The Big 12 Conference will officially be under new leadership on Aug. 1 when Brett Yormark assumes the role of the league’s commissioner.
Yormark signals a major shift in the Big 12 as it enters a new and somewhat uncertain future. He will replace Bob Bowlsby, who held the post for a decade after an extensive career as a university athletic director across the country.
On the contrary, Yormark joins the Big 12 with a wealth of experience in the sports world, none of which has come directly from the arena of college athletics.
That doesn’t mean his experience is irrelevant to the job, however. In fact, the league was looking for someone with his background to lead the Big 12 into its next chapter, and he feels this is the perfect next step in his career.
“Early in my career, I put together a progression ladder,” Yormark recounted at his introductory press conference. “It started with working for the New Jersey Nets and it ended with a vision to be in college athletics.”
Yormark has stayed faithful to that ladder. After drumming in a garage band, he started his sports career by selling advertisements for the Nets, and 34 years later, he will move with his wife and two children to Dallas to run one of the biggest leagues in college sports in its most trying time.
“I’ve been in the brand-building business and the business-building business from my days at NASCAR, where we took a sport from predominantly the south, and where the roots were and made it a national phenomenon,” Yormark said. “Obviously in Brooklyn, we moved the team from the [New Jersey] Nets, which was a bit of a depressed brand and franchise, and made it into a global brand.”
Succeeding in similar challenges pepper his resume, however. Yormark prides himself on building brands and businesses, something he has done for the last two decades. From 1994 to 1998, Yormark worked for NASCAR as its vice president of corporate sponsorships. There, he oversaw the biggest naming rights deal of the time, giving Nextel Communications the rights to NASCAR’s premier racing series for $750 million.
Yormark re-joined the Nets in 2005 as the franchise’s president and CEO. Within seven years, the Nets moved from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey to the brand-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and traded in their drab argyle threads for sleek and recognizable black-and-white ones.
But his vision for the Barclays Center move went beyond just the Nets. Yormark helped turn the venue into a home for all sports, including college basketball conference tournaments and boxing. He even brought the New York Islanders to the Barclays Center for a short period, but they would return to Long Island in 2021.
Yormark entered the entertainment business when he joined Roc Nation in 2019 COO of Roc Nation Unified, where he again focused on building brands as part of the agency.
The recurring theme in his career has been changing perceptions and modernizing brands — something he hopes to continue with his move to Dallas.
“I think there’s opportunities to use social media a little more different to engage with our fans. I want to use content to help us with our story-telling, I think that’s truly important,” Yormark said. “I think when future student-athletes of this conference are thinking about where do they want to go next…I want our brand to be aspirational. I want them to say, ‘I want to go to the Big 12 for all of the right reasons.’ Collectively with the group at the conference office, our goal is to do just that.”