It Payes to Create

by Micah McDaniel

The L.A. Clippers’ adrenaline-inducing 105-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on February 29, 2016, paled in comparison to the heart-stopping fan experience of the more than 19,000 people in attendance, which will forever be etched in Clippers lore. At halftime, the organization unveiled its new mascot, Chuck the Condor, and the night culminated with the Clippers’multibillionaire owner, Steve Ballmer, jumping off a trampoline for a slam dunk that sent the entire building into a frenzy. It also sent each ticket holder home with a brand-new pair of red Converse Chuck Taylor shoes, an unforgettable moment punctuating an incredible win.

Behind the scenes yet at the center of it all, Clippers Vice President of Marketing Matt Paye ’98 witnessed his passion, skill, training, and hard work converge on the court and in the stands. He remembers the moment he first realized this ambition to generate something big, something unique and important. In 1997, when his human resource development professor, Rob McKenna, Ph.D., tasked the class with capturing in one word what they wanted to do with their life, Paye said without hesitation, “Create.” That one word, that single assignment, shaped the course of his marketing career, which has now spanned eight years.

“That assignment stuck with me and drives me in my career, where I get to create every single day,” said Paye. “Create a brand. Create a memory. Create an experience.”

Paye oversees all things consumer facing, including the Clippers brand locally and globally, advertising and promotion, merchandise, giveaways, entertainment, and game presentation. He stepped into his role in January 2015 as the second executive hired after Ballmer purchased the Clippers, charged with building the marketing team from scratch. Along the way, Paye and his team have rapidly garnered industry attention and energized the fan base with the “Together We Will” marketing campaign of 2015-16 and this season’s “It Takes Everything” campaign.

Paye credits much of his team’s success to its unconventional approach. The Clippers gained national recognition with a surprise “flash mob” led by multi-Grammy Award-winning artist Fergie during a timeout that now has nearly 2 million views on the Clippers’ YouTube channel. They did it again the following year with the mascot unveiling. This year, they hosted a Star Wars night, complete with breakdancing characters. “We work hard at creating the unexpected. We want everyone to leave feeling like there’s no other place they could have that kind of experience. Our goal is to bring elements that are surprising, fresh, and different.”

Like the Clippers, Paye’s career has taken an unconventional trajectory. He began his career in enterprise software, building technology startups in industrial automation, supply chain management, and document management. He later made the jump to the sports industry, heading consumer marketing and growing the fan base for Auto Club Speedway in Fontana—leading to the track’s first sellout in more than a decade.

When Paye’s Speedway boss, Gillian Zucker, became president of the Clippers, she recruited him. “It’s incredible to work for one of the most dynamic and innovative executives in all of sports,” said Paye. “She gave me an opportunity to put my fingerprint on something special and blaze a trail, and it’s been amazing to get to work alongside visionary leaders like Gillian and Steve in a thriving league like the NBA. When I was a student at APU, I didn’t envision myself in pro sports.”

Yet he is—thriving in the second-largest media market in the United States brimming with entertainment options, successfully serving up something unique. And it’s working. The Clippers are averaging more fans per game than at any point in their history, with more than 19,000 per game, which also ranks in the top 10 of the NBA this year, ahead of their rivals down the hall—the Lakers. “There is a renewed sense of excitement and optimism in the organization. We have 41 regular-season home games, and each one takes on a different feel. Steve believes in the fan’s ability to impact the outcome of the game, so we try to grow and inspire our fan base to attain a home-court advantage. We gear a lot of what we do toward that end—motivating, entertaining, and overdelivering on what everyone expects. Our market is challenging, but I tend to see obstacles as opportunities.”

Paye attributes this approach to his time at Azusa Pacific and, specifically, to being a student in the School of Business and Management, learning from professors like Ilene Bezjian, DBA, the former dean. “Dr. Bezjian gave us so many opportunities to actually try things by throwing us in the deep end of the pool. Sometimes we fell short, but the point was to go out and do it, not just read about it in a textbook. What that did was give me a sense of confidence going into the unknown. And when I look at my friends who were in the program with me, they share that attribute.

“My job is about creating memories, and the deeper and more meaningful, the better. I want to make an impact on each person who walks through our doors and have them take home something unforgettable.”