The Philadelphia 76ers’ New Management Duo on How They Pivoted Throughout Covid-19

The Philadelphia 76ers, the first team in the National Basketball Association to score a jersey deal (and one of the most popular basketball franchises on social media in 2019), recently promoted two women in its executive leadership ranks.

Former CMO Katie O’Reilly will start her seventh season with the 76ers as CRO (after her maternity leave), and after spending five years with 76ers operator Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, Brittanie Boyd has been promoted to svp of marketing at the subsidiary. In their new roles, O’Reilly will be responsible for overseeing ticket sales and service and sponsorship sales and activation, while Boyd will manage the direction of the team’s branding, marketing and business solutions. Boyd will also be responsible for the 76ers’ game presentation, social media, digital and video content business development.

Both have had ample experience in sports marketing, but like many professionals in the space, they were hit with an unprecedented challenge that upended their initial campaign ideas. Adweek spoke with O’Reilly and Boyd and learned that rather than balking at the obstacles they faced, they scrapped their business plans over night and pivoted. As a result, the sports organization launched more than double the amount of fan engagement initiatives on average compared to previous years, and spearheaded a multimillion-dollar pledge to fighting systemic racism.

O’Reilly described this period as “really fascinating” and”invigorating” for the marketing department at HBSE’s marquee property, noting that the innovation and creativity that came forth under her leadership as CMO in the last seven months has “been amazing.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was all about using our platform to amplify important messaging, whether that was a PSA about staying safe and healthy, or supporting our front line workers,” O’Reilly said. “We had a campaign where we actually worked with other sports teams in the city.”

That two-minute cinematic spot, “Brotherly Love,” was launched in April alongside the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers to emphasize unity and fraternity through the strain of the pandemic. This sparked another campaign, #PhilaUnited, which highlighted uplifting stories of essential workers and fans in the local community.

“It was all about finding new ways to engage our fans because they are no longer at games, and we aren’t putting on a show like we used to,” O’Reilly said.

She also noted that the two main issues her colleagues sought to resolve were how to reach fans digitally and virtually while making them feel connected to the experience and how to get folks excited about basketball during a time when they are traditionally down at the Jersey Shore and the 76ers are in their off season. Other initiatives the team debuted in 2020 under O’Reilly’s direction included a partnership with the Giant Food Company to donate meals to healthcare workers and support minority-owned restaurants in Philadelphia, deeming July 6 “76 Day,” and creating a civic engagement platform to encourage citizens to vote.

“I think the silver lining in this hiatus and what we are learning from marketing in COVID is … expediting natural progression and (the) need to shift to a heavier digital marketing approach” Boyd said, mentioning that only a small fraction of NBA fans around the world are ever able to attend a live event. “The onus has always been on us to find ways to engage with our fans digitally.”

Part of this engagement also came in the form of a comprehensive and company-wide Black Lives Matter campaign, which included a minute-and-a-half spot distributed across the 76ers’ social channels and a $20 million commitment from HBSE to economically revitalize Black communities and small businesses owned by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people in Philadelphia and Newark. As the former vice president of partnerships at HBSE and co-chair of the organization’s DEI committee, Boyd played an integral role in unveiling the action plan to champion equality. She is also the co-founder of Black Women in Sports and Entertainment (BWISE), an organization created to build a support network for Black women and a pipeline of diverse talent within the industry.

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