– Orlando Magic –
– By Diane Sears –
At the start of 2020, the Orlando Magic organization was moving forward with plans for a $500 million sports and entertainment district next to the Amway Center. A boon for downtown Orlando, it includes a hotel, sports and music venues, stores, restaurants, bars, office space and an athletic training facility.
Everything changed in March, when the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that the pandemic was halting all activity. The Magic put its development plans on hold and closed the Amway Center, which couldn’t celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the day it opened on Oct. 1, 2010.
But the Magic and its CEO, Alex Martins, did not sit still. The league played out the rest of the 2020 season in what became known worldwide as the “NBA Bubble,” where players quarantined at Walt Disney World resorts without their families and played at ESPN Wide World of Sports while fans watched on TV. A dozen courts imported from around the league transformed Disney hotel ballrooms into practice facilities.
“It was historic,” Martins said. “The fact that no player tested positive during the course of the competition was quite amazing and a testament to the league office staff and the protocols they put in place, and the testing on a daily basis in consultation with health care experts from around the world.”
How the NBA Bubble came to be located in Central Florida instead of perhaps Houston or Las Vegas speaks volumes about the persuasiveness of Martins and the people he enlisted to build a case to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, including Walt Disney Company Chairman Bob Iger.
Martins is driven to help ensure the economic success of not only his organization but the community he has called home since 1989. He was part of the Magic’s start-up staff of 30 people, a fraction of the 300 who work for the organization today, and he remembers the team’s first home game, a preseason match-up with defending NBA champions the Detroit Pistons.
“We beat them that night, and being freshmen in this professional sports world, our fans thought we had won the championship ourselves,” he said. “I remember being out on the streets in front of the old Amway Arena after the game, and the fans were partying and creating all kinds of noise. The fans were just completely excited to have professional basketball in Orlando.”
Getting into the playoffs most years has been a crowning achievement for the team. Building the Amway Center has been a crowning achievement for the organization.
“It helped us take our business to a whole new level,” Martins said. “We believed what we were lacking in a modern facility in the old Amway Arena was holding us back from hosting major events, and we were losing major concert tours to cities like Tampa.”
Today Amway Center attracts popular music and sporting events. In fact, this year during the pandemic, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has held residency at the arena for months, taping and broadcasting events there without fans in attendance.
The Magic franchise is different from others because of the sense of community service instilled by the late philanthropists Rich and Helen DeVos, who purchased the team in 1991. The organization has continued to build on nearly 30 years of history in Central Florida, working to build a championship team for Magic fans and be an invested and accountable community partner. Team staff, players and coaches often make appearances at community events and fundraisers to help local organizations.
The Magic also have a strong emphasis on customer service. One of the best investments the company has made, Martins said, was to bring in the Walt Disney Company to train employees annually on how to make fans and visitors feel special.
“It starts with a great smile and a great greeting,” he said. “Our ushers have developed personal relationships with season ticket holders over the years. They know them by name and welcome them back every night and ask about their families.”
For his part, Martins gives back to the community through his service in numerous local leadership positions, including the University of Central Florida board of trustees. “For me, it’s been all about making our hometown, a great place to live, even greater — making it a great place to live, work and play.”
“There’s a sense of responsibility for me as the leader of a major professional sports team in giving back to our community and playing a leadership role.”
— Alex Martins
Photography by Julie Fletcher
As seen in November/December 2020 i4 Business Magazine