Alum Skibek Makes Jump to the NBA Timberwolves
The Boston Celtics might have come up short in their bid to pry all-star forward Kevin Love away from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the two teams were able to complete a much-less publicized transaction. The Timberwolves secured the services of Adam Skibek from the Maine Red Claws, an NBA Development League team affiliated with the Boston Celtics. Skibek, a 2007 Keene State grad, recently joined the Timberwolves sales staff as a senior account executive.
“It’s funny. I was telling people it was going to be a straight-up sign and trade – me for Kevin Love,” said a smiling Skibek.
Skibek knows he will have his work cut out for him with the Wolves. Members of the sales staff, which includes almost 60 people, are just as competitive as the players on the court. The NBA is a numbers game. While the players try to put more balls in the basket, the sales staff tries to put more people in the seats. “You’ve got to be on top of your game to make it in this business,” said Skibek, who sells suites and court-side seating at the Target Center, the home to the Timberwolves and the Women’s National Basketball Association team the Lynx.
Skibek picked the perfect time to join the Timberwolves team, which is making changes on and off the court. No stranger to the NBA or the Timberwolves, Flip Saunders not only returns for this second stint as coach, but will also be a part owner and president of Basketball Operations for the team. “Flip has a ton of credibility in Minnesota and everybody loves the guy,” said Skibek. “He works hard at his trade and has repeatedly told the sales staff that the team is building – bringing in players that are not just good pieces to the basketball puzzle, but good people in general. So we’re going to try to focus on having a real stand-up, classy organization that works hard every day.”
According to Skibek, the Timberwolves are also making major facilities renovations. They plan not only to revitalize the downtown Minneapolis arena, but also to refurbish an old complex across the street, adding a five-star hotel, a sports medicine facility run by the Mayo Clinic, practice courts, and team offices.
Skibek is especially excited about the work being done to the stadium suites. “We’re going after local businesses who want to spend money to customize their suites,” he said. “It will be interactive. They can set it up so they can entertain and have functions not only during the season, but throughout the year.”
“Essentially, we’re letting the business drive the conversation,” Skibek added. “It’s a neat project and approach. I’m very fortunate to be in on it at the ground floor.”
Originally from Beacon Falls, CT, Skibek didn’t initially see himself in sales. A one-time candidate for the KSC basketball team, he quickly switched gears, realizing that he didn’t have the skill to crack an Owl line-up that would advance to the Elite-Eight of the NCAA tournament his freshman year. “When you’re a little kid you always dream about playing basketball in the NBA or playing at a major college,” he said. “I never thought I’d be on the other side wearing a suit to a game. I’d thought I’d be wearing shorts.”
Skibek learned the other side of sports at Keene State, broadcasting Owl games and later working in the school’s Sports Information Office after graduating. He later moved on to Springfield College, earning a master’s degree in sports management.
While at Springfield, Skibek spent five months doing a graduate internship with the Boston Celtics. Working in the team’s sponsorship and development office, Skibek did everything from creating business proposals and securing renewals to driving the team mascot’s “Lucky Mobile” at promotional events and chaperoning former Celtic and radio broadcaster Cedric Maxwell to speaking engagements.
Skibek parlayed his internship into a full-time sales job with the Maine Red Claws. Joining the Portland-based team for its second season in the NBA Development League, Skibek rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Seeing little results and frustrated with cold calls that weren’t returned, Skibek changed his sales approach – thanks to his roommate.
“My roommate felt bad for me and bought a pair of season tickets,” explained Skibek. “He said, ‘Buddy, I’m going to invest in you. One day you’re going to make it to the pros and you’ll be working for a Super Bowl team and I’m going to want tickets. I want you to remember me so I’m going to be your first sale.’”
“I don’t think he ever went to a game, but he did teach me an important lesson about sales,” added Skibek. “It taught me that sales are much more relationship-based. From that point, I decided I was going to become a member of the community, start networking and getting to know people.”
Skibek’s new approach, geared to social media and developing promising contacts, paid off. “If I wasn’t the top sales rep in new business, I was pretty close to it every year in the D-League,” said Skibek. “Even the league was paying attention. Every few months they’d call me and ask: How are you putting up these numbers?”
His hard work didn’t go unnoticed. “Adam did a fantastic job. He was one of those young men who really wanted to learn every aspect of the business of sports,” said Jon Jennings, a former assistant coach with the Celtics who created and founded the Maine Red Claws and hired Adam. “Adam was always willing to pitch in and help out at promotional and community events, along with his core responsibility of selling tickets. He was the ultimate team player with the organization,” said Jennings.
Skibek even took matters into his own hands. Dismayed by the turnover on the sales staff, he got the go-ahead from his bosses to manage the department during his final year, training and recruiting the right people for the job. “It wasn’t an easy sell up there. It’s a small city with an uncomfortable arena,” he said of the stadium’s bleacher seats, “but we did real well on the premium side. It took a lot of effort to build those relationships and put people into those seats.”
Skibek sold the Timberwolves on his ability to sell seats. “That was my pitch. I just told them if you can sell there you can sell anywhere,” Skibek said.
A free agent, looking for the best situation, Skibek was lured to Minnesota by its progressive and relationship sales process as well as the improving environment surrounding the team.
The competition for the sports dollar in the twin cities is tough. The Timberwolves weren’t the only franchise in town that was sprucing up or moving to a new home. The Vikings are in the process of building a new stadium while the Twins just moved into Target Field, which hosted the MLB All-Star game earlier this summer. The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League, who play in the multi-purpose Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, also reached the second-round of the playoffs this year.
“Basically the Timberwolves decided to go out and get guys like me that were selling in tough environments and selling to businesses,” said Skibek. “The price has been jacked up a little bit, but we also go about it in a different way – we try to create as much value and access and behind the scenes as possible.”
While the venues have varied over the years, Skibek says he gets a special feeling when he walks into a packed arena that he helped fill. “I go back to the days at Keene State when everybody would be in the stands at Spaulding Gym. It always gave me goose bumps when they cued up the national anthem,” said Skibek. “The arenas in the D-League and the NBA are obviously much bigger, but nothing beats the pride you feel when you look around and see a large crowd ready to enjoy themselves at a game. That’s why I love my job.”