1985 is a year that will never be forgotten in the Villanova community, especially for current Orlando Magic CEO and Villanova alum Alex Martins. While the entire country was glued to its TV as coach Rollie Massimino’s Wildcats defeated Patrick Ewing and the almighty Georgetown Hoyas, Martins had the best view of that game: courtside.
“It was magical,” Martins said. “I was working closely with the basketball program in the sports information department, but I had the great opportunity to do play-by-play, with my broadcast partner Mike Auger, and had the fortune to watch that whole ride through the NCAA tournament and, ultimately, the national championship from a great seat as we were broadcasting the game for WKVU. That whole experience was the motivation for me to get into the sports industry.”
Originally, Martins attended Villanova as a business major.
“I wanted to work for a big company and have a career in business,” Martins said. “[At the time, I had] no sights on the sports industry until the 1985 championship run.” As a student at Villanova, Martins was enrolled in a work study program. When looking at jobs on campus to fulfill this requirement, he found a job opening in Villanova’s Sports Information Department.
“I thought it would be a fun way to earn my work study dollars,” Martins said. “Fortunately, I got the student assistant position after interviewing with Craig Miller and Dave Goskey. I worked in the sports information office all four years I was at Villanova.” The excitement of the ’85 Championship was not the only factor to change Martin’s career interest. He was amazed how this magical tournament run impacted the Villanova community.
“I saw what it did in terms of galvanizing the Villanova Community, the city of Philadelphia,” Martins said. “Getting everybody so wrapped up around the basketball team. Also, the manner that coach Massimino went about it. He created a family atmosphere that expanded beyond the players on the team itself, to people who were around the program on a regular basis like me.” In his experiences on the court, in the classroom and the mentorship from Massimino, Martins learned many lessons that established his foundation in order to be successful in the sports industry.
“Certainly work ethic is at the top of the list,”Martins said. “Whether it was working with Craig (Miller) and Dave (Goskey) in the sports information department or Coach Massimino and his entire staff, it was all about work ethic. Everybody worked hard and gave it 110%. Also, attention to detail; It was the hallmark of that department and administration. As I went through that experience, I learned how to treat people, manage people and Coach Massamino’s family approach. He kept everybody accountable: there would be days where he would be in your face, but it was all in the business of getting better. But at the end of the day it was all about family: whether it was the team going over to his house to have pasta or something else.”
Like many starting in the sports industry, Martins found it difficult to find a full-time job in the sports industry after graduating from Villanova in 1986. Knowing it was important to be flexible, he was able to work a full-time business job and a part time job in the PR department of the Sixers, with his former boss at Villanova, Dave Goskey. A year later he worked as an assistant Sports Information Director at Georgetown. After a short stint with the Hoyas, Goskey informed Martins that Pat Williams, former GM of the 76ers, was starting an expansion team in Orlando (the Magic) and wanted to interview him as their PR Director. After two successful interviews, Martins became the PR Director for the Magic, the youngest PR Director in the NBA, at age 25.
“I had a great level of excitement,” Martins said, describing his immediate emotions at the time. “I also realized I was walking into a situation with one year of full-time experience and now walking into a professional sports league that I have not worked in before on a full-time basis. It was somewhat overwhelming but the only way I know how to do it is to work hard, learn along the way as much as I can possibly learn and do the best possible job that I can do.”
While the Magic did not have immediate success on the court, they were having tremendous success off the court. Despite its 18-64 record in its inaugural season in 1989, the city of Orlando embraced the Magic by selling out every home game.
“We were sold out for the first 10 years of the franchise,” Martins said. “Through good times and in bad. We were able to get success rather quickly, reaching the NBA finals faster than any other team and a lot of that had to do with Shaq, Penny Hardaway and Horace Grant.”
After working for the Magic from 1989-1998, Martins worked in various front offices of different professional sports organizations, including the New Orleans Hornets and the Cleveland Browns. He eventually returned to the Magic in 2005 as executive vice president of marketing and franchise relations and was promoted CEO in 2011.
The 2010-11 season turned out to be very special for Martins and the Magic. With his leadership and the marketability of a team led by Dwight Howard, JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson that went to the NBA Finals and Eastern Conference Finals in its previous two seasons, the Magic had its largest season ticket base in franchise history (14,200). Martins also led the way in the Magic’s renovation of the Citrus Bowl football stadium, building a new state of the art arena in the Amway Center (where the Magic play its home games), and made a contribution to the Orange County Community by building five community recreation centers that hold youth sports programs and fitness memberships for adults. These contributions transformed the Magic as a franchise, as they were recognized as a finalist for Professional Sports team of the Year by SportsBusiness Journal, the only NBA team to be named a finalist.
“Ultimately to be recognized as a finalist for the sports team of the year, it was a great year,” Martins said. “Obviously a highlight of my career.”
The vehicle behind these projects was an important value he learned at Villanova, Caritas.
“For me it’s always about giving back [to the community],” Martins said. “[Caritas] is part of what the Magic is built on, which goes back to my days at Villanova. When I chose to come here in the beginning and chose to come back to the Orlando magic, for me it’s all about alignment with values. I want to work for an organization whose values are in alignment with mine.”
These values were set by owner Richard DeVos, who among other things is well known as a philanthropist, set the tone in his opening press conference when he purchased the Magic. Martins is reminded of DeVos’ message every single day.
“Mr. Devos said in his opening press conference, ‘You want to call us the owners of this franchise, but the community is really the owners. We are just the caretakers. We are going to take care of this organization and this great team for you, and you give back to this community.” Martins said. “That’s what he instilled in us, and it’s been a hallmark of the Orlando Magic and the Central Florida Community 28 years later.”
Martins even took a step further in his philanthropic duties in 2016. After the tragedy at Pulse Night Club, where a mass shooting resulted in 102 casualties, Martins was selected by the mayor of Orlando to lead the OneOrlando fund for the victims involved in this tragic event. Humbled and honored to be the spearhead of this project, it was out of his labor of love to serve the Orlando community due to one of the Magic’s core values, as well as his own.
“Community is one of our four core values,” Martins said. “Whether it’s the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, that has raised and distributed over 24 million dollars to at risk children’s organizations in Florida over the last 30 years, or the $2 million plus in community contributions that we make on an annual basis to causes in Central Florida, ranging from economic development to early childhood learning. In my opinion, our fans give a lot [of] their time and treasure to us, and it’s our responsibility to give back and be an important leader in this community; to help make Central Florida and Orlando a better place.”
Martins’ leadership continues to be recognized throughout the Orlando community. Because of his philanthropic impact, he was awarded the Charles Andrews Memorial Hospitality Award for Community Leadership in 2013, followed by James B. Greene Economic Development Award in 2015. His efforts for the Amway Center also paid off, as it was a finalist for Sports Business Journal’s Facility of the Year Award for two consecutive years, capturing it in 2012. His drive to successfully lead an organization with a passion to serve its community is all accredited to one thing: his alma mater.
“That started at Villanova,” he said.