TMR Q&A: Harlem Globetrotters President Keith Dawkins on reshaping the “Globies”

Coming out of NBA All-Star Weekend and into pitchers and catchers reporting, soon we’ll have the NFL Combine and a host of big events this summer, lead by the Paris Summer Games.

Sometimes we forget about the constants, the touchstones in sports that are both iconic and lasting.

One constant is the Harlem Globetrotters, a brand synonymous with basketball success and royalty since 1926, yet one not always top of mind for a younger, digital-savvy consumer.

Well, that perception has been undergoing a change under the leadership of longtime media executive Keith Dawkins. Dawkins, who helped reimagine the Nickelodeon brand—launching the Nickelodeon Sports initiative where he formed strategic partnerships with the NFL, NASCAR, PGA Tour, MLS, WWE and numerous athletes—and then went on to found Rock Hill Ventures, was named President of the Globetrotters and their parent company, Herschend Entertainment Studios, in January 2022.

Dawkins has since lead the Globetrotters charge, and change, from a touring show to a media and entertainment business forged around elite basketball.

The mix includes a thriving broadcast component, legacy content and growing storytelling on every level. The Globetrotters also made news recently by expanding its number of women to the roster, adding LSU star Alexis Morris to the team earlier this month.

What is next and what should we know about the Globetrotters game plan?

For our latest TMR Q&A, we asked we asked Dawkins to share a bit more on how he’s reshaping the “Globies” brand.

Below is our interview, edited for length and clarity.

Team Marketing Report: February is of course Black History Month. The Globetrotters celebrate diversity 12 months of the year. How has the organization expanded cultural storytelling recently?

Keith Dawkins: We’ve expanded by staying true to who we and finding new ways to tell our story and deepen our impact.

TMR: What does that mean and/or what does that look like?

KD: The Harlem Globetrotters have always put inclusion front and center. We are a brand that’s about bringing families together and creating memories worth repeating. We’ve been doing that for almost 100 years. In the 1950’s the U.S. State Department gave us the unofficial moniker of “Ambassadors of Goodwill” celebrating our way of spreading love and joy around the world.

So while we’ve stayed true to those roots, now it’s about finding ways to expand our reach and impact.

We’ve brought the Harlem Globetrotters back to network television for the first time in 40 years with the Emmy nominated series “Harlem Globetrotters: Play it Forward.” The show highlights all of the great work that our players do off the court and the many lives they impact along the way. The show reaches over 1 million viewers each week with airings on NBC, Telemundo, Peacock and Cozi TV.

Alexis Morris

We’ve bolstered our CSR efforts with the launch of our “Goodwill Ambassador” Initiative which focuses on our strategic pillars of Education, Health & Wellness and Community Empowerment. Under this umbrella we’ve been able to launch exciting partnerships with Microsoft, Comic Relief-Red Nose, The State Department, Jersey Mike’s and many others.

To date, we’ve signed the most women on our roster in the organization’s history. Notably, we just signed 2023 NCAA national champion (from LSU) and WNBA draftee, Alexis Morris to our roster. This commitment to signing the best basketball players in the world positions us to better reflect the diversity of our audience/consumer and our history as a brand.

TMR: You are evolving from an event to a media company. How is that happening?

KD: By doing the work that I cited above.

The Globetrotters aren’t an event. We are a beloved global entertainment brand. We have a large addressable audience and we need to do the work to meet them wherever they are.

This means that we have to expand beyond the tour into the other areas that are meaningful to our audience.

TMR: Talk about the brand value and some of your new partners.

KD: Brands want to associate themselves with like-minded brands and/or brands put them in a positive light.

I’d like to think that we are that brand. Love…joy…purpose…that’s who we are. Bringing families together…that’s who we are. Creating memories that last a lifetime…that’s who we are.

I want us to be a great environment for our partners, as strategic partnerships are a vital part of our future growth.

Craig Robinson hosts “Harlem Globetrotters: Play It Forward” now airing its second season on the NBC family of networks.
TMR: It’s hard to think about the Globetrotters and not think diversity, but the expansion of athletes who are women is historic. How many women are involved now and what do they bring to the court?

KD: They bring to the court the very same thing that any other high-level athlete and/or Harlem Globetrotter brings to the court…elite athleticism and basketball skill, coupled with a desire to have a deep and lasting impact on the larger world.

So why the expansion? Because we need to better reflect the population which roughly is a 50/50 split [of men and women]. We believe that having more women Globetrotters—and Generals—is both the emotionally intelligent thing to do and the smart business thing to do.

TMR: Looking ahead, what do you want consumers and brands to think of five years from now when they heard the Globies are coming to town?

KD: The same thing that they think now…”I love the Harlem Globetrotters!”

I just want them to have engaged with the brand in a variety of ways before we come to town—through content, merchandise, gaming, AR, VR, experiential elements, etc. Then we will know that all of our efforts are working.



To view past TMR Q&As, click here.

All photos courtesy of Harlem Globetrotters