In October, the New Jersey Nets will officially become the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets ended their final characteristically dismal season in New Jersey last week with a loss to the Toronto Raptors, and this week, they launched their newly branded site.
Their move to Brooklyn will commence yet another New York sports rivalry. And like all New York sports rivalries, one team will be dominant, while the other constantly struggles to surpass, or even approach, the first team’s popularity and success.
In baseball, the New York Mets have forever lived in the shadow of the Yankees, possibly the most famed dynasty in sports. Similarly, with the Giants’ recent Super Bowl triumph, they’ve solidified a considerable edge on the Jets. To find success in the Big Apple, the Nets will have to win the hearts of New York basketball fans, a group that is stuck in a 66-year love affair with the perpetually disappointing, yet endlessly endearing, New York Knickerbockers.
In competing for the favor of a city or a state, there is one simple and fairly obvious strategy: win. Alas, what typically decides the success of a team is money, something the Knicks have no shortage of. And what fuels the financial clout of a franchise? Fandom. If the Brooklyn Nets want to be competitive with the Knicks, or even simply be a profitable company in the long-term, the only way is for them to build a large fan-base. And fast.
While it’s impossible to say how Nets fans from New Jersey will react after the move, bitterness is not uncommon in sports break-ups; they usually result in a major blow to the local economy, and worse, a subtle, but tangible slight to the state’s pride. While Brooklyn is only a stones-throw from the Meadowlands, it seems probable that the Nets will lose a meaningful portion of their supporters from the Garden State. To survive, they are going to have to convert Knicks fans. This will not be easy; the Knicks, much like the Red Sox, have extremely loyal fans, and are beloved by all despite their persistent mediocrity. From the onset, it seems the Nets will be fighting an uphill battle.
However, they do have a few things working in their favor. Attending a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden is preposterously expensive. The cheapest tickets you are likely to find are around $50 a pop. The Brooklyn Nets, on the other hand, will have tickets priced for every budget. Two thousand tickets will be priced at $15 and under, and 50% of all season tickets will be priced at $55 or less per game. This will be a major selling point for the team; New Yorkers now have a place to watch NBA games without having to skip dinner to cover the cost. This alone will fill seats. The real challenge will be establishing a fan-base so as to create a community of true, loyal, and personally invested Nets fans to back the team up. Home court advantage doesn’t count for much if the fans don’t really care.
The Nets franchise itself is not a storied one. Since they joined the NBA in 1976, their only notable achievements are back-to-back Conference titles in 2002 and 2003. They have a well-publicized rivalry with the Knicks, which surely will do nothing to alleviate the divide their move will likely cause. Moreover, the situation with their roster is far from settled, and it remains to be seen whether key players such as Deron Williams, Kris Humphries, and Gerald Wallace will play as Brooklyn Nets next season. In a number of ways, the Nets will be starting from scratch, and have a very tough sell to make to the notoriously harsh and unforgiving New York sports scene. Fortunately, they have the best salesman they could have asked for: Jay-Z.
It would be hard to find a better ambassador for the Nets in New York City than Jay-Z. He’s New York royalty, and his brand is synonymous with Brooklyn. He’s already taken great strides to personally promote the team as part-owner and unofficial spokesman. The most recent instance of this was last week, when he introduced the new Nets logo (which he designed personally) by donning a t-shirt with the logo in concert. I must admit, it looked pretty cool. But, then I remembered: Jay-Z could make practically anything look cool. It’s a clean, polished, but terribly unremarkable logo. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s also certainly not good. That said, successful makeovers typically produce a noticeable improvement in appearance. This may seem a frivolous issue, but if the Nets are going to have any chance of making converts of Knicks fans, image and marketing are going to count for a lot. The logo was unambitious and poorly executed -- and possibly indicative of their judgment and aptitude, or lack there-of, as an organization.
In short, the Brooklyn Nets will probably be a smashing success commercially. They will have no problem filling the newly-constructed Barclays Center. They are undoubtedly going to turn a profit, for now. But there is more to creating a great team than financial productivity; the cornerstone of any sports franchise is its legacy and its fans. If they fail to inspire Brooklynites and New Yorkers to jump ship to the Nets, they will be destined to occupy the unenviable role of New York’s other basketball team.