Hankins is game changer building up Blazers brand
At 38, Dewayne Hankins is living the dream, combining his love for sports and communications as chief marketing officer of the Trail Blazers.
"I love it," says Hankins, right-hand man to Blazers' President and Chief Executive Officer Chris McGowan. "It's something different every day. I work in an incredibly unpredictable industry with team performance. It's fun to ride the wave, or when the team is not doing so well, to build a foundation and do things better.
"I've worked in sports for my whole career. Never had a day when it felt like work."
Believe it, though — it is work.
In his sixth year with the Blazers and third in his current position, Hankins oversees brand strategy, innovation, corporate communications and the team's digitally focused marketing campaigns. He directs the Blazers' social media team that has dominated its NBA brethren in terms of digital innovation. Hankins also is involved in other aspects of the Blazers' business operations, including ticket sales, game programming, eSports and even player uniforms.
McGowan brought Hankins on board soon after taking over the Blazer business side in 2013. McGowan and Hankins had worked together with AEG Sports Properties in Los Angeles for nearly three years prior to McGowan's arrival to Portland.
"I hired Dewayne because I knew he was one of the top marketing minds in pro sports," McGowan says. "He is particularly well-versed in all things digital, including digital advertising and social media.
"He is also a great leader, has a tremendous demeanor and operates with very low ego — all things that make him an integral part of our managment team."
Hankins was raised in suburban Chicago in a golden era for the area's basketball fans.
"It doesn't get much better than growing up in Chicago as a teenager in the Michael Jordan era," he says. "I was a huge Bulls fans. You get a little spoiled with all those championships. I also liked the White Sox — we were South Siders — the Blackhawks and the Bears.
Hankins graduated from Iowa State in 2002 with a degree in communications.
"I started out in computer engineering, but I really enjoyed writing, and I really enjoyed talking to people," he says. "I thought I would work for a newspaper or maybe catch on with Rolling Stone magazine."
But Hankins veered into the world of professional sports. He first interned for a couple of minor-league baseball teams, then got an internship with the Florida Marlins, which developed into a part-time job as publications coordinator and then as manager of web and creative services.
Hankins then spent nearly six years in the front office of the NHL's Minnesota Wild.
"That's when things started to take shape in my career," he says. "Social media was becoming a bigger thing. I was advocating for the Wild to take on a more content-based approach. I was writing content, creating video content and using Facebook and other platforms to tell a broader story about the team. "
In 2010, Hankins moved to L.A. and began work with AEG, with special emphasis on the NHL Kings.
"We were a different team in that market," he says. "Hockey in Southern California is not nearly as popular as it is in Minnesota. We were challenged to come up with some marketing that would help us stand out from the crowd. That was really exciting for me.
"That role led to helping out Chris with his efforts to promote all of AEG's sports portfolio, which included the (MLS) Galaxy, the Bay to Breakers run and an assortment of other hockey teams."
Hankins added to his jewelry collection with championship rings with the Kings and Galaxy in 2012 before heading to Portland to work with McGowan.
"Chris was someone who always believed in me," Hankins says. "My role had mostly been digital up to that point. Four months after he was hired with the Blazers, he asked if I wanted to come up and take on a role that was more broadly marketing. Because he believed in me, that made me think I could do it."
Since shifting into the chief marketing officer role in 2016, Hankins has overseen a staff of about 45 full-time employees within the marketing, branding and innovation divisions, along with another 40 part-time workers in retail and entertainment.
"I'm involved in any area of our business where there is a fan touch point," he says. "That could be anything from retail, to the game entertainment experience that you have when you walk in the building, to the things you see on our website or in our social media. Also, working with business analytic groups and with our group selling individual tickets."
The digital side remains in Hankins' wheelhouse. The Blazers have won the NBA's digital Innovation Award in 2014, '16, '17, '18 and again this year.
But what about 2015?
"An off year," Hankins jokes.
Earning the award on multiple occasions "means a lot," he says. "All the teams vote for their peers. To be recognized by the other NBA teams is a great honor."
Social media has become an important controlled source of advertising for NBA teams.
"The window it opens has been a game changer for all brands, but especially for sports teams in terms of access to the players and the team," Hankins says. "Most fans didn't get a chance to see it or be a part of it. With social media, we offer the ability to make that window open, allow the fans to see inside and give them access they didn't have before."
The Blazers have a contract with NBC Sports Northwest that extends through 2021, but have also expanded the platform by which fans can watch Blazers games through streaming services such as FuboTV, Hulu, YouTube Live and Playstation Vue.
"Access is a huge point with our fans," Hankins says. "Young people don't just watch games on TV as we used to. Being able to watch on their cell phones or however else they access it is really important to attract fans of the future.
"Television is still very much the primary vehicle. The only other option now is streaming, and while the number of fans who use it continues to grow, it's still quite a small (percentage). A lot of fans aren't watching the games at all and are getting their news and information from the highlights afterward."
Hankins advises with "Blazer5 Gaming," the franchise's NBA2K eSports team, which was among the inaugural group that began in the league last year. There will be NBA 21 teams represented in a 2019 NBA2K season that starts in April. The Blazers invested in a new practice facility at the Rose Quarter for their eSports team.
"The NBA was the first league to step in and want to do this," Hankins says. "It was a no-brainer for us to get involved. (Former Blazer owner) Paul Allen was very excited about us jumping aboard. ... eSports has caught up with the NBA in terms of viewership — on Twitch Stream (Key) and things like that vs. TV. It's no joke. A lot of the younger generation is very focused on eSports, so it's very good for us."
Hankins also has been involved with helping on the redesign — albeit minor — of the Blazers' pinwheel logo and with the team's uniforms, both in 2016. Blazer executives met with Nike representatives to put together four versions of uniforms per year.
"Two of them — the 'association' and 'icon' jerseys — are very traditional," Hankins says. "The 'statement' edition, which is red and black, is more bold.
"The 'city' edition is our 'Rip City' uniform, which changes every year. Last year, it was plaid; this year, gray and black. Next year, for our 50th anniversary, we have really cool designs that will harken back to the early years."
Hankins' executive role also has grown within Vulcan Inc., the parent company of the Blazers, to include strategic direction for marketing, digital media and advertising of Vulcan Arts & Entertainment properties, most of them in Seattle. That includes such entities as the Upstream Music Fest and Summit, the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project), the Seattle Art Fair, Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum and the Living Computers Museum & Labs.
"It's been really interesting to see Paul Allen's interests laid out this way," Hankins says of the late Blazers owner, who died last year. "I'm a big music and pop culture and movie fan ... but my career has all been in sports. To be involved in music and the arts this way has been excellent for rounding out my career and introducing me to things I hadn't done before."
Hankins says there are two "next big things" in terms of digital communication and marketing for the Blazers.
"One of them is 5G (fifth-generation) cell service," he says. "It's going to be a few years before people notice the effects of it. It's going to change the way people want to view games and interact with their cell phone devices. It will change how people think about the game and how (the Blazers) compete with that. We're always competing with cell phones — look at kids on the street and what are they doing.
"We're also interested in the Supreme Court decision about sports betting and what that means to our future. We're not taking an active role in that at this time, but I feel sports betting will have the same effect as 'fantasy sports' did. If that gets more interest and engagement in our sport, if it's done right and it's regulated, it's a good thing."