Widely known in the sports world for his 26-year career helping build the NBA into a globally recognized sports, business and philanthropic property, Terry Lyons has successfully transitioned into a second career as an entrepreneur in the world of communications consulting, brand-building and creating multimedia ventures in the sports, events/attractions and entertainment fields.
During his nearly three decades at the NBA, Lyons worked closely with Commissioner David Stern and the NBA’s talented staff to lead the league’s international mission to maximize worldwide business, sports and media opportunities. Beginning in 1992, Terry supervised all international communications, public relations and media activities, and his work with the USA Basketball teams from 1992-2008 Olympic Games helped make the phrase “Dream Team” a part of sports lore.
In the summer of 2008, he relocated to Boston and launched Terry Lyons Sports Marketing LLC, where he consults with many companies in the business, sports venture capital, event marketing, technology and entertainment industries.
Simply put, he helps both mature companies and start-ups navigate the sports industry. He also runs DigitalSportsDesk.com – a sports site which concentrates on Boston’s pro teams.
We caught up with Terry a few weeks before the PRSA Boston panel discussion on “Celebrity Endorsement PR: Making It Work” to ask him what he has learned during his 30-year career in PR:
Q – What’s the most important factor for PR professionals to realize when they’re working with athletes as celebrity spokespeople?
A – Finding the right fit for the athlete and his/her role as spokesperson with the product or company is the key issue to establish, right from the start. In some cases, it’s a simple deal, maybe just shooting a commercial spot. I always found NBA players to be at their best when they understood the role completely and were involved in deciding exactly what they’d do for the company. Some players are more outgoing and can do the hospitality side, some are great with kids and can do the Community Relations events. It’s important to find out what they like and more importantly, what they DON’T like to do.
Q – Can you give a specific example?
A – Yes. One of the “toughest” guys I worked with in my years at the NBA and also with my responsibilities with USA Basketball was Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs. Tim doesn’t enjoy media commitments and photo shoots, but fully understood it was part of his job. Sometimes, he treated it like a trip to the dentist for root canal. It took a while, but I gradually developed a strong enough relationship to get an understanding of where he stood, and I also realized the Spurs didn’t “push” him too hard and that was what he was used to.
I eased up, made some changes in the way we operated, but then also realized Tim just loved working with kids. Instead of heavy media commitments, he was a natural at the CR events. It ended up working out very well and, now, he’s one of the NBA players I truly consider a friend. We came full circle.
Q – What’s changed the most since you began your career at the NBA?
A – Well, everything! But, if I had to pick one thing, in general, it’s the impact of social media. Keep in mind, we went from broadcast TV to cable TV to satellite TV to worldwide TV with a thousand channels of digital everything. The Internet, obviously, changed everything for the NBA to be able to deliver information, photos, video and game highlights – everywhere. We used to have to fax information around or going further back – we actually had to mail it.
The immediacy of social media and its impact on and off the court, intruding into the athletes’ personal lives and space is the biggest change.
Q – Who are some of the biggest stars or maybe call them celebrities, that you worked with and what did you learn?
A – I was very fortunate with my timing at the NBA, as I started right as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were rookies. They set a standard and were just great to work with, especially Magic who just loved the attention. From there, it was a torch passing of sorts to Michael Jordan. Then we had the Dream Team, which changed everything for the NBA. It was a springboard for our global business. After that, along came about 100 international players, from the great Arvydas Sabonis of Lithuania to Dirk Nowitzki of Germany to Yao Ming of China. Each had his own amazing and significant impact, as did so many others, like Dikembe Mutombo and his role as a true Ambassador.
What I learned was the simplest advice you can provide, a player (or celeb) has to “be themselves.” Charles Barkley is the best example of that!
Q – Since relocating to Boston, who is the most impactful sports celebrity you’ve worked with and what was your experience?
A – This past year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kathrine Switzer, the women’s long-distance runner who paved the way for women to run in the Boston marathon and compete in all sports really.
Kathrine was the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon, and her story of running in 1967 but being – literally – accosted by a race official who did not want her to run is well documented. Now at age 70, she ran Boston last April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her first race.
Kathrine co-founded 261 Fearless, a not for profit created to encourage women to run, walk, just “get out there” and participate in running. It’s just great. I find it truly inspirational, and that’s the thing I’ve learned. As I got older, so do others, but we all must remain young and change with the world to continue to make an impact. Ms. Switzer is doing her thing, still running marathons, and I do my thing – help companies navigate the sports world in 2017 and beyond. It’s great!
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