Sporting Events & the American Basketball Association (Podcast)
In this episode we talk to Joe Newman, the CEO and Co-founder of the American Basketball Association (ABA), the largest professional sports league in the US. The ABA has teamed up with Ticketbud to focus on growth ahead of their new season.
- Rebuilding the ABA brand and how the central association supports the success of more than 150 teams
- The ABA’s partnership with Ticketbud
- The value of moving the ABA to online ticketing. Enabling them to reach new audiences, while gaining valuable customer data and buyer behavior insights
- Challenges of implementing changes across an organization with so many independently owned teams
- Communication practices between the ABA and it’s teams
- Promoting a new ticketing purchase channel to fans
- ABA promotional efforts, merchandise and more
American Basketball Association
The original American Basketball Association was a men’s professional basketball league that operated from 1967 to 76. The current ABA was relaunched in 1999 and now includes over 150 teams across the country, making it the largest professional sports league in the US. It is also the most diversified with 75% of its owners being African-American, Hispanic, Asian or women – with over 30 of the teams being owned by women.
The ABA season runs from November to March with playoffs that follow. Learn more about the ABA and its teams, or visit the ABA on Ticketbud for tickets (new teams are signing up to Ticketbud every week).
Ticketbud Partners with the ABA
The ABA and Ticketbud partnership is a great match for both organizations. Ticketbud sets ABA teams up for success, providing ongoing customer support and comprehensive reporting. Pre-sold game tickets give the ABA early access to funds and the ability to reach new audiences through digital channels.
Joe Newman is the CEO and Co-founder of the American Basketball Association (ABA). He is formerly the owner of Joe Newman Advertising, a firm that represented such clients as KFC, Arbys, RCA, Whirlpool, Burger King and others. Former CEO of Alliance Broadcasting, a company that owned 16 radio stations in Florida, North Carolina, Michigan and Indiana as well as CEO of the Professional Marketing Institute, a sales training company.
Lisa: Welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits, where we share tips, advice and insights from event organizers, for event organizers. I’m your host, Lisa Carson. If you are new to this podcast, welcome! If you are a returning listener, welcome back!
In this episode, I talk to Joe Newman, the CEO and co-founder of the American Basketball Association, the largest professional sports league in the U.S.
Joe talks to us about rebuilding the ABA brand, and how the central association supports the success of more than 150 teams. Joe highlights the importance of moving the ABA to online ticketing, enabling them to reach new audiences, while gaining valuable customer data and buyer behavior insights.
He also shares the challenges of implementing changes across such a wide-ranging organization, with so many independently owned teams. We discuss the communication with teams, and the promotion of a new payment method for fans.
We run through some of the logistics of how the ABA and its teams are set up on Ticketbud, and we also cover ABA promotional efforts, merchandise and more.
I hope you enjoy listening to my chat with Joe. Here it is!
Lisa: Hi, Joe. Welcome to the podcast!
Joe: Thank you very much, Lisa. It’s a pleasure meeting you.
Lisa: Thanks for joining us today to chat about the ABA. The original American Basketball Association was a men’s professional basketball league that operated from 1967 to ’76, I believe. The current ABA was relaunched in 1999, which now includes over 150 teams?
Joe: That’s correct. It’s the largest professional sports league in the world.
Lisa: That’s pretty incredible! Can you tell us a bit about the ABA and your involvement with the association?
Joe: I’m the co-founder and the CEO of the ABA. I originally was the ad agency for the Indiana Pacers, in the original ABA, back in the 60s and 70s, when they were both in the ABA and the NBA. We brought it back in the year 2000, and have grown it to be such a large league.
Incidentally, it’s the most diversified professional sports league in history, with 75% of my owners being African American, Hispanic, Asian, and I have over 30 women owners of ABA teams.
Lisa: That’s wonderful!
Lisa: How have you gone about rebuilding the ABA brand?
Joe: Basically, my goal was to provide an opportunity for really a large number of players to have a place to play, and there were not that many professional opportunities for them. The second thing I saw was that it really became difficult to own professional franchises, so I made it easier to own and operate an ABA team than any other any professional sports league ever.
The market reservation, or what they might call a franchise fee, is the lowest in professional sports, so the teams don’t dig a big black hole that they can’t get out of financially. Very important. But more important than that was the idea of giving them a business plan that covered every aspect of operations. Not only could they have a professional basketball team, but they could turn it into a successful and profitable organization.
Our business model, which we call the ABA Initiatives and ABA Keys to Success, is unparalleled in sports. We cover every single possible aspect of how to make a successful business, and that business happens to be basketball.
