The Miami Heat are attempting something different in a warehouse 12 miles from FTX Arena and Biscayne Bay.
No other NBA franchise has 20,000 square feet of shop space. Just days before launching their latest Nike “City Edition” gear, they’re processing orders, designing jerseys, and shipping products.
They’re telling stories in that warehouse.
Michael McCullough, Miami’s EVP and CMO, says the team’s creative and marketing department is the largest and most successful in the NBA. McCullough has been a member of Miami’s business operations section for 25 years. This durability has provided him and his club a paradoxical freedom to thrive: the stability and well-earned trust allows them to be inventive in ways other NBA franchises aren’t able or willing to be.
McCullough thinks innovation is a top-to-bottom corporate initiative, but it’s not always simple to sell. Micky Arison, Miami’s Managing General Partner, and Pat Riley, the team’s President, must approve ideas. Riley’s collars are blue, despite images of impeccable suits and slicked-back hair. McCullough expected backlash when the marketing team proposed a “pink jersey” for the 2018 “Sunset Vice” clothing line.
Riley’s devotion and support were unwavering. “He said, ‘I trust you,’” I won’t say he allows us free rein, but he understands branding and what we’ve established. We’re not a renegade marketing team. Everything we do goes via them because they’re part of this.”
This connection has led to unprecedented success for an often-overlooked part of the team. Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and currently Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro have helped Miami’s sales. McCullough and his group continued to dominate the NBA in jersey sales even as the Heat struggled to make the playoffs during a retooling phase.
“Traditionally, jersey names sell. Andy Montero, Miami’s VP of Retail and Business Development, agrees. I’ve never seen a front-name trump a back-name.
Longtime Heat fans know Montero. “Crazy Andy” is frequently tied to the “Item of the Game,” which announces a limited-time sale. Montero brought his knowledge and excitement from Champs Sports to Miami in 1998 and has led the team’s sales success for 24 seasons.
Montero supervises the Heat’s online sales, customization facilities, and five retail stores, including a new store in Miami’s biggest mall and one at MIA. “Miami is the airport’s top seller.” People want to bring some home. It’s the city, not the Heat. Enjoyable. Brightness. Montero: “Even if you’re not a fan.” “It’s awesome. You’ll buy it if it says “Miami.”
Developing the Miami Heat brand as a separate entity from the on-court product has set Miami apart from the other 29 NBA organisations. The team produced “Court Culture,” a clothing line with an NBA licence. Nicole Perez, the team’s Senior Manager of Retail Marketing, collaborates with lululemon, Herschel, Adidas, and others to “produce stuff manufactured in Miami, designed in Miami for Miami” (just four years with the team). Miami’s brand stands alone, while other clubs rely on a star player or a championship to promote clothing sales.
An in-house design team creates unique clothes and visual branding. The same group developed the FTX Arena banners, pregame video, and Heat broadcast taglines. Jennifer Alvarez, Senior Vice President of Brand and Chief Creative Officer, is in her 18th year with the Heat. “What sets our approach apart from anyone else in the NBA is not just our ability to execute, but we’ve completely identified the opportunity to build a great company around it,” she says. “Teams won’t do that. We acquire and invest because we see retail potential. We create a creative direction for the campaign and make fans appreciate the story.
When the marketing team decided to stop selling “Vice” items, they worried about writing a sequel to a bestseller. How do you go from king-of-the-hill to present something so different? Fans wanted “Vice” to be our permanent name. Miami’s “Mashup” jerseys allowed supporters to design jerseys in a way that had never been done before.
“Mashup” allowed fans to choose Miami Heat number styles from different eras. Thousands of various combinations allowed fans to be fully immersed in the creation process, whether they shop online, at FTX Arena (another unique experience where arriving fans may custom construct any jersey and have it ready before the game’s finish) or any of their brick-and-mortar locations. Alvarez: “It was distinctive and vibrant, but it complemented Vice’s enthusiasm, and our fans loved it. Our retail goals were met. Digital engagement expectations. It was a hit.
McCullough and his group are successful. The NBA Business hall-of-first fame’s retail team. No other NBA team has won more than one “Team of the Year” award. One of the league’s best-selling teams. No matter who wears their jerseys. Winning or losing. And a 2020 league closure.
The team started their latest innovation, the warehouse, right before the NBA stopped their season in March of that year. Montero and his staff anticipated the change in retail and knew they could wait to see whether sales returned to normal or attempt something different. “We had the lease, so we kept moving forward,” he explains. “And we’re glad”
Montero proudly opens the production plant through a security checkpoint and a few offices. A call centre can collect orders, answer queries, and “engage with fans.” A loading bay may ship to all parts of the world or, after partnering with DoorDash, to a game-goer who wants a customised jersey. Montero says, “We can mail your phone or internet order the same day.”
Blank jerseys, shorts, and other items occupy dozens of shelves. 55 worksite personnel wait to open “BUTLER” or “HERO” boxes. Next to bin after bin of number patches are jersey-customizing machines. We preordered tens of thousands of numbers since we knew we’d need them all. We believe in our work that much.”
It’s a commitment of time and money, spent on machinery, apparel, and salary, but it’s supported by a proven track record, the support of the front office’s top decision makers, and consistency that’s rare in the NBA or any ever-changing industry.
McCullough enjoys this privilege and understands why other organisations can’t emulate Miami’s success. He explains, “It takes time and devotion.” “We’re built to perform better than other teams. Retail exists. We televise. Creativity. We have business communications, game operations, and digital marketing, so we have one unified voice.
McCullough won’t say what’s next, but he says this year’s triumph won’t define the team any more than the “Vice” fashion line did. He replies, “Everyone in here is a wonderful storyteller.” “We’ll exhale, then focus on next year. We must all work to build this narrative. Next year’s tale must be better. We’re proud. Every year must improve.”
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