services, broadcast and brand management. I have experience with the WNBA through the Sacramento Monarchs and was involved in positioning and marketing the team to corporate partners.
SA: Describe the difference between being a business coach and actually working in an official role with a business? Do you end up “taking your own advice” so to speak?
Byrd: Being a business coach is fun and educational. I have learned over the last few years that your ability to ask the right questions will be directly connected to the quality of information you receive from your clients. And in coaching, most clients already have the answers! With a direct role in a business, you are directly involved in each decision and how it affects the big picture. Business coaching is designed to allow those being coached to create their own answers and to follow through with those answers and “feelings” about their business.
SA: People might not know this, but you were the former general manager of an NFL Europe football team, the London Monarchs. Do any of those skills transfer over to your current position?
Byrd: Absolutely. You have to build a connection with your fan base. You have to give fans and consumers of your brand a great “experience”. The success of your team will be based on the vision and values of its owners and senior management. Successful teams on the court are usually based around their love and loyalty for each other and their willingness to sacrifice individual success for the common interest of the team. It is the same in all sports.
SA: How does a basketball player end up as GM of a football team?
Byrd: I was at the end of my playing career and I had already served as GM of three basketball clubs in the United Kingdom. I got a chance to work for a great organization like the NFL and learned a great deal from the experience.
SA: Is there a message you’d like to give to Dream fans and to season ticket holders?
Byrd: I would like to say to our fans that we will continue to work hard to give you first class customer service and that we will listen to you and understand what you would like to see and hear from the Atlanta Dream. I’d also like to let them know that we will work extremely hard to create a championship level organization both on and off the court. That is our mission.