As chief marketing officer for the Milwaukee Bucks, University of Iowa business and journalism graduate Dustin Godsey has overseen exciting progress within the organization, including the construction of a new arena, the development of 30 acres that surround it, and an NBA title.
Sara Epstein Moninger
Paulius Musteikis

While winning a league championship in 2021—the franchise’s first in 50 years—was the epitome of success for the Milwaukee Bucks, the professional basketball team’s head marketer has an even bigger goal for it: to become the world’s NBA team.

“I would love to design another championship ring, but we are focusing on our mission to be the best and most respected sports and entertainment company in the world,” says Dustin Godsey, who graduated from the University of Iowa in 2002. “We think about that constantly and always are looking for what is next and how we can continue to grow.”

In his own words

On his favorite Iowa professor:

“The professor who stands out the most—who had nothing to do with either of my majors—was Jay Holstein. I think I ended up a credit or two shy of a religious studies minor because I took every class I could with him. I loved the way he would turn texts like The Old Man and the Sea or Blade Runner and offer a different perspective on humanity and the human experience. To this day, that’s the first thing I think about when I think about classes at Iowa.”

On his favorite Iowa memory:

“I loved football Saturday mornings and the way the campus and the city would come alive around those games. When I was there, we weren’t particularly good, but that communal experience of what sport can do, bringing people together, was the most memorable part of being in Iowa City.”

On the Bucks’ championship-winning game:

“My wife came to the game with me. It was one of the few times that I watched as a spectator, and it was just incredible. There are plenty of people who’ve worked in this industry for a lot longer than I have who haven’t had a chance to be in that position. We spent that night celebrating, but we quickly had to get back to work and plan a parade. We had a walkthrough of the celebration site at 8 the next morning. Not everybody on my team was super thrilled about that.”

When Godsey was hired by the Bucks in 2012 to be its director of marketing services, he was the organization’s first full-time marketing employee. Now, the Anamosa, Iowa, native serves as chief marketing officer and supervises a team of 35. Together, they work on marketing campaigns, advertising, promotions, brand management, creative services, digital content creation, and more—not only for the team but also its home, Fiserv Forum, which opened in 2018. In addition to the Bucks’ 41 regular season games and any playoff games, the arena hosts some 30 concerts a year, Marquette University men’s basketball games, and numerous private events.

“When I started with the team, our marketing efforts were very much focused on how to sell tickets and get people to come to games, but professional sports have become about much more than attending a game,” says Godsey, who earned a BBA in marketing from the Tippie College of Business and a BA in journalism and mass communication from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Now, we are really thinking of ourselves as a global brand with a global reach. In fact, about 75% of our social media audience is outside of the United States.”

Godsey originally wanted to be an NBA player himself but decided to study journalism in order to become a sports reporter. He was drawn to the diversity of the University of Iowa campus, where he also studied marketing. That led him to internships in minor league baseball with the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Iowa Cubs—and down a different career path.

“Coming from a small town and a small high school, I feel that Iowa prepared me for this career by stretching my boundaries,” he says. “I had to really expand how I thought about things, and that allowed me to get to know different types of people. That has helped me to look at a larger community, understand the differences there, and find the best ways of communicating with people.” 

Career highlights for Godsey extend beyond the growth of the Bucks’ brand and winning a championship. Developing 30 acres surrounding the arena into a permanent community hub—with everything from restaurants and bars to live music, fitness classes, and festivals—has been equally rewarding, he says.

“Before the success on the court came, we were very intentional about wanting to get more ingrained in the fabric of the community,” he says. “It wasn’t just about selling people tickets, but also being a part of their everyday lives—from a grassroots level and being at every festival and fair, to serving as a global megaphone for the city of Milwaukee. Our vision for that area, which we call the Deer District, was to become a gathering place for the community. And to see that start being the case has been really fulfilling.”

Godsey sees signs of success reflected in merchandise sales, TV ratings, and social media following.

“We went from an organization that was near the bottom of the league in every measurable way to a team that is at the top of those charts,” he says. “We’re in one of the smaller markets in the NBA, but even before the championship we had regularly become top five in the NBA in global merchandise sales. That says a lot to us. Every time you see somebody wearing Bucks gear out on the street, whether it’s in Milwaukee or anywhere else, it’s another piece of evidence of the growth of our brand.”

“Coming from a small town and a small high school, I feel that Iowa prepared me for this career by stretching my boundaries. I had to really expand how I thought about things, and that allowed me to get to know different types of people. That has helped me to look at a larger community, understand the differences there, and find the best ways of communicating with people.”

Dustin Godsey
chief marketing officer for the Milwaukee Bucks and 2002 Iowa graduate

After graduating from Iowa, Godsey served as director of communications and brand manager for the Des Moines Buccaneers hockey team; marketing manager for the Iowa Events Center, a public events complex in Des Moines; and director of marketing for the Wells Fargo Center, home of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. He says his current position would have been his dream job 10 or 15 years ago.

“I want to continue to grow in other areas of the business,” says Godsey, who attends Hawkeye football games at Kinnick Stadium when he can. “While I don’t see myself leaving this industry or Milwaukee anytime soon, I think being a team president would be my next step. My dream job is to run a team as a whole.” 

For now, Godsey plans to build on the Milwaukee Bucks’ successes on the court to raise the organization’s profile. Recent opportunities to play in Paris and London and a game scheduled this fall in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, help the cause—as does having Giannis Antetokounmpo on the roster. The star power forward from Greece won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2019 and 2020.

“It would be easy to rest on our laurels after winning a championship, but that’s not our mentality,” Godsey says. “That’s not the mentality of Giannis, and he is the face of the franchise. We couldn’t ask for a better role model in our work. He is somebody who is constantly looking to improve, and we want to build off the momentum of what we have now and truly become a global brand and a global team.”