If the National Basketball Association (NBA) were to give an award for “CMO Working in His Dream Job,” Chip Bowers of Oakland, Calif.'s Golden State Warriors would be a shoo-in. The new plaque would go nicely with the eight awards bestowed on the Warriors at the NBA’s 2014 Sales and Marketing meeting.
Now in his third season as Chief Marketing Officer for this year’s NBA Championship winners, Bowers has a lot on his plate: He oversees all marketing and corporate partnership sales and service efforts, manages the team’s game operations and acts as the creative force behind new projects such as the Warriors’ growing number of innovative digital media projects.
Passion Meets Mentorship
Bowers found his passion for sports marketing at a young age, starting as a summer intern with the Atlanta Olympics right out of college. He credits many early mentors for their willingness to share their wisdom with a wet-behind-the-ears kid from Appalachian State University.
The climate of collegiality, teamwork and going the extra mile that shaped him is something Bowers works hard to create between the Warriors and the team’s corporate partners. He’s never happier than when he’s brainstorming new strategies to strengthen the Warriors partnership brands.
And Bowers has a lot of expertise to share: From his start with the San Diego Padres, to eight seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics/Seattle Storm, to a stint with the Orlando Magic, he crisscrossed the country before joining the Warriors.
Chip Bowers took time to chat with us recently about the lessons that have shaped his marketing philosophy and how he puts them to work in building the partner relationships that he refers to as his “Warriors family.”
Sobel: Following your graduation from Appalachian State with a BS in Business/Corporate Communications, you started your career with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) and then worked as a Senior Sales Executive with the San Diego Padres. That’s quite an impressive start for a kid only a few years out of college. Can you share your thoughts with us?
Bowers: I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my career. I was very lucky to have worked with some extremely bright people at the San Diego Padres ― Larry Lucchino, Mike Dee, Sam Kennedy, Theo Epstein, Erik Judson and Alan Ostfield to name a few — all of which have had tremendous careers. I benefited greatly from being around such a great group of guys who had such tremendous business acumen and were willing to share it with me.
Sobel: After four years with the Padres you switched gears and moved into the world of the NBA with teams such as the Seattle Supersonics/Seattle Storm, the Orlando Magic and now the 2014-15 NBA Championship Golden State Warriors. Quite a ride! Can you tell us about the similarities and differences between the various roles you have held, as well as the challenges and advantages of the various cities/markets where you’ve worked?
Bowers: Each of my roles varied based on the rights held by that particular team. However, one common denominator has always been my participation in corporate partnership sales. The partnerships side of the business is where I cut my teeth and it is at the core of my passion for the industry.
I have always enjoyed working with people to understand their goals and objectives and find solutions to their challenges. I think that basic understanding of interpersonal relationships has allowed me to make a smooth transition into leadership roles and various disciplines within the business.
Sobel: A few months ago there was an interesting article in the New York Times entitled “Fans’ Uniform Look Is a Team Effort.” According to the article’s author John Branch, “Before the Golden State Warriors’ latest home playoff game ... each of the nearly 20,000 seats was draped with a gold T-shirt.” You commented that “The impression when you walk into the arena and see 19,000 yellow shirts neatly folded over every chair, it tells you, ‘I’ve arrived ... It kind of takes your breath away.’” Can you explain?
Bowers: It starts with the team having a commitment to providing our fans with a tremendous experience each and every time they attend a game. Our fans are extremely passionate about the Warriors and they love being part of a community of people who share their same interests.
We think the best way to tap into that passion and promote a communal experience is to establish unity within the group. By putting T-shirts on every seat rather than handing them out at the doors, you create a real sense of arrival for fans as they enter the bowl of the arena. People look forward to attending a playoff game and for some it may be their first ever.
That’s why we go out of our way to make attending a Warriors game as memorable an experience as possible. People will later see those T-shirts around town or at future games. When they do, it always serves as a conversation starter for those who attended or wished they were one of the lucky fans who did.
Sobel: What first got me interested in speaking with you was a recent article on Sponsorship.com entitled “How the Golden State Warriors Have Embraced Digital Content.” In the article you say, “We’re tying our partners’ brands into videos that provide the greatest degree of fan engagement.” The example you gave was a video for Peet’s Coffee & Tea that was centered on the making of Warriors Grounds, a limited-edition line of coffee. Can you tell us more?
Bowers: Fans are looking to consume content from the moment they wake up ‘til the time they drift off to sleep. But even when people are passionate about their teams, they are bombarded with so much content from so many sources that they crave new and unique opportunities to engage with their favorite leagues, teams and players.
To fight through the clutter, we look for ways to help our advertisers connect with fans’ hearts and appeal to their interests beyond the game. With Peet’s Coffee, for example, we aligned our fans’ love for coffee with their love for Warriors team. It was a natural fit because Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins is also a huge coffee fan and we provided a behind-the-scenes look at the coffee brewing process through his eyes. That unique perspective created a nice three-pronged connection between the Warriors, the Peet’s brand and our coffee-loving fans.
Sobel: For my last question I want to read you something from a recent article in SF Business Journal called “Warriors Drive into BMW Club, Top-Tier Sponsorship Deals.” In it, author Ron Leuty notes that although you and Warriors President and COO, Rick Welts, have some 70 sponsorship deals in hand for the Warriors, you are adamant in saying that the franchise's strategy is not a "NASCAR mentality," focused on crowding in more and more sponsors.
You say about the deals, "They each have their own message. They each have their own space.” Leuty writes that “BMW, for one, jumped in after Oracle Arena operator Anschutz Entertainment Group, or AEG, and Levy Restaurants renovated the former Courtside Club.” He then raises the point that “None of the deals extends to the 2018-19 season when the Warriors hope to tip off in a new 18,000-seat arena in San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood.”
Welts replies that, "Nobody is writing checks because they don't think they'll get a great value today. The value is being in the family." Can you share your thoughts about what it means for a sponsor to be part of the “Warriors family?”
Bowers: We are very proud of the best-in-class brands that are part of our Warriors partnership family. We have worked diligently over the last few years to create unique and rewarding relationships that drive the key metrics important to our partners.
We work to optimize every partnership differently but the common denominator for all of them is a commitment to innovation. We focus on providing excellent customer service and that has garnered the attention of a number of brands that have recently decided to become part of our team.
Our sponsors may be very different but all of them share an interest in evolving as brands, a willingness to take calculated risks and the desire to work with us in hands-on ways to leverage our time and commitment.
It is truly a great feeling to see all the elements of our Warriors organization coming together to create a winning formula for our fans both on and off the court.