Partnership Activation Challenges in the NBA with Melissa Silberman

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and Engaged Learning for and this is the Work In Sports podcast. 

There are so many interesting conversations to have right now surrounding the abnormal sports world we are currently immersed in. 



The other day I was asked during a panel discussion what I thought were the most important skills someone in the industry should be utlilizing right now. 

Now, in normal conditions I say coachability, competitiveness and curiosity. Those are literally my three favorite terms when it comes to employment in any industry. 

But right now I’ve had to adjust my thinking some — those three terms are still incredibly viable – but I’m going to throw three more at you. 

Flexibility, improvisation and innovation.

Let’s break these down a bit because they are all aligned, but subtly different. 

We’ll start with Flexibility –  there is a narrative in every industry that we continue doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done things. Routine. History. Legacy decisions.  

This is not acceptable now. The assumption that we just keep plugging along without change is flawed. We need to entertain ideas and we need to be flexible in their deployment.

We need to be flexible in the ways we generate revenue, allocate resources and more. 

Processes and objectives need to change. 

Improvisation — this is the act of coming up with ideas on the spot. 

We all need to open up and engage the parts of our brain that spark creativity and different thinking. We’ve been so long following patterns, that we need to spark the fire of improvisation. 

We all need to consider the unconventional. 

Look at high school sports — the NBA can have a bubble, the NFL can test daily, high school athletes are at higher risk of contracting and spreading. This is beyond doubt. That is not a political statement, it is fact.

So when people say “have you considered playing in spring, have you considered a condensed schedule…have you considered …have you considered…”

We have to turn on the thought provoking sides of our brain and say “we should consider everything”

Innovation — chaos breeds opportunity — Where is it? 

This needs to be the mantra of all businesses and employees — where is the opportunity, how can we shift, re-align, change products, change approaches, INNOVATE. Companies that changed their clothing textiles to mask development, innovated. 

Sports business that created digital platforms and webinars and podcasts and virtual internships… they innovated!

We need that spirit back. Innovate. Improvise. Be flexible.

No one embodies that more than today’s guest. Melissa Silberman is the Director of Partnership Activation for the Atlanta Hawks — simply put, she works to make sure team sponsors have impactful campaigns that reach their audience with powerful messaging. 

Well, a big percentage of that is through in-arena activations — the 21,000 crazy fans coming to State Farm Arena on game night ar seeing and engaging with sponsor activities.

So how does Melissa and her team show their sponsor there is great value in associating with the Hawks, with only 3,000 crazy fans coming to game night. 

Flexibility. Innovation. Improvisation. 

Here she is, Melissa Silberman!


Questions for Melissa Silberman, Atlanta Hawks Director of Partnership Activation


1: There are so many topics I want to get into today about your career and journey to the Atlanta Hawks – but let’s start with this, you got your Bachelors and Masters in Sports Management at the University of Florida and for the last 7 years have been working in Partnership Activation. 

You clearly had a vision to work in sports – but did you choose Partnership Activation as your path, or did it choose you?

2: I’ll admit, I’ve been in the sports industry for 20 years but I don’t know much about Partnership Activation – so explain it to us all, what does it mean to work in partnership activation? And what does your day-to-day consist of?

3: Why are you well suited for partnership activation, are there certain personality traits or specific skills that you feel make this a natural fit?  

4: What about the now? We’re living in strange times – no fans at games for the foreseeable future – How do you sell potential sponsors that you can still reach fans?

5: The capacity of State Farm Arena is 21,000 – the number of followers on the organizations twitter account is 1.2 million. – Do we as outsiders overestimate how much fans not being in the stadium affects your ability to message effectively for sponsors?

6: With that in mind – how important is it in partnership activation to work cross-functionally? It sounds like you are constantly working across many organizational teams – how important is it to do the simple things and work well with others?

7: The last trip I made before quarantine was down to Atlanta for the National Sports Forum conference. During that conference we had an event at State Farm Arena and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin was one of the guest speakers. 

He spoke about the arena, and how they changed their view on the fan experience, no longer do they expect fans to sit for 2 and a half hours and watch, instead they created many different micro-environments throughout the arena – allowing fans to wander and enjoy the overall entertainment experience. I loved the arena, and frankly it looks like a sponsors dream come true. 

Social and other channels are great, but is seeing your activation come to life on game night, with fans all around something special?  

8: Let’s go back to your Florida days – while getting your degrees you interned with the Football team – SEC football is big business – how did this experience set you up for success in your future roles in the NFL and NBA?

9: After Florida, you were hired right out of college by one of the most iconic sports franchises, the Miami Dolphins, what do you remember most about your first day?

10: Most people who work in the sports industry work up to a gig in the NFL, and you started there.  For 10 months you were a Staff Assistant, Client Services – and then you were promoted to Account Manager, Partnership Activation & Retention – why? What were you doing to stand out and get promoted so quickly? 

11: Eventually with the Dolphins you escalated to the role of Senior Manager, Partnership Activation – how did your role change for you when you migrated to management? And how did you prepare yourself for managing others?

12: Boom – jump to the Hawks. Still Partnership Activation, but now in the NBA. The audiences are different in the NBA and the NFL, of course there is overlap, but there are differences too. Are the partnerships different?  Different personas? Different expectations?

13: You have a busy day ahead, so we’ll finish up with this – I read a referral on your LinkedIn page that described you as “a self-motivated go-getter”. – is that attribute, being self-motivated and able to accomplish on your own, essential for success in the sports industry?

By Brian Clapp | April 28, 2021
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