Diversity has been the one constant in American Airlines Arena’s Kim Stone’s career. The longtime GM of the Miami venue says variety is her favorite thing about the job.
“In 11 years, I have never had the same day twice. Never,” Stone told Amplify. “It is one of the things I love about this business.”
With a passion for sports, Stone started out doing public relations for college sports teams and proceeded to challenge herself by seizing new opportunities as they came along.
“I think there is something special about the facilities industry and the people who work in it. It’s fun,” Stone said. “(Miami Heat President) Pat Riley once said when he was referring to basketball and the players, ‘We work in the toy department of life.’ I would agree with that. We get to do and experience things that are unique and fun and special. I have never lost sight of that.”
Now as the GM of AmericanAirlines Arena and the Executive Vice President of the Heat, Stone has a collection of momentos on her desk that highlight just a few of the amazing events she has put on and been a part of. A snapshot of her office would include confetti with lyrics on them from Adele’s recent tour, replicas of the championship rings the Heat won, and recently-archived Wheaties boxes with Shaquille O’Neil on the front.
“One day when I retire I’ll have a museum. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of exposure to great things,” Stone said. “I think the trick to having longevity in the business is to embrace moments, make sure you enjoy the special moments, make sure you feel them. We’re all so busy, but you’ve got to take that moment or that special opportunity to just soak in that one minute. That one minute revives me and keeps me energized.”
Amplify caught up with Stone to chat about how she found herself in Miami and her ability to conquer a job that’s always changing.
Are you originally from Miami?
I was born in New York and raised in North Carolina. I did all my education in North Carolina and I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My first job was at the University of Miami. When I landed in Miami and realized you could wear shorts and flip-flops all year round, I thought I had landed in heaven.
What job brought you to Miami?
My undergrad degree is in journalism and PR. My first job down here was as an Assistant Sports Information Director at the University of Miami. I was with them in 1992 when we won a football national championship under Dennis Erickson. During the time I was working at UM, I worked part time for the stats crew with Miami Heat. When they would have home games, I would sit keeping the stats and that’s how I got to know the Miami Heat.
What does an Assistant Sports Information Director do?
You’re basically the PR person for the sports teams. We would compile the stats. We would do the media operations at football games. The sports assigned to me were tennis and women’s golf. We all had football. I had women’s basketball.
Were you a big sports fan before these jobs?
Oh yeah. Very much so. I played sports in high school. I wasn’t good enough to get a college scholarship, but I played intramural. When I was at Chapel Hill, I was a Student Sports Information Director. I was the sports editor of our high school newspaper. It’s always been something I’ve had an affinity for and somehow turned it into a career.
Where did you go after working for University of Miami?
From ’92-’94 I worked at the University of Texas. Instead of being the Assistant Director, I became the Director at Texas. At that time Texas’s athletic department had a men’s division and a women’s division and they were completely separate. They had separate budgets, separate athletic directors, and I was the Sports Information Director for the women’s division at the university. In ’94 I made the tough decision to leave Texas and came back to Miami because there’s a very vibrant beach volleyball scene. I came back to Miami and basically got my job back. I went back to working with the Heat as well. Then the Heat had an opening in their PR department and they asked me to apply. I started with the Heat as an Assistant Sports Information Director and I had the good fortune of being hired one month before Pat Riley was hired.
How did you switch from PR to running an arena?
The team decided that we needed a new arena. We were just the tenants in the old Miami arena. Our owners decided they were going to help build a new building and we were going to operate it. During that transition, I shifted. We needed additional programming and our president decided to get a WNBA team. I raised my hand and said I’d like to jump out of the PR side and I’d like the opportunity to help with the operations of the basketball team. I got that position and I helped generate the buzz in the market to get enough season ticket holder deposits so the NBA awarded us the WNBA team.
Then we ran the WNBA team for three years. At the end of the three years, we realized it just wasn’t a product that worked in the Miami market. It might now. For four years I worked as the Operating Director for the Miami Sol and during that time I went back and got my MBA at the University of Miami. I was essentially going to night school. I got my MBA and we came to the end of our term with the WNBA team. We gave the team back to NBA and said it’s just not working out.