Lisa: That was one of the things I was going to ask. As the central organization, how are you supporting the teams in the ABA to be successful?
Joe: Probably the most important thing is the business plan itself. It covers the organization and training, the marketing of tickets and sponsorships, how to develop community support, press/media support, how to develop promotions, how to do merchandising, how to develop an internship program, and all of the other ancillary parts of running a good business.
I believe that running an ABA team is no different than running a McDonald’s or a Walmart or a Costco or Southwest Airlines. There are business principles no different, for example, than running Ticketbud and operating Ticketbud.
You have to build a customer base. You have to take care of that customer base, and then you have to have the ability to market it. In order to do that, you have to have people like yourself, Lisa, or Leyla, or others in the company, to execute the Ticketbud game plan or business plan. Well, I show how to do that in professional sports.
Lisa: Obviously, you’ve got all these different teams all over the place, and different management and stuff like that, so it’s good that they have a centralized support system.
Lisa: What are you doing to support the event organizers on game day, about making it a great experience for attendees?
Joe: I consider event organizers to be extremely important to this. I’ve always encouraged every team to establish a relationship with a good event organizer, and to treat each of the ten home games as a special event. That special event should include music and entertainment, a pregame show, halftime shows, and to be able to use event organizers to show them how to have hospitality rooms, how to sell group sales.
I mean, if a person is going to have a birthday party or an anniversary party or an office party, an ABA game is really a great place to be. But it’s not very easy to run a good professional event. We felt that a good event organizer could be a great asset to an ABA team.
I would encourage any event planners that happen to be on this podcast to contact any of the 150 local teams, and try to establish that relationship. I think it’s invaluable. It’s one thing to have ten players running up and down the court. It’s another thing to have that event be really extra special.
Lisa: Yeah. It is a whole event experience. I’ve certainly noticed, coming to the U.S. from Australia, a lot of the sporting events really step it up in terms of the whole experience. It’s not just about the game. There’s a whole lot more that goes into that event, and the attendees’ experience.
Joe: Absolutely. Incidentally, next season, this coming summer, ABA Australia breaks. We have been working on that for two and a half years, and are going to be combining several of the existing Australian leagues into ABA Australia. We have a fabulous CEO that runs it, CJ Henderson, and have established remarkable relationships with Australia. So, you’ll be seeing that coming.
Lisa: That’s awesome. I’m looking forward to that. That will be great! Talk a little bit about your ticketing. Traditionally, the ABA game tickets, I think, were cash sales at the gate. This year, the ABA has partnered with Ticketbud for your event ticketing, giving you the advantage of presold tickets. This move gives you access to funds sooner, and it provides detailed reporting and valuable information about the attendees.
Why did you think this was an important move for the ABA?
Joe: Personally, along with media, I consider the access to tickets to be the most vital part of operating an ABA team. It’s been our largest revenue stream.
Up until we established the relationship with Ticketbud, if a fan wanted a ticket, he either had to find somebody locally to buy a ticket from, or go to and stand in line at the ticket counter at the actual game itself, unlike the major leagues like NFL or Major League Baseball, or the NBA, where they have their huge facilities and huge marketing programs, and use alternate online programs which I won’t name.
They make access to tickets very easy. We’ve not had that access. Ticketbud now provides us with the access. The problem, if we will have one, which I hope we don’t, is how hard the individual 150 teams promote the fact that they do have Ticketbud available to their fans.
It’s one thing to be able to have the tremendous services that Ticketbud provides. It’s another thing to let the market know that it exists. That’s what we’re charged with.
Lisa: It’s that awareness. We’re seeing more and more, the number of sporting events and other events, people are increasingly purchasing these things on mobile devices, and searching for things to do.
So yes, you may have established fans for ABA, but then there are also opportunities to grow that fan base. When people are looking for things to do, they’re usually looking on a mobile, so if you’ve also got your ticketing on mobile, it’s very easy for them to go through and “Okay, I’m going to go do this, this weekend!”
Joe: Exactly. That’s extremely important. In addition to that, it’s the most affordable sports and entertainment that’s available in the marketplace. When you realize that a ticket to an ABA game, generally with free parking and very low-priced concessions, is only $10 for adults and $5 for children, you could ask yourself, Lisa, how many other places can you go to get something as exciting, with all of the music and entertainment?
We fuse music into our sports. There’s a lot of rap and hip-hop and rock at all of the games, in addition to the games themselves. For $10, it’s tremendous.
Lisa: It’s a great value.
