“Never, not once did I think I would be team president,” Hankins said in an interview from his northeast Portland office across from the Moda Center. “There had never really been anyone with my background who got into that type of role. It never seemed possible. You add my lack of self-esteem on top of that, and that’s it.
The laid-back, self-effacing Iowa State grad grew up on AOL and traces his professional journey with references to Myspace and TikTok. Hankins prefers Vans to wingtips, golf hiking and Slack conversations on conference calls, and his formative years were spent dealing with fan angst while managing social media for the Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings of the NHL before joining the Blazers in 2013.
“People were always replying that I was going to be fired or that this would be my last tweet,” Hankins said. “They said, ‘Who gave the keys to the trainee?’ I’ve been fired by fans hundreds of times, easily.
Hankins landed his first job in sports in 2002, as a public relations intern for the Kane County Cougars, a minor league Class A baseball team outside of Chicago. Mark Zuckerberg still hadn’t invented Facebook, so Hankins’ chores included flipping burgers, dropping off pocket schedules at gas stations, and rolling out the tarp during rain delays.
When he started with the Wild as a creative coordinator in 2005, he worked on tangible products like multimedia guides and game programs. The launch of Twitter the following year seemed to Hankins an opportunity for the franchise to communicate directly with its fans, but most teams, including the Wild, were cautious about the new platform and used it primarily to spread messages. Press Releases.
With their hands tied on the Wild’s main account, Hankins’ team launched a secondary account dedicated to fan-favorite right-winger Cal Clutterbuck and his distinctive mustache. the mustache burner only garnered 1,600 followers, but it allowed Hankins to experiment with his dry sense of humor and less formal style.
A 2010 move to the Los Angeles Kings allowed Hankins to push the envelope as his new bosses wanted to create an online presence that would stand out in Southern California’s crowded sports scene. Hankins’ team cultivated an over-the-top sarcastic style, portraying the Kings as arrogant underdogs and pushing their opponents, like when they celebrated a 2012 playoff win over favorites Vancouver Canucks. while tweeting“To everyone in Canada outside of British Columbia, you are welcome.”
To everyone in Canada outside of British Columbia, you are welcome.
– LA Kings (@LAKings) April 12, 2012
The post, which has stoked rivalries in Canadian hockey, received coverage on ESPN and received enough attention that players and coaches from both teams were asked about it at conferences. hurry. the Kings finally issued an apologyand Hankins feared the blowback would cost him his job, even though his sharper approach had helped boost the team’s following and fan engagement.
“The biggest hits are usually the biggest misses,” he said. “This tweet really exploded. I felt both panic and excitement. I remember getting positive ratings from our management team, but the next morning it was turning negative online with people saying, “How dare they post this?” I remember driving to work thinking it might be my last day. It was all we wanted to do but it was a moment of truth. Eventually, my boss called me and said, “It seems like Canada just doesn’t have a sense of humor. All my anxiety dropped.
That boss, Chris McGowan, brought Hankins to the Blazers as vice president of marketing in 2013. Having never worked in the NBA, Hankins got up to speed by studying the history of the franchise and surveying the fans. He wasted no time stirring it up on Twitter. “Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference? ask a friend, ” the Blazers account wonderednodding to the Western Conference’s long history of top talent.
Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference? Ask a friend.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 4, 2013
While informality and chatter are now prevalent among team accounts, Hankins’ approach was novel at the time. He wanted an online presence that would build on the town’s original reputation, galvanize its fans, and expand the organization’s reach and sponsorship opportunities.
As Hankins received internal promotions, he spent less time tweeting and more time strategizing. The Blazers began to think of themselves as a global company rather than a small-market team. Portland now ranks in the NBA’s top 10 in digital revenue, according to Haskins, and its Weibo account has 4 million followers in China, surpassing all of its domestic social media accounts.
“One of Adam Silver’s decrees is to transform our league from analog to digital,” Hankins said. “It’s always about tickets and sponsorships, but it’s also about the huge international audience and the 99% of fans who never come to a game.”
Meanwhile, Lillard underwent surgery to treat an abdominal injury in January and home attendance continued to fall below Portland’s pre-pandemic highs. Ahead of this month’s trade deadline, the Blazers sent several key veterans, including CJ McCollum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington, to cut costs and free up future salary cap flexibility. Under freshman coach Chauncey Billups, Portland (25-35) remains in contention for the Western play-in tournament but could end with its worst record in a decade.
Allen, who inherited the Blazers upon the 2018 death of his billionaire brother, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, chose Hankins as McGowan’s successor and installed Joe Cronin as Olshey’s interim replacement. Hankins quickly realized he needed to improve his relationship with the Blazers’ basketball operations department, which works out of a suburban training facility about 15 miles south of the team’s headquarters. Remarkably, Hankins and Cronin had never met in their nine years as colleagues until they had breakfast after Cronin’s promotion.
“We stayed in our own ways,” Cronin said. “We were excellent workers and did what was asked of us. This speaks to the lack of cohesion between business and basketball. It just wasn’t an environment where there was a lot of crossover. We are competitive, team-first people who are quiet and want to see others get the credit.
Both leaders bring a shared “humility,” Billups said, noting that internal communication has improved in recent months as Cronin and Hankins have restructured their respective teams. Cronin, 46, joined the Blazers as an intern 16 years ago, a nice parallel to Hankins’ rise.
“In professional sports, talent trumps everything,” Cronin said. “If you’re new to marketing and have enough talent, you can go in a lot of different directions. … We want to keep pushing further. The outings of the first lap are not enough. Damian desperately wants to win and he wants to have a team where you walk the floor and have that swagger knowing we’re a legitimate competitor.
Getting there will take work on and off the pitch. Cronin began revising a roster he felt had “stagnant,” while Hankins sought to repair workplace morale that has been damaged by the pandemic and the Olshey investigation. They both felt the weight of their increased responsibilities, relying on Vice President Bert Kolde, a longtime Allen adviser, for guidance.
Still, Hankins, who hopes to be “the first of many” social media strategists to lead sports organizations, also believes the collaborative nature of his past work will pay off.
“Everything that could have changed in the last six months has changed,” he said. “People are looking for direction and vision, and it’s a priority for us to have new perspectives. Good ideas can come from anywhere. If you have a bunch of people in a room and they all have the same background, you won’t get a lot of debate. When the piece is different, you get a much more interesting and better response for the business. »
Looking back, there was another major upside to all those years on Twitter: Hankins developed thick skin.
“When I got this job, someone tweeted that I should be fired because of our [local] television contract,” he said. “Of course. Why would that stop happening now?”