Mike Kitts has worked nonstop for the last couple of years.
It’s not just Kitts, the Golden State Warriors senior vice president of corporate partnerships, who has worked tirelessly – it’s been the entire business operations side of the organization over the past several years to transition from the NBA’s oldest venue, Oracle Arena, to Chase Center, the team’s new arena that’s part of a $1.6 billion development in San Francisco. The team opens the regular season at Chase Center on October 24.
“Any time somebody sets expectations as high as we did, that’s not easy,” Kitts said. “We’re extremely privileged to be able to take something like this to market.”
As the team announced its intentions to move into Chase Center in 2014 – after two years of planning a different San Francisco move – the Warriors partnerships team worked to deal with partnerships at an old venue the team didn’t own while signing deals for the new venue they would have complete control over. Kitts said it took a lot of careful balance of hitting high short-term goals with an “all-world team” while also playing the long game to monetize one of the most valuable venues ever built.
Since 2015, a strategy was put in place to sunset every deal signed with Oracle Arena in mind at the end of the 2018-19 season, while some other deals were signed with Chase Center and the runway leading up to its opening in mind, which Kitts said included Chase, Google, and Accenture.
At the end of last basketball season, the last at Oracle, the Warriors had 109 partners. As the Warriors start the regular season at Chase Center, the new partnership total stands at 70.
“In that process, we were able to grow revenues dramatically,” Kitts said, declining to put a figure to the growth. “Starting with the end in mind, the ideas to do more with less, go bigger and deeper with those relationships.”
Doing more with fewer partnerships is inherently easier when starting from scratch with a venue that is owned by the organization and will host more approximately 200 events each year – of which only about a quarter will be basketball games.
“We like to say we’ve gone from a basketball team to a sports and entertainment company that happens to have a pretty good basketball team,” Warriors Chief Revenue Officer Brandon Schneider said.
Not having to be responsible to a landlord, Kitts said there was plenty of flexibility and oversight in the partnership activations throughout the arena, from the branded clubs for ticket holders to the food and beverage options and signage.
Kitts said it’s been key to balance generating significant revenue with quality partners that benefit fans and stretching too far one way is a lose-lose-lose proposition for all parties involved.
“We’re still in the process of perfecting our process because we’ve all never done this before in terms of owning and operating a building,” Kitts said. “But I’ll tell you, it’s going to be beneficial for our partners, 100% beneficial for our fans, because when you’re fully aligned, the end product is far better.”
With that, Kitts said activations will continue to roll out in Chase Center with each game for the foreseeable future. A simple launch activation connected to the venue’s naming right Kitts highlighted was Chase cardholders’ ability to spend $30 and get $5 off as well as an additional 10% off the merchandise item of the night.
“That’s an opportunity for us to create a discovery point for our fans coming back for maybe the third time to have an experience different than the first or second time they came here,” he said. “Hopefully, you’re going to be able to come back and each time you’re going to find Easter eggs to experience and discover with different businesses.”
Aside from activating within the arena during 200 events a year, Kitts said there’s plenty of opportunities to activate in the public spaces surrounding the arena, including a plaza – which Warriors President Rick Welts said is meant to resemble a European city plaza – with the only giant outdoor video screen in the city. The district surrounding the arena, called the Kaiser Permanente Thrive City, will host various public-facing events throughout the year. The Thrive City naming rights, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, could be a 20-year, $295 million deal.
Those year-round activations could include watch parties in the plaza – Warriors game or other events – or a celebration during the holidays, Kitts said. Many of the activations will also highlight wellness initiatives from Kaiser Permanente, like a free throw contest held recently which also measured participants’ heart rates.
Whether it’s been partnerships or ticket sales, the Warriors staff has essentially worked two jobs the past couple of years, which has made their jobs harder, at least in the short term, but Schneider said it’s all worth it.
“In the long run, it’s going to make all of our jobs easier because we believe we built an unbelievable arena that’s creating a great experience for our fans,” Schneider said. “That’s so fun. And that’s what this is all about, right? There are so many things going on in the world and we provide entertainment where people can come for three hours and get away from everything else.
“We’re more equipped to do that at Chase Center than we’ve ever been before.”