116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Someone has advanced from the Cedar Rapids Kernels to the … NBA Finals?
That’s right, via his Anamosa hometown and the University of Iowa. Former Kernels intern Dustin Godsey is the chief marketing officer for the Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum. What he and the franchise have experienced in the last several weeks, he said, “is beyond our wildest dreams.”
If you’ve seen any of the Bucks’ NBA playoff games on television over the last month, you’ve seen shots of the “Deer District” outside the arena. It’s thousands of enthusiastic Bucks fans watching the game on video screens with, to use a word linked to Milwaukee thanks to Schlitz beer, gusto.
“The way that this city is coming together around the Deer District,” Godsey said, “it’s been really fun to be part of all that. And then the interesting thing, too, is we’ve kind of captured this global audience.”
You saw a similar outdoor crowd two years ago in Toronto during the Raptors’ run to the NBA title, but the square outside their arena could contain just 6,000 people. This thing in Milwaukee has dwarfed that.
“Game 7 of that Brooklyn (Eastern Conference semifinal) series,” Godsey said, “to see how it had all come together. The crowd around the plaza, I think there we had about 15,000 people that night.
“Just to see the energy and the excitement as that game came to an end, it was actually pretty emotional and to think back to nine years previous.”
Nine years ago, Godsey left his job as director of marketing at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to join the Bucks.
“I was the first marketing person that the Bucks had ever had,” he said. “I helped start the marketing department.” He was promoted to chief marketing officer in 2016.
Godsey graduated from the UI in 2002, getting degrees in both journalism/mass communications and marketing.
“I wanted to be a sports reporter, actually,” Godsey said. “I ended up on a different track.
“I interned with the Kernels in their last year in old Veterans Stadium. That was my first foray into the sports world. I was running in-game promotions, writing press releases. Then I had an internship with the Iowa Cubs.”
Godsey also worked for the United States Hockey League’s Des Moines Buccaneers, then was the marketing manager at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena for 18 months before making the jump to Philadelphia.
Then it was on to Milwaukee, a professional gamble for Godsey at the time.
“(NBA Commissioner) David Stern essentially said if within two years the Bucks didn’t have a new arena or detailed plans on how they were going to get a new arena,” said Godsey, “the league wasn’t going to allow the team to stay in Milwaukee.
“That was kind of an interesting way to walk into Day 1 of the job.
“Truthfully, at that time, where the general support was and where the organization was, people told me ‘Hey, don’t buy a house, don’t unpack your boxes. You’ve got two years.’
“Luckily, things changed pretty dramatically. We went through an ownership change, we went through a rebrand, we got the new building, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.”
Now, marketing people in sports are looking at the Bucks and seeing winning. Not just on the basketball court. Those shots of a city going bonkers is more effective than any marketing slogan or gimmick.
“It’s kind of a perfect storm,” Godsey said, “coming out of COVID and people being cooped up for a year. Our playoff run started just as Milwaukee was starting to lift restrictions on gatherings outdoors, and capacities.”
Then there’s the fact the Bucks are in the Finals for the first time since 1974. Winning is the best marketing asset in sports. Godsey can unpack those boxes now.
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