Joe: You give us access to selling tickets, and we appreciate that.
Lisa: You mentioned, obviously all of these teams are operating independently, so there are going to be challenges in getting buy-in from everyone, when you make a change like this. How have you gone about communicating with teams, the value of selling tickets online with Ticketbud, and that partnership?
Joe: Actually, I promote it virtually every day. I have, going out to all of the teams every day, what are called Marketing Information Memos, and incorporate it two or three times a week. I recommend that they contact Ticketbud and sign up. The fact that you get all of the benefit of all of the marketing that Ticketbud does, all of its back room and its technical ability, and its reputation, and it’s free to the teams, it’s just a no-brainer.
But here’s the problem I face with everything. I have a major national Walmart program, where Walmarts are putting in ABA merchandise into Walmart, and yet I have only 50 of the 150 teams that have taken advantage of it. So, it is a work in progress.
I have as a standard line “S=E+DGU,” Success=Effort, Plus Don’t Give Up!” I, as you mentioned, had four or five calls this week. When I finish with my constant pressure on the teams to recognize the value, we’ll have all 150 teams on Ticketbud.
Lisa: I think it’s good, as well, for them to be able to work with Ticketbud, in that we do have that support. If it is the first time that you are selling things online or using an online ticketer, we make that process easy, and set up a lot of it for you, which is good.
Joe: You do a beautiful job of it so far, and I’m very impressed with it, and will be promoting Ticketbud and the availability of tickets on that, very shortly.
Lisa: The other side of it is, obviously ticket buyers are used to buying tickets at the gate, and there’s that established habit of doing that. How are you communicating that change that “Hey, now you can get them in advance online!”?
Joe: The teams send out news releases and press releases, are supposed to be extremely active on social media, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc., and to constantly promote their upcoming games, and promote the availability of Ticketbud. Some do, some don’t. Anything is a work in progress.
Lisa: Absolutely. And the adoption of any new way of doing things is always – some people jump on really quickly, and others sort of slowly jump on, as they see that it works. Let’s talk a little bit about the setup you’ve got on Ticketbud.
You have an overarching ABA landing page. Then, each association has their own, or team has their own organization page, which allows them to have their own branding and content information. Then, they can showcase all of their games for the season, as individual events that you can buy tickets for.
That also allows them the flexibility to operate independently financially, with separate accounts, because obviously, you’ve got different team managers. Can you talk about why that was important?
Joe: It is important, because these are independent teams and members of the ABA. Some of them are very aggressive in their marketing and with their website and social media. So, we felt it was valuable that each team work individually with Ticketbud, to establish what it is they want to present to the public.
The test will be the day that we get our first report, that X tickets were sold. The minute they receive their first “royalty” or payment for a ticket, they will jump on it. I am now in a batch of Walmart stores, and I’m getting reports that the ABA merchandise is moving quickly and rapidly, and the displays are beautiful. As soon as Walmart or the company provides that first royalty check to the team owners that are participating, you’re going to see a rash of teams jumping on the Walmart program. And they will jump on Ticketbud. I’m thrilled with Ticketbud and the service we’re getting.
Lisa: The other element is, obviously there are fees that you collect, as the central organization. Having online ticketing enables that to be built into the process, and happen automatically, so that you’re not chasing teams for extra fees. Can you tell us a bit about why that’s helpful, as the central association?
Joe: Because we are going to be the largest promoter of the tickets, so we felt for the first time, that there should be some incentive for the league as a whole, to do it. We’ve never really shared in ticket sale prices, and as long as the teams are basically receiving what they would receive if they sold the ticket themselves.
When you look at your competitive brands, there is always an upcharge a little bit over and above the regular ticket price. But that’s because of the tremendous convenience that online tickets provide, and the smoothness of the operation, without having to get in your car and go down to the venue or go down to the shopping center, or go wherever you have to go to get the ticket. It’s just that little click.
So, we feel we’re going to be promoting it on our different platforms that the ABA has. I have very good traffic on the ABA, probably 1,500 visitors a day, about 50,000 a month. Right at the top of the ABA website is the Ticketbud logo and link. We think that that’s worth the small fee that we are receiving.
Lisa: To help promote that nationally. Speaking of promotion, what are the promotional channels that seem to work best, when promoting ABA games?
Joe: Social media seems to be the number one. We do get a lot of coverage from radio and TV in the local markets, a lot of coverage from the newspapers, with press releases and news releases, and the community events that we have. We are constantly involved with Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs and AAUs, and also not-for-profit organizations, community organizations, youth groups.
