Sports Biz’s Double Play

Siblings are a common sight in the sports world: quarterbacks Payton and Eli Manning, tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, football twins Tiki and Ronde Barber. But Brett and Michael Yormark are really a sight. Haven't heard of the Yormarks? That's probably because these two guys aren't actually on the field. Built too slight to be pro athletes, they found another way into the arena: Brett as CEO of the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise, and Michael as president of the Florida Panthers hockey team.

Both solicitous and, by all accounts, unfailingly decent sports, the 41-year-old Yormark brothers seem to have been wired at birth with double the chutzpah genes of average humans. Their affable natures and brash acumen are fast making them two of the most successful and influential figures in the multibillion-dollar business of pro sports. Oh, and they also have the distinction of being the only identical twins in the industry sitting in the corner office. Which one's which? (The jerseys are a clue.)

The Yormarks' singular talent is in finding new ways to wring money out of a business where every conceivable piece of equipment and square inch of stadium space has already been sold to the highest bidding sponsor. Michael coaxed ADT, the security firm, into advertising inside the shaft of a glass elevator at the Sunrise Arena near Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where the Panthers play. Brett convinced Wrigley to sponsor the Nets during the entire off-season—when they don't even play an exhibition game. "I've never heard of anyone doing that in any sport," says Marc Ganis, president of sports-business-consulting firm Sports Corp. Ltd. Both men regularly enlist their pampered, multimillion-dollar superstar athletes to help wine and dine well-off folks who, out of gratitude for the access, will presumably buy season tickets. (Brett calls it the "Nets Ticket Influencer Program.")

Born in northern New Jersey, the twins were raised by their single mother, an interior decorator. When they were 5, she began sending them to sports camps, and later, she helped them get their first breaks by introducing them to acquaintances who happened to be the owners of the New York Yankees and the New Jersey Nets. Like many siblings, the two are healthy rivals: after Michael started having his athletes woo potential ticket buyers, Brett launched his Influencer Program.

To the average Jane and Joe, pro sports seems a straightforward affair: On any given day, teams square off in arenas and stadiums, as fans watch, cheer and drink beer. That's not how marketing mavens like the Yormarks necessarily perceive the business, however. To them, teams are merely the magnetic "show" for drawing an audience of consumers. Heck, the attraction could just as well be Disney sensation Miley Cyrus, as it was recently at BankAtlantic Center, which is owned by Florida's Broward County, but managed by Michael Yormark and his executive team. Where fans see a stadium, Brett and Michael see acres of monetizable space—or, as they say on Madison Avenue, "inventory." Victory for them isn't necessarily the final score. The Yormarks' game is to help their "marketing partners," as the sponsors are known, win over new and repeat customers—the fans who are watching live (and on TV), engulfed in a blaze of logos, brand names and ads displayed on monitors, scoreboards and announcer tables.

That kind of salesmanship has put Michael Yormark on a hot streak in Florida, even though the Panthers have been ice cold for the six years he's been there. Still, attendance has grown yearly, with season-ticket sales up 5 percent. He has sold $1 million in Personal Seat Licenses, which entitle Panther season-ticket holders first dibs on any event booked at the arena. He convinced ADT to shell out $3.5 million a year to brand the ADT Club, where wealthy fans mingle, socialize and watch the game while feasting at high-end buffets. He has boosted the sale of suites by more than $2.5 million a year. "We've taken an organization that was spiraling out of control," he says, "and turned it into the premiere sports and entertainment business in South Florida."

Up in New Jersey, Brett Yormark is building the fortunes of the once underperforming Nets organization at the Izod Center in East Rutherford. Formerly the Continental Arena, the state-owned facility scored its new name when Yormark charmed the apparel giant Phillips Van Heusen, Izod's parent. "Brett motivated us to step forward and take a shot on something as outside the box as an apparel-brand name on a sports arena," says Allen Sirkin, the company's president.

The latest owners of the Nets, lead by New York real-estate developer Bruce Ratner, wooed Brett Yormark three years ago from NASCAR, where he helped drive the motor sport to mass popularity, cluttering it with brands in the process. "I knew in the first five minutes that I met him that he'd help change the face of NASCAR," says George Pyne, Yormark's former NASCAR boss. In his brief Nets stint, he has already increased revenue by 20 percent to $100 million, says Ratner's top executive, Joanne Minieri.

Yormark brought to the Nets an eye for sponsorship that he honed at NASCAR. The pitch zone at Izod Center now extends to every nook and cranny—World Yachts, the cruise giant, sponsors a street-level passageway. Yormark lured Tiffany to sponsor the Franchise Room, the dining room for the Nets' owners. Marquis Jet sponsors a VIP lounge, where rap star Jay-Z, a Nets investor, and other celebrities may chill.

By the end of the decade, Brett will have a far grander stage for showcasing his marketing talents when the Nets relocate to a Frank Gehry-designed arena in Brooklyn. The arena will be the centerpiece of one of the nation's largest real-estate developments, a project spearheaded by Ratner. Yormark has already wooed British banking giant Barclays to put its moniker on the center for a reported $400 million, a record 20-year naming-rights deal. "I'm a revenue guy," says Brett. "I was brought in to create value." And he and his brother are doing just that. You can bet on it, double down.

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