Jeanie Buss, controlling owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers

Jeanie Buss, controlling owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Thomas Wasper

The L.A. sports scene seems to have turned a corner. To what do you attribute that?

We’ve seen such a dynamic landscape in terms of what happens with media through technology. Twenty years ago, when TV ratings started to go down and people started to ask where are people going, we began to realize they were on their computers. But sports is still the shared experience that everyone talks about. As we get more and more isolated because of our smart phones, what is going to keep us together? Social time, face-to-face time, connecting with like-minded people. It’s going to be events, and sports really hits the mark for that.

Are the Lakers looking to leverage those two things — the smartphone and the game-time experience?

We’re trying to connect with our audience however they want to be connected with. We have to cater to all different age groups, fans that don’t live in Los Angeles. We’re embracing all different levels of connection.

From an attendance standpoint, what’s your take on the knock that L.A. just has too much else to do to allow teams to draw fans consistently?

There’s always something new coming down the road. We focus on the core business. E-sports has gained its rightful place in the landscape of leisure time and people competing, but I don’t think it means the more e-sports is popular, the less the Lakers are popular. I don’t look at it that way. It does provide a great opportunity for people to own a team, get involved in sports and gaming. But it won’t cause the Lakers to be passé.

Your family has owned the team for nearly 40 years. Do you see a difference in management styles between family and corporate team ownership?

Our record should speak for itself. Aside from the last few years, we’ve been a competitive team. I don’t think being a family business has held us back. It’s important for athletes to know who they work for and who they’re representing, important to have that connection – who’s at the top, who’s putting this all together?

Yours is already a globally recognized brand. How do you pursue new avenues for leveraging that?

We only control our logos and marks in a certain territory around our home city. After that it’s up to the NBA to leverage and market the NBA and their teams’ brands overseas everywhere else.

What about in Los Angeles? What opportunities do you see here?

We’re always looking for new ways to increase our revenue streams. But our hands are tied in so many different things. When you play at an arena like Staples, our capacity is below 19,000, and so there are only so many people who can see a game live. A big reason why we made the move from Fox Sports and KCAL to Spectrum SportsNet was that we wanted more opportunities for Lakers programming to be seen. In terms of us creating a footprint in Southern California, we make sure we play preseason games in Anaheim, Ontario, San Diego, up to Bakersfield and Fresno. We try to go where our fans are.

Are the owners of L.A.’s sports teams a close-knit group?

They obviously understand the business very well – the economics of owning a sports team – but they also understand the importance of these teams to the community. They understand how to drive revenue, but that there’s also an obligation to give back. That’s important in how you approach putting your team together, how you sell tickets, what you donate and what you do for youth charities and for foundations.

What’s your favorite L.A. sports moment?

What still gives me chills is after we won the championship in 2010 over the Celtics. We had a rally at the Coliseum and we put the Laker basketball court on the floor of the Coliseum and it looked like a postage stamp. The Coliseum was completely full; we wanted to make sure [that] people who had never been to Staples [had] an opportunity to see this team that they loved in person. That love and joy and celebration brings a lump to my throat – what this team means, what it meant for Kobe’s career, for Phil Jackson, what it meant for my dad. It was just… those fans, they filled up everything, like 100,000 people, to see this group of people on the little basketball court in the middle of the Coliseum.

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