You were ready for the business side now?
The president on the business side said, ‘I want you to come work for me as my chief of staff.’ I worked for him for two years and in 2004 we got Shaquille O’Neil and our ticket holder base exploded. Our president said I don’t need a chief of staff now. Now I need someone who can do the service and retention of this big, massive season ticket base that we have. I said, sure. I haven’t done it before, but I’m happy to do it. I did that until 2006.
In 2006, our GM left and the president came to me and asked if I was interested in being the GM. That was just not something that had been on my career path. We had a good conversation around it and clearly I said yes. I didn’t get rid of the service and retention of the ticket holder base. I just added General Manager to the building. I do both and two years ago I added business intelligence and data analytics to my plate.
I am very unique in terms of what I do. It’s the result of my career path with the team and always being willing to do something new and different.
When you first got the job of GM, you were only one of just a few women with the title, right?
Yes, but thankfully that has changed. There are now four of us who run NBA arenas alone. I think there are some women who have NFL team arenas and I think there’s an arena without a professional team that’s run by a woman.
Did being named GM feel like a big deal at the time?
Yes. At that time it was a big deal to everybody but myself and our president. There wasn’t an article written about the second women GM. Thankfully that wasn’t a headline, because it should be that you have a capable GM who is hired and they just happen to be a woman. It should be the sub-note, not the headline. It was good and it was important, but the world has grown in the 11 years since I’ve been GM.
Do you think the industry has improved for women in leadership roles since then?
When I go to IAVM or I go to some of these industry shows it is so good to see the women coming up through leadership roles and getting the GM positions. It is wonderful to see because it means people are looking for the best person to do the job. I love where the industry is headed and we can always do more. We should always push for more. But looking back over the last 11 years things have improved. We need to continue to work to drive it forward. A lot of these women are getting positions because the people in power are considering women now. Gender isn’t an issue when they are looking at candidates now for most of them. I can’t speak for all of them.
It must say something that you’ve stopped counting the women in these roles?
Exactly. I never really did anyways. I don’t think gender matters. I think your leadership style and how you manage and how you’re fiscally responsible are what is important.
AmericanAirlines Arena is home to the Miami Heat, which has been a beloved team. Do you get the same excitement from fans for concerts as you do for the NBA games?
We do, but every show is different. The demographic is different. The music is different, but Heat games are pretty consistent. I had the great fortune of being here when we were in the NBA finals for four straight years. That sort of energy and enthusiasm and excitement is amazing. With shows, people in the building are rabid fans and the lights go down and there is that roar which is great. With games you get the roar from the crowd for player intros and then the energy can build during the game depending on how the contest comes together. When you get into something like the NBA Finals, the enthusiasm spreads throughout the community and the community is abuzz. Sports has the ability within each market to spread and build community pride. Concerts, since they play one night, they don’t spread into the community, but within the building they bring a great energy too.
Have there been any concerts that have particularly stuck out to you?
What always amazes me is how each show is so different in terms of production and music and demographic. I like the diversity. Clearly by the nature of my career path, I like different things. I like variety. It is hard to pick one, but I would say Adele just by the virtue of her voice and the power of her voice. She didn’t have a lot of production behind her. It was great, but her voice really carried. She’s an amazing singer.
In terms of production, I thought the most unique production was Lady Gaga when she came through many years ago. She tends to be more theatrical. She blends part Broadway show, part concert. There’s a storyline that happens during her show and I thought it was creative and different. The other thing about Lady Gaga is, when she played our building she was the first artist that I remember who paid a lot of attention to Twitter. We had to make sure that we paid attention to Twitter because she would watch during ingress what her Little Monsters were posting on Twitter. We had heard that at previous stops, some of her Little Monsters had complained on Twitter about how they were being screened in terms of their costumes. It was interesting because I had to pay attention to Twitter during ingress and now that is par for the course.
