Brian ErniHello, marketing! The master’s class in branding is about to be back in session, and it could once again change the make up of a very eclectic Nets’ fan base.
For their inaugural season in Brooklyn, the Nets took on the daunting task of branding the borough. The results? A resounding success: new black-and-white merchandise flew off the shelves and made the team’s merchandise the fourth highest selling in the league. Deron Williams’ jersey climbed to number 6 on the sales charts. Even celebrities outside of Jay Z bought into the Brooklyn vibe. But more so than any quantifiable metric was the new aura around the franchise; the Nets are now hip and fresh thanks to a reinvigorated social media presence, and a complete embracing of the surrounding community. And it looks as though the effort has begun to roll out the Brooklyn brand to the next full-time tenant of the Barclays Center.
In April at the Sports Business Journal and Daily Conference, Brett Yormark told Chris Botta that “the colors black and white are the new badge of honor in Brooklyn. The question is: can we weave that into [the Islanders’] color scheme, and create a connection to the fans here in Brooklyn?” Then, earlier this summer, the Nets took over day-to-day operations of the Islanders, but it took until recently for something to materialize. The term ‘A Shift in Power’ has begun popping up, first on the Islanders’ website last week, then as the team’s photo on their Twitter account. The slogan is in the Nets’ font in white, dropped onto a black background. The push towards marketing synergy has begun.
So as the Nets and Islanders inch closer to becoming one amorphous brand, it leaves us all to wonder: will this bring a new breed of fan into the Barclays Center?
Since hockey and basketball are the two predominant winter sports, fans’ interests often run parallel. But I believe that the Nets have a unique opportunity to woo new fans to the borough. Beginning September 21st, when the Isles take on the Devils at a preseason game at the Barclays Center, the fan base — which has remained deeply loyal despite objectionable contracts, awful trades, and playoff-less seasons — will have a chance to fall in love with the state-of-the-art building. And should they find the LIRR train ride doable, a trip or two to see the All Star-packed Nets may become more attractive.
After all, the Long Island fan has been largely disenfranchised. There are those who still remember Dr. J at the Coliseum and just couldn’t make it out to New Jersey for games after the team moved. There are those who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s that weren’t enthralled with Ewing’s Knicks, or just casually followed New York by default, but never made the trip on the LIRR into Penn Station to cement their fanhood. And there are fans — I have talked to a few of these — who genuinely felt they were never given any reason to bother rooting for a basketball team. The Knicks knew they were the only game in town, and as a result, their marketing efforts on Long Island were nonexistent. So with the Nets set to be very good this year, it may be time for a basketball renaissance from Uniondale to Stony Brook to Montauk.
Let’s also not ignore this very real emotional pull: the Islanders fan who is only a casual basketball observer now has a built in reason to like the Nets. The Nets’ and Islanders’ crosstown rivals share a building, meaning unless you grew up a die hard Knicks fan, there’s now a sense of kindred spirits among these two franchises. For a while, both have been at the back of the line, and this year, both are looking to step ahead of the teams that call Madison Square Garden home. Don’t underestimate how powerful a draw that can be.
My guess is the “Shift in Power” messaging will be the kick off to plenty of cross promotion between the two teams (as an Islanders’ season ticket holder, I’ve already been made privy to one in particular). And as the voice around the two teams begins to become consistent, it very well may lead to an influx of playoff beards and sing along chants making their way to Nets’ games. This still is far from completely playing out, but don’t be surprised if there a few new faces in the seats in Brooklyn.