All guns blazing

Written on the 7 October 2009

All guns blazing

Katie Tomlinson is the general manager at the Gold Coast Blaze. While the team is looking to notch some early wins and bolster its balance sheet after a lackluster season last year, it’s all guns blazing for the woman behind the scenes as she strives to create a force in the NBL.

Last year was a tough one for the Blaze. How difficult is it to secure funding and key sponsorship with a largely unproven track record?
It’s tough – I won’t back off from saying that. We are new to the Gold Coast market and we need to be able to showcase our product to the decision makers at a corporate level. That hasn’t been easy, but what we find is that once businesspeople have been to a game they love it. We are adaptable and flexible with our corporate partners in giving them what they want. Every business has different needs – some want exposure, some networking and some just want hospitality opportunities. The global financial crisis has made it even more difficult this year with many businesses slashing their marketing budgets, but we anticipated that and budgeted for it. We are going out on the court this year without a naming rights sponsor but we believe in our brand and we are not giving it away.

You are now vying for market share with three national sporting codes following the runaway success of GC United. What strategies are being implemented to ensure the Blaze can operate as a profitable entity?
Firstly, you need to watch every dollar that you spend and that’s the main reason I took on this job. I know where the money goes. On the other side of the ledger, our income falls into three categories – corporate sponsorship, season membership and game sales. We don’t have the luxury of television rights or national level support at this time so we rely on those three sources of income. If we can get basketball fans to become season members and Gold Coast locals and tourists to come to games, the stadium will fill up. Full stadiums appeal to sponsors who want to showcase their brand and the reality is that we need good corporate sponsorship to be profitable as a club. Our main strategy this year, apart from putting the best team we could out on the court, was to beef up our brand exposure and marketing collateral. We have invested heavily in that and I believe our game presentation this year is the best there is.

Tell us a bit about your background and what you bring to your job as general manager of a national sporting franchise?
I am a kiwi who has lived on the Coast for 30 years. To be honest the reason I became the general manager is because our family has a big investment in the business and they wanted someone on the ground making sure the business was being run according to our principles as well as watching where the money is being spent. I think what I bring to the job is tenacity and perseverance as opposed to any great skill set and I will work day and night to get a job done properly. My style is to employ people I believe will be good at their job and then let them do that job to the best of their ability.

How many staff do you employ and what’s the biggest challenge trying to retain optimism in an outfit like the Blaze? How do you achieve positive sentiment in the workplace?

We have a relatively small office staff of nine people. I say relatively small because many NBL teams run with smaller offices, but when you compare us to other national sporting codes we run a tight ship. Then there is the team, coaching staff, support staff and outside consultants so the total number is something like 30. I think our staff are very loyal, efficient, hardworking and can multi task and, perhaps more importantly to me, they are all nice people.

What other business interests do you have and how do you juggle the demands of multi-tasking?
My husband Owen and I have thoroughbred horses in New Zealand and Australia, so I do the accounts for both those companies but that’s pretty much just the drudge of GST. Along with our business partner Barry Ashton, I manage our two Digby’s Menswear shops at Broadbeach and Brisbane – not the sales side but every other aspect of marketing accounts, buying and so forth. I do that on weekends and nights and enjoy that immensely. I have also spent many years on various committees at The Southport School, including the Foundation which I chaired for a few years. I love the Foundation especially the business breakfasts which we run to raise funds for scholarships. To see a boy come to TSS on a scholarship and go through to become school captain has been very rewarding for me.

How important are mentors today and what’s the one key piece of advice that has helped you in your career?
Mentoring is incredibly important in all aspects of life, not just in your career. I think from a young age I was mentored by all my aunts and uncles – they were the ones you could say things to you would not say to your parents. As an adult I have always been attracted to older people – like my husband — just kidding Owen.

I was brought up to respect older people and their opinions and I still tend to call anyone older than me either Mr or Mrs. But I think mentoring comes in different guises. Gavin Dunn, the chairman of the Blaze board, is a great mentor to me and he is younger than me.

Both Gavin and our Blaze board consultant John Quinn, give me the praise I need sometimes to bounce back from a hit and they are always happy to listen when I need to talk.

Naomi Lawrence from Career Intelligence works with our basketball players as a career adviser and she also helps me a lot with structure and planning at the office. Paul Broughton from the Titans is someone who often gives me a pat on the back and tells me I am doing a good job. I am not sure if Paul knows just how much I value that gesture as he is one person who knows exactly how tough it is for us. And then there is Dave Claxton. Dave is the best. He is the easiest person in the world to work with and when there is a crisis you can absolutely count on Dave to be calm and take the right direction. I couldn’t do my job without his mentoring.

Where do you see the Blaze in five years and what must be done to get it there?
I see the Blaze of the future as a strong club in the National Basketball League. Right now we are growing and spreading out into the Gold Coast basketball community looking for their support of the sport. We are striving to get on to the radar of locals and tourists wanting an entertainment option for the night. We are trying to get into the view of every corporate entity we can whether they are small Gold Coast businesses or large national corporations.

We also intend to go international with our sport and our brand with negotiations currently underway for a tour to China next year as well as opportunities in South East Asia and the Middle East. It also goes without saying that Basketball Australia needs to promote the sport through television exposure and give national support to the each of the elite level clubs.

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