Other venues weren’t letting fans in because of the way they were dressed?
That’s what we were told. She encourages her Little Monsters to in costumes like she wears in her videos. In Miami, we have a wide range of what is and isn’t appropriate, a really wide range. In other parts of the country, they’re not so wide. It’s just the reality of America. We didn’t have any issues with the costumes that her Little Monsters were wearing coming to our show.
Do you get to watch any of these shows?
No. I am an Adele fan. If you ask me what artists I want to see, it is Janet Jackson, Adele, and I would have seen Whitney Houston. Those are the people that I would pay to see. When Adele came, I said I would be manager on duty and work the show. Depending on what happens you can watch some of it or all of it and I was hoping I could watch all of it. The crowd and the production team were wonderful. The load in was great and I anticipated it would be great and I’d be able to watch some of the show. I watched none of it. We had unintended issues come up, which is just the nature of the business. It was nothing unique than what normally happens. We were fortunate to have her for two nights, so I came as a guest on the second show. I came to it and I entered through the main gates, so nobody saw me. The hardest thing to do is come to your venue and watch a show as guest. Staff who see you will think you’re working, so you can’t sit and grab a drink at the bar. I’d rather go to Vegas and see a show.
Is there any genre that does particularly well in your market?
We have called ourselves the Latin music center of the United States. We book more Latin acts, we book more Latin shows, and we’re very proud of that. It is a good genre for us. It is who we are in Miami. We’ll have artists who leave here and they can only really play New York and maybe one other market and do as well as they can do here. That being said, we can also do the Adele, the Bruno Mars, the Roger Waters. We can do and sell those out as well.
Do you foresee any issues in the coming years for the live entertainment industry?
Issues? Maybe I would call them opportunities. Clearly terrorism. We have to do everything we can to stay ahead of that. It is good that resources in terms of people and finances are shifting towards that. We have to continue to focus on that. That’s a huge threat to the entire industry. We always want people to feel safe. That is our number one priority, the safety and security of our guests and our staff. That’s an ongoing challenge because of the state of the world.
Technology is another one. The drawings for this building were done in the late 90s. I essentially have a building that was designed twenty years ago. Who knows what the future will bring, but I think we are going to continue operating this building. As it ages, we have to continue to work hard to make sure it doesn’t show its age. So far we’ve been able to do that. It’s like a car. If you keep a car, you need to make sure you’re reinvesting at the right times and in the right things to keep it going, so that fans still want to come. With ticket prices these days, they want a really good experience and that really good experience includes toilet paper in the bathrooms, cleanliness on the concourse. That’s important.
Technology is revolutionizing the guest experience. So retrofitting technology into what we do is something we are working on. We are installing Wi-Fi. For the first time we will have Wi-Fi when you come to an event. Technology is expensive and it has a short life span so it is one of those challenges. We do a little bit of capital every year instead of a massive makeover. I’ve started talking to our president about a master plan for our building for the next 15-20 years. We move slowly. We don’t like to be on the leading edge. You never know where that leading edge is going to take you. you’re going to fall off a cliff or you’re about to reap the benefits.
There has been a shift in recent years of people seeking more experiences than material things. Has that had an impact on your building?
Not for the Heat. Remember we had the Big 3. We had four years of the NBA Finals, then Lebron left and Chris Bosh was diagnosed with blood clots and is essentially no longer with our team. And Dwayne Wade left last year. Our big three is the big zero now and we missed the playoffs this year. But we had a wonderful end of our last year. We started last year with 11-30 and we finished 30-11, which was the second best record in the NBA for the second half of the season. There’s lots of optimism in the market.
On the concert side, we had an amazing year last year. There seem to be more people touring and the gentleman who books our building, Jared Diamond, does an amazing job making good deals, convincing people to come play. Collectively, over the various events that we have, our attendance is up. I like work on both sides, because if I only work on the Heat side and the product is down then you only deal with that. If you only work on the arena side, this year the events are up but there have been lean years. If you have to have diversification in your investments, I have to have diversification in my career because I have both.