From Strategy Consulting to the League Offices: Chris Petersen of the NBA

Beyond the technical skills consulting instilled in him, Petersen cites one core tenet ahead of all others: a focus on building relationships.

This feature is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration

NBA League Office Image via NBA on LinkedIn

With an ever-growing number of platforms to reach their target audiences, companies are constantly on their toes. New technologies and innovations are introduced every day, challenging enterprises to adapt quickly and capture their consumers’ ever-shifting attention. For Chris Petersen, Vice President of Team Marketing & Business Operations (TMBO) at the NBA, these challenges are always top of mind.

Chris Petersen: Vice President of Team Marketing & Business Operations at the NBA.

“Everything that we’re doing is about growing the game, making the experience better for our fans and our partners, and doing unique and interesting things that will hopefully continue to keep us at the forefront of people’s minds when they think about how they want to spend their time and dollars,” said Petersen.

While Petersen is tackling some of sports’ most interesting business problems today, he is relatively new to the industry. Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Petersen relocated to Los Angeles to work in strategic alliances within the film and entertainment industry.

After six and a half years on the West Coast, Petersen enrolled at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management to pursue his MBA and broaden his career trajectory. A successful two years in Evanston — including meeting his future wife on the first day of class — was capped off with an offer to join one of the world’s most prestigious consulting firms: The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

After five years at BCG, Petersen joined the NBA last September. The move was a serendipitous occurrence, because despite a strong passion since childhood for sports, he had hardly considered it as a career path.

However, after an introduction to Amy Brooks, Executive Vice President of Team Marketing & Business Operations at the NBA, Petersen was hooked on the idea of joining the group. By combining his passion and expertise in marketing and client services with his long time love for sports, he could not imagine a better landing spot.

Today, Petersen oversees marketing and digital strategy for TMBO while also interfacing regularly with specific NBA teams. Overall, TMBO aims to maximize profitability of all the NBA, WNBA and NBA Development League teams.

TMBO serves as an internal consulting resource for these teams, providing assistance on all areas of business operations including marketing, ticket sales, sponsorship development, customer retention, arena development and social and digital media strategy.

“The focus of the group is to elevate the businesses of our teams in order to help grow the collective impact, reach, and popularity of the game globally,” said Petersen “Our teams may compete on the court, but we strive to collaborate off the court.”

While relatively inexperienced to the nuances of the sports industry upon starting his new role, Petersen attributes his diverse consulting experience to his ability to hit the ground running early and systematically approach these new problems. Beyond the technical skills consulting instilled in him, Petersen cites one core tenet ahead of all others: a focus on building relationships.

“Our teams may compete on the court, but we strive to collaborate off the court.”

“In consulting, to drive value and to make an impact at the client level, you need to first develop a trusted relationship with the people there,” said Petersen. “Knowing the importance of that from my previous role and bringing that mindset to my interactions within our group at the NBA and our teams has helped me enjoy the role more. When you get to know people at a personal level, you feel more comfortable being yourself, you can tackle problems together, and the output is almost always better.”

Petersen believes that his situation is not unique. Going forward, he expects sports franchises to increase hiring from outside the industry.

“More and more teams and leagues are looking for next level talent,” said Petersen. “With new skills and capabilities required for our teams — especially on the digital side — there is a greater focus on finding innovative and creative thinkers. That only creates more opportunity for someone who’s always loved sports to get a chance to break into the industry.”

For aspiring young professionals both inside of sports and out, Petersen shared two key qualities he is on the lookout for in all employees:

“I look for a self-starter mentality to go in, gain some base level understanding of a topic, and come back with something they found interesting,” said Petersen. “That level of intellectual curiosity, up front, is a hallmark of people who have a low-level of satisfaction with the status quo. I find that to be a starting point for great things.”

“Another thing I see that sets people apart early in their careers is a willingness and confidence to engage in a conversation with senior executives,” continued Petersen. “Whether it’s in a meeting or a broader business setting, speaking up at the right time and place is invaluable. Too often, people with intellect don’t give themselves a chance to be heard. If you can mix strong communication with intellectual curiosity, you’ve got a rock star.”

Front Office Sports is proud to have spoken with Chris Petersen. We would like to thank him for his time and insight and we wish him the best in all his future endeavors. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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