Some teams will make the people they come into contact with aware of Ticketbud. Others don’t take advantage of the opportunity. It would be so simple to be at an event and say “If you’d like to get a ticket to an upcoming game, just log onto Ticketbud.com and you can get an ABA ticket.”
It’s a learning experience. Hopefully, more and more teams will take advantage of it, as they see the tremendous benefits that Ticketbud provides.
Lisa: You talked about social media. How does the ABA use social media to engage with fans?
Joe: When you have 150 teams, and most of the teams are very young, they are on Facebook and YouTube and Instagram and Twitter regularly. I don’t monitor it as much as I provide them with information to talk about press and media, and social media exists for the news they make. That is more than just running up and down the court. There are so many good things.
We just had a charity event for Susan G. Komen, and raised a lot of money for breast cancer research. Very important. We’ve had so many clinics. I ask them to get that information out into the world of social media. Some of them have large followings.
Some have lesser followings, but when you take it as a group of 150, and then you take all of their coaches that are on social media, and take all of the players that are constantly on social media, we hope that they’ll put out as much information as they can, about their teams and all of the things that they’re doing.
Lisa: A league like this is very much based in community, so doing things in the community, as well, and your ties to the community is going to be important. Talking about that through social media has a lot of value.
Lisa: You mentioned promotional merchandise obviously being sold, essentially, but also each of the teams probably have promotional merchandise. is there a brand approval process that they go through, that has to be checked off by you? How does that work?
Joe: In Walmart, Walmart has to approve the quality of the products, so all of the products that are sold in Walmart are done centralized, by the distributing company that is doing it. They’re an approved vendor, so yes. They have to have the ABA logo, and they have to be of a good quality.
As far as what they do at their home games, as long as they use the ABA logo on any material that’s even team branded, it’s okay with us. We don’t supervise that.
Lisa: I have no doubt that you have faced a lot of challenges, coordinating the ABA and building a fan following. What have been some of your learnings along the way?
Joe: I think probably the biggest thing is that when an owner decides to own an ABA team, he does not realize all of the other elements that go into being a successful operator. They have this love of basketball, the love of competition.
But in some cases, they don’t see themselves as a business, and having to do the same business practices that any other business, like a McDonald’s or a Burger King or a Pizza Hut would do, is the organization itself. The ability to recruit good people to carry out the various initiatives that go into running a business, success is directly related to their ability to execute their own business plan.
Lisa: It’s a very common thing with any small business, where someone starts a business, that they’re passionate about something in particular, whether it’s basketball or something. Then, once they start the business, there are a whole lot of other things that go into managing that business, that take your attention away from just focusing on the thing that you love.
Joe: That’s right.
Lisa: That’s why getting the right people in, if you’re not particularly good with the financial side of things or you’re not particularly good with the promotional side of things, or whatever it is, getting people in that have that skillset, that’s so valuable.
Joe: That’s exactly right. The other problem I think I’ve had is that we have grown so rapidly. In the United States, the NBA is the largest, most successful professional basketball league ever. They have done a tremendous job, and they are the golden ring for all professional players who are not in the NBA.
The NBA has seen us as a threat to the NBA, rather than a source of players, and developing young people into becoming basketball fans. So, there’s been constant pressure from above, if you want to call the NBA “above,” to do anything they can to stop the growth of the ABA.
They can’t, and they should be focusing on themselves and all of the successes they’ve had, and all of the great things they’ve done, and stop being so terribly concerned about my little league that just wants to provide good basketball at affordable prices.
Lisa: That’s a shame.
Joe: When you talk about problems, the NBA is -.
Lisa: The NBA is your problem!
Joe: Is a giant! Yeah, they are. Yet we should have a wonderful, warm relationship. Believe it or not, the talent in the ABA, I could put together a dozen teams that could compete with any NBA team and G-league team, which is their farm league. Yet they have been afraid to scrimmage us, do practice games with us or play with us, because if they did, it would bust the bubble that they are so great.
We don’t have LeBron James and Stephen Curry, and a few of the other superstars. But when you get past the top four on any NBA team, I have 50 players that could outplay all of those others. But that’s them. I have to concentrate on us, and concentrate on being the best we can be. That’s what I focus on all of the time.
Lisa: That’s awesome! Do you have any tips or advice for event organizers in general, that you can share?
Joe: Event organizers, when they are called upon to put together an office party or to put together a special event of any type, an ABA game would be a tremendous place to do it. The hospitality is so warm. The price is so right, and we have such great community support.
