When Herschend Family Entertainment acquired the Harlem Globetrotters last year, the Atlanta-based operator of major theme parks, aquariums and other attractions nationwide saw the potential of the venerable basketball and entertainment brand. Long before there was Dude Perfect, there was the Harlem Globetrotters—and as the Globies, as fans call the trick shot-spinning basketball stars, near their 90th anniversary in 2016, Herschend is helping take them to the next level.
Winter is high season for the Globetrotters, whose multiple squads are just beginning their intensive schedule of appearances at arenas big and small around the country. That’s the opposite of high season for Herschend, which also owns and operates iconic Middle American parks including Dollywood in Tennessee and Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
That was just one of the advantages for Herschend of tapping into the Globetrotters’ brand and mystique.[more]
The acquisition also boosted the Globetrotters and CEO Kurt Schneider, who stayed on after a private-equity group sold the organization to Herschend. brandchannel spoke with Herschend Family Entertainment CEO Joel Manby about the Globetrotters brand—present and future, and synergies with Herschend’s other businesses.
brandchannel: WWE veteran Kurt Schneider has remained CEO of the Globetrotters after the acquisition, which isn’t the way things usually happen. Why?
Joel Manby: He’s done an amazing job, even though that sort of transition is never an easy one for a sitting CEO. When we purchased the company, we expected it to go backward, because usually companies are all dressed up for sale. But they’ve had a record year since we bought them, not only exceeding our expectations but also setting attendance records in the US and continuing to grow in international attendance.
bc: How has the integration of the two companies gone?
Manby: We treat them very independently. The Globetrotters are a separate corporation from our attractions group. We’ve helped them some with content—such as we’re trying to get a movie made about the Globetrotters story—and with sponsorships. But we bought the company assuming no synergies.
bc: But some synergies have developed?
Manby: Yes. We are developing a summer event at Silver Dollar City to test a theme-park application where the Globetrotters don’t play an opponent but conduct a 20- to 30-minute ball-skill, slam-dunk exhibition. The whole idea there is to remind people of the Globetrotters, to get on the mic and tell the history of their dealing with the color barrier and becoming ambassadors of goodwill. It’s also another reminder to go see a full Globetrotters game.
If it’s successful, maybe we could sell it to other companies’ theme parks around the country and the world. Theme parks are always looking for good content, and we’re always looking for ways to remind people about the Globetrotters game.
We also are helping plan the Globetrotters’ 90th anniversary observation, because we’ve had some really successful anniversary launches for some of our parks. The Globetrotters’ 90th anniversary begins in the fall. They’ve toured for 89 straight years.
bc: When you bought the Globetrotters, you mentioned the largely untapped potential of China, where there are a lot of basketball-crazy fans. What has happened on that front?
Manby: We’re also helping with the China strategy. The Globetrotters were doing a good job there, and we’ve also helped them make good progress on getting a partner to help grow the operation in China, to have more Globetrotters teams touring there, for instance. We can’t reveal the details yet.
bc: The Globetrotters, with teams largely made up of African-Americans, are touring with a lot of racial tensions across America because of the Ferguson and Erik Garner situations. Do you see the Globetrotters ambassadors of goodwill mission filling a role in all of this?
Manby: Not specifically, but generally, our role is to double down on their “ambassadors of goodwill” reputation. We plan to do more non-basketball work in the (US) cities they’re touring in. We already have sets of players working in public schools and on the radio when they tour, basically teaching that philosophy.
A sort of sub-brand of theirs is helping improve the lives of children around the world. We also have an anti-bullying platform and teach character education. Humana is involved with a sponsorship with the Globetrotters in that regard.
And certainly, yes, in the context of teaching love and acceptance and principles such as that, it’s the perfect time in America to be doubling down on those issues to counteract what”s been happening in Ferguson and with police officers. There’s a strong need for what the Globetrotters are all about.
That brings me to the players. They have to be three things to be a Globetrotter: a great player, a great entertainer, and they must have great character. They’re smart; they’re nice human beings who love spending time with people.
They’re an inspiration to me, and I’m excited about the fact that we have the honor and privilege to own the brand. We want to treat that carefully.