CMO of the Week: Charlotte Hornets' Seth J. Bennett

Presented by

Seth J. Bennett, chief marketing officer of the Charlotte Hornets, is celebrating the NBA team’s 35th anniversary this year.

Seth J. Bennett, chief marketing officer of the Charlotte Hornets, is celebrating the NBA team’s 35th anniversary this year.

Having been with the team for more than 17 years, Bennett knows the team in and out and is excited to look back at key historical moments in the team’s history while driving the brand forward with innovations for the next generation.

“We'll go back through from 1980 to our current era, and celebrate in a way that our fans can be a part of,” explains Bennett. “The iconic colors and uniform design spearheaded by Alexander Julian many, many years ago that really put us on the map in the starter jackets. Our retail element and our merchandise are a huge part of the fan experience.”

The team also unveiled the classic uniform that they will wear at eight specific games this year, as well as on a select number of road games. There will also be theme nights honoring some of the team’s all-time greats including Baron Davis and Gerald Wallace. 

“We did this five years ago for our 30th and it was absolutely great to introduce the new generation to some of the historical members of the team,” explained Bennett. “Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry, who are both ambassadors for the team, will be in those activities. We'll be inviting alumni back who have played in Charlotte over the years.”

As part of the celebration, the team is also looking forward to new innovations. For example, the team has launched a new virtual store inspired by the retail store in the Spectrum Center. The store was created in collaboration with AI tech firm MeetKai. 

Brand Innovators caught up with Bennett from his office in Charlotte, North Carolina to talk about the team’s new virtual store, 35th anniversary and being at the forefront of innovation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you come up with the virtual store idea and how does it support what you're doing as a marketing team within the sports organization?

We kicked around several ideas before settling on this. It's long been a strategy to be at the forefront of innovation. If you look back over a decade, we've been on the front edge. Whether it was being an NBA team with one of the first actual mobile apps, which was a really unique opportunity, being a team who was well advanced in CRM, the customer database space before it was fully adopted, being early adapted to that technology and how we could use it to influence our business or the multiple updates that we've made toward our app and the type of fan engagement. 

This aligns perfectly with our overall strategy. It gave us something that was cutting edge. We've not seen it before, especially at the quality of experience. We couldn't be more excited about what we're going to be sharing more broadly with our fans.

How are you working with your retail partner to deliver on the virtual store?

That was key. Without that this wasn't going to get off the ground. We're fortunate to have had a very successful relationship with Fanatics. They're certainly recognized as one of the worldwide leaders in the space and they like innovation as well. It’s in their DNA. When we went to them with this idea, it was more about what we would have to do in order to achieve it. That conversation moved along very quickly. There wasn't any extensive negotiation. They said, “Sure, we'll give it a try. Tell us how this is going to work.” 

We wanted it to be a part of our 35th anniversary season, something that speaks to innovation. We always try to do something every year. We wanted to be the first team with NFTs, as well during that phase in the 2021 era. We joined the 2k space in terms of video team in 2020. I was looking for something every year and MeetKai was the perfect partner for what we're going to do for the 23/24 season.

With this focus on innovation, are you trying to target a younger audience like Gen Z? 

Certainly, this appeals to a younger audience. We understand that we need to be nimble and we need to be able to meet that audience where they are and how they engage. This is yet another tool for that.

When we talk about what our best sellers are in the retail space, by far, it's our jerseys. We also enjoy being one of the teams that have really leaned into the opportunity through our partnership with Nike, the Jordan brand, and the NBA, to create really compelling stories that lead to the designs of our jersey. We really think this will appeal to fans. We have a multi-generational approach to our fan base. 

Will you be working with the players to help promote the virtual store through their social media channels and things like that?

We certainly plan to engage our players. We think they'll find this a really neat concept. They're always supportive of programs like this. We've got a great relationship with that locker room. I look forward to how they may engage with the promotional elements of this as well. 

Can you talk about your approach to physical bricks and mortar retail?

We did a significant renovation to our retail in the venue several years ago to really modernize it. We moved it from a somewhat remote location and put it right in the main concourse in what we call the opening to our living room. And with that we've been able to create a really special shopping experience. 

With the virtual store, we created a twin experience. If you look at the design of the virtual store, if you pivot through the main doorway, you can peek into the arena. That's what it looks like when you come into Spectrum Center. We'll have fans who have never been able to come to Charlotte, see what a beautiful facility we have. And as they're watching, perhaps through broadcast, they'll be able to understand it. We really wanted to create the same type of experience that they have at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

By selling merchandise online, are you trying to expand beyond local audiences to reach a more global audience?

The NBA is a global brand. We're fortunate enough, because of the iconic nature of the Hornets and back in that early era of Larry Johnson and Grandmama, and Alonzo Mourning and Mugsy Bogues. They gave us a great foundation and they have a lot of reach. 

Now in the modern era, we can expand that further. We've got our own budding superstar with LaMelo Ball here with us who certainly has a lot of cachet and recognition. We want to continue to lean into that and grow the popularity of the NBA and certainly the Hornets brand. We have played in international games. Within the past 10 years, we played a couple of preseason games in China. We played a regular season game in Paris. So this is definitely a part of our overall strategy. 

Interested in our events?


Learn More


Miller High Life bows branded holiday tree

Read More

Pop-Tarts challenges fans to make predictions ahead of Pop-Tarts Bowl

Read More