When they are called upon by Kiwanis or Lions Club or Rotary or Optimus, or they’re called upon by a Boys and Girls Club or a YMCA or a PAL, or any not-for-profit organization like cancer or diabetes, or any military organization that wants to have a special event, the event organizers could say “Why don’t we do something really good at a basketball game?”
One of our promotions is a $10,000 shoot-out. What a fun thing it would be to have a group like a group of physicians or optometrists or dentists coming to a game, and go out on the basketball court at halftime, and shoot for $10,000!
Lisa: Give it a shot!
Lisa: I love it! I ask this question to everyone I interview. I always think there are interesting things you can learn. Is there any advice you wish you had been given at the start of your career?
Joe: I have a multi, varied career. I’ve retired three times. I just like to work.
Lisa: You keep coming back.
Joe: Yeah. I, for 20 years, ran a very large advertising agency in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was known, mostly because I was Colonel Sanders’ first ad agency, when he began Kentucky Fried Chicken. But I handled many national accounts, like Arby’s and Burger King and Jiffy Lube and Paramount Pictures, and others that are very well known in the United States.
I did that for 20 years, and decided to retire. But during that period, I also opened the first video production company in Indianapolis, and produced all of my own television commercials. I was very deep into video production.
But I came out of retirement in a year, and bought 16 radio stations, and operated them for ten years. I decided I didn’t want to be in the radio business, so I then brought back the ABA. When I went into it, I said I would do two things. I would build it to the largest professional sports league ever. And two, I would make it the most diversified professional sports league ever.
Number three, I would create, really, a program of high standards and requirements, and code of conduct on and off the court, unlike anything that has ever happened. We are so zero tolerance in many things, including drugs, abuse and treating people with dignity and respect, which is the underlying theme of the ABA. You treat people with dignity and respect.
Subsequently, I think I’ve created a league that is just an extraordinary league built on the high character and good character of its people.
What will I do next? I don’t know. It’s interesting, because I’m 82, and I don’t stop. I’m now getting ready to develop a huge veterans’ entrepreneurship program on the sideline, that will involve veterans. I’ve seen so long, how important it is to give a veteran a job.
I say give a veteran a business, and let the veteran hire veterans in their jobs. So, I’m going to develop a program that makes ownership of businesses for veterans something that’s within their reach, and change that dynamic a little bit.
Lisa: I like that. Living lots of lifetimes there! You’ve got lots of things you cram in. That’s great, though. I like that you get passionate about something new, and “I’m going to try something else now.”
Joe: Just a lot of different things. Connie and I, we have six children, 16 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and two more great-grandchildren on the way!
Joe: We have a pretty big family, and still, here I am doing an interview with a nice young person like yourself!
Lisa: I love it! My final question I was going to ask you was, can you tell us about a great event you have attended?
Joe: My dad was an announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League, back in the 30s. So, I grew up around sports. I’ve attended World Series’. They didn’t have Super Bowls when I was a kid, but I’ve attended a lot of great sporting events, including seeing boxing matches with Joe Lewis, and World Series’.
I think probably that was the highlight of my young career. But believe it or not, I’m not a big person that likes to go to crowds. So to us, Connie and I like to go to symphonies. We go to the symphony and have been symphony ticket holders for the Indianapolis Symphony for 20 years.
We go to Beef and Boards and we go to Clues, and have been season ticket holders for Broadway shows and musicals. I think, to me, to go to the symphony on Saturday night, although we have a terrible one this Saturday night – they are showing the movie Psycho.
Lisa: Oh, no! And playing the music to it!
Joe: And playing the music to Psycho.
Lisa: It’s very appropriate for the week, but -.
Joe: Yeah. That’s pretty much it.
Lisa: Thank you for chatting with me on the podcast today, Joe. I really appreciate it.
Joe: I appreciate it too, Lisa. I do appreciate Ticketbud. I want to grow the relationship, not only with the teams but with the league, and anything that we can do to help your company. In the world, there is one major bigger competitor to you, but not necessarily better than you, by any stretch of the imagination. You, like us, we see the NBA as the golden ring, with no limits to what we can do.
I’m sure Ticketbud sees the potential to extend its reach. It’s incumbent upon us to do what we can to help you grow your business. That’s the commitment that we make whenever we have a relationship with anybody.
Lisa: This year it’s been a great partnership. We’re really excited to see the season kick off. Anyone wanting to find out more about games can go to ABALiveAction.com. The season runs from November to March, at locations across the country. You can get your tickets now through Ticketbud.
Thanks for joining us this episode. Until next time, this is Ticketbud Tidbits!
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