Tweets from Brooklyn: NBA Team Exec Wins with Direct Customer Engagement

It’s fascinating to observe how executives communicate, particularly on social media.

Irina Pavlova. President - Onexim Sports and Entertainment Holding USA, Inc. Credit: Brooklyn Nets.

Irina Pavlova. President – Onexim Sports and Entertainment Holding USA, Inc. Credit: Brooklyn Nets.

A related dynamic is how senior leaders of professional sports teams are increasingly communicating directly to fans.

Last week, the top executive overseeing the operations of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets selected Twitter to directly engage the team’s fan base, which I’ll discuss.

I’ll also share 7 Tips to help leaders navigate in this new age of omni-platform communications.

But first, some background.

In early July, after just his first season as an NBA head coach, Jason Kidd left the Nets in a controversial, messy fashion. Despite his reported power-play motivations, the Nets, specifically General Manager Billy King, took the high road in public comments.

There was much speculation about how Kidd should be/would be treated in the run-up to his return to Brooklyn as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks on November 19th, as well as continuing media coverage from both team’s perspectives.

The speculation was fueled by the first public comments on the matter from the team’s principal owner, Mikhail Prokhorov.

Answering a reporter’s question before the Nets’ home opener on November 3rd, Prokhorov invoked a version of the famous American phrase “Don’t let the swinging door hit you in the *** on the way out.”  It was communicated with his typical wit, and a bit of humor, in a calm, non-emotional manner.

For non-NBA fans, note that Jason Kidd’s number is retired and hangs in the rafters of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Rightly so. Kidd was a terrific player for the New Jersey Nets, leading their transformation in the early 2000s that culminated in two consecutive appearances in the NBA finals.

Nevertheless, sports fans are typically dismissive of players and coaches who “don’t want to be here,” and it’s fair to say that Kidd wanted to be elsewhere. Prokhorov’s comments reflected that sentiment.

Irina Pavlova is President, ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment Holding USA, Inc., the business entity that oversees and operates the Brooklyn Nets on behalf of its principal owner.

Understanding the backdrop and context, take particular note of Pavlova’s personal account tweet a few hours prior to the game:

Well done!  This is a superb example of leadership in action and effective, “taking the high road” communication.  Importantly, Pavlova was able to change the conversation to where it should be – about the Brooklyn Nets and looking forward, not about the former coach.  Her tweet was noted and reported by the media, including ESPN, thus propelling her message to a wider fan audience.

Interestingly, Pavlova wasn’t finished on Twitter.  Replying to a variety of response tweets, she added this:

And, then she acknowledged, in a direct yet fair tone, the right of her paying customers to vocally express opinions at the game:

For the record, fans loudly booed Kidd upon his pre-game introduction.

Finally, after an exciting but disappointing triple overtime loss, Pavlova displayed what every kid is supposed to learn in youth sports – how to be a good loser.  Her gracious tweet:

7 Tips for Effective Sports Team and Business Leader Communications

1.  Embrace New Tools.  Direct-to-Fan and Direct-to-Customer are rapidly becoming acceptable communications tools for senior executives of sports teams and corporations, especially via social media.  Best practice deployment is still evolving, and there is no one-fit solution, so use what works best for you.

2.  Get Trained, Get Smart.  Leaders engaging in public communication, be it traditional or social media, will benefit from undergoing at least basic media relations training in how to be a comfortable and effective communicator.

3.  Plan Ahead.  Regardless of medium, be prepared with a well-thought message that is “on-strategy,” meaning it’s consistent with and reflects the company or team policy/point-of-view.

4.  Leave Improvisation to Comedians.  Don’t make it up as you go, especially on social media.  If you’re not sure what you want to communicate, don’t interview, post or tweet!

5.  Time-Out and Cool Off.  Emotions are particularly dangerous for sports team leaders, who tend to communicate (or even rant) in the heat of the competitive moment.  Don’t.

6. Take the High Road.  Whether you’re a team executive or corporate titan, learn how to be gracious in victory and defeat.  Good sportsmanship is a character trait that will never get out-of-date.

7.  Don’t Expect Private, Public Distinction.  Communication from personal, yet public, social media accounts will likely be perceived as “official” team or company messaging, whether fair or not.  So, expect that and be prepared accordingly.


Direct-to-fan and direct-to-customer communications from team executives and corporate leaders are an emerging and here-to-stay information and engagement tool.  Brooklyn Nets executive Irina Pavlova gets high marks for her effective social media communications on Twitter.

Harvey Chimoff is a marketing and business team leader who drives performance in consumer products and manufacturing companies.

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