Bringing Her ‘A Game’

Elisa Padilla, MBA’02 (Flor), senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets

By Tom Nugent
Photos: Karsten Moran

Elisa Padilla, MBA’02, works for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

It was a moment of “thrilling inspiration” — and it happened while she listened to one of famed rap star Jay Z’s biggest hits:

Hello, Brooklyn, how you doing?
Where you going, and can I come, too?

For Elisa Padilla, MBA’02 (Flor), today senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Brooklyn Nets, the first two words in that joyful song about daily life in Flatbush were the keys to designing a knockout ad campaign.

“When I heard [Jay Z] rhapsodizing about the soul of Brooklyn, I knew I’d found the right theme for our marketing campaign.” — Elisa Padilla, MBA’02 (Flor)

Describing the 2012 campaign launch, when the team moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Padilla gives credit to the Brooklyn-born rapper. “When I heard him rhapsodizing about the soul of Brooklyn, I knew I’d found the right theme for our marketing campaign,” she says.

That multiyear branding effort — aimed at introducing the Nets to Brooklyn — won Padilla several awards and solidified her reputation as a gifted pro-sports marketing executive.

“I liked that approach because it let everybody in Brooklyn know we wanted to be part of what they are — a wonderfully diverse group of neighborhoods full of hard-working and creative-minded people. And that became the heart of our branding effort.”

The Brooklyn Nets logo graces the Barclays Center’s scoreboard.

Padilla’s job also includes marketing the Barclays Center itself, an unusual setup for a team’s marketing officer. Two ingredients that she says are essential to her success are “hard work and a willingness to take creative risks.”

Born to Elias and Carmen Padilla, two “wonderfully supportive” Hispanic factory workers, Padilla graduated from Centenary College with a communications degree in 1992. She then plunged into a whirlwind career during which she gained specialized experience in sports marketing. Along the way, she earned accolades while working with high-profile enterprises such as HBO Sports, where she launched a hugely successful Spanish-English ad campaign, and the NBA, where she developed a savvy marketing plan that led to a sellout of the NBA All-Star Jam Session in 2002.

Padilla’s office chair is decorated with an “Hola Brooklyn” jersey.

Increasingly sought after, Padilla nonetheless realized that she needed more business education. During the mid-1990s she began working on her MBA at FDU. “I really liked the flexibility of the program,” she recalls. “For one thing, you could take most of the classes on Saturday, which fit nicely into my hectic work schedule. I also liked the way the courses were taught by instructors from the real world of business. They knew what they were talking about.”

Padilla says she was especially challenged by a capstone course in which she and several other students ran a simulated international marketing operation. “We manufactured sneakers,” she recalls, “and we had to keep careful track of every shoe we sold. It was tough, and for a while, we didn’t do very well. But that was cool because of the way it helped prepare you for [the business world].”

“At board meetings, I’m sometimes the only female in the room. But I’m there, and I’m sitting in my own chair.” — Elisa Padilla, MBA’02, (Flor)

Hired by the then-New Jersey Nets in 2010, Padilla has thrived in a largely male world where Latina females are rare. “At board meetings, I’m sometimes the only female in the room,” she says. “But I’m there, and I’m sitting in my own chair.

“Believe me, I don’t take that chair for granted. I know that if I want to keep it, I have to bring my ‘A game’ to every meeting I attend. I work very hard, and I really love meeting the marketing challenges I face every day in this exciting job!”

Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2017 edition of FDU Magazine.

Selected features from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s biannual, signature publication.