Reno Bighorns buyers focus on building a brand for team

Developing stronger brand recognition to spur local interest is one of the keys toward building the Reno Bighorns into a successful basketball franchise, new owner Herb Santos Jr. says.

Santos, a longtime Reno attorney, announced last week that he and partners Stephen and Jeff Adams purchased the team from the National Basketball Association's Development League. Terms of the purchase weren't disclosed.

The Reno Bighorns formerly were owned by SK Baseball, owner of the Reno Aces, which purchased the team in February of 2009 from David Kahn's Southwest Basketball LLC.

Santos, who was involved in bringing the Bighorns to Reno, was first approached about team ownership last December, he says.

"Commissioner (Dan) Reed didn't have to ask twice," Santos says. 'He knew my love and my passion for this team."

Santos, a three-year season ticket holder, says one of the best ways to ensure that team ownership is a successful business venture is by increasing the Bighorn's community exposure, which will raise brand awareness and help grow the regional fan base.

"I would love to sell out every game we have, and we have the product; it is a great product," he says. "Some of the things we have heard about in the past is that people weren't aware of when there were games. Those things aren't going to happen. People will know when there are games and (team) activities."

Ideas to promote the Bighorns in the Truckee Meadows include a coach's TV or radio show, and a booster club comprised of community leaders.

"It all comes down to expanding the forum," Santos says. "We have to make people feel like they are a part of it instead of just going to some event and they are just a number that goes through the turnstile.

"We want people to feel like they are a part of the Reno Bighorn family when we look at other successful D-League teams, that has been key, that the public buys into it as their team."

Attendance at Bighorns games has declined from the team's first year. Attendance for the Reno Bighorns' inaugural season over 21 home dates was 68,835, an average of 3,278 per game.

Last season, the team averaged 2,464 fans per game, a 12 percent increase from the team's sophomore season. The Bighorns have qualified for post-season play each of the last two years.

The Reno Bighorns will continue to play home games at the Reno Events Center, which it rents from the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. The team will continue to practice at South Reno Athletic Club. The Bighorns are affiliated with the NBA's Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies.

One of the problems that often plague minor-league organizations is the constantly shifting rosters as players are either cut or called up to the big leagues. Santos plans on having bigger-name roster players take part in more community functions so that residents develop a following for their favorite players, regardless if there are playing in Reno or in the NBA.

In the past the Bighorns also signed a number of University of Nevada, Reno basketball standouts, such as Mo Charlo and Nick Fazekas, to spur fan interest in the team. Santos says the team currently has a full front-office staff in place and only needs a head coach to round out the team.

An attorney in Reno since 1991, Santos opened his own law firm in 1996.

Some of the lessons he's learned running a law firm will help him guide the Bighorns, he says.

"One of the things is having a budget and sticking to it. When I opened up my office that was a focus I had if I didn't need it I didn't get it. Being conservative is what you will see here. We will have a budget and stick to it and we will utilize our funds in such a manner that we can accomplish what we want to do."


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