Brian ErniIf you build it, they will come.
That was the sentiment mostly in line with the Nets’ thinking when they erected the Barclays Center in the middle of the Atlantic Yards. By and large, they’ve been right. The Nets’ new home was a smashing success in Year One, as it drew winning basketball, landmark concerts, and top tier entertainment attractions. But most of those who strode past the Oculus and into the state-of-the-art building to see it unfold were Brooklynites or Manhattan residents.
The Nets have two former homes: one in Hempstead, New York, the other just a bridge or tunnel away in the Garden State. Both host pockets of Nets fans, and both are within mass transit of the team’s Brooklyn home. Unsurprisingly, the Nets are pushing to get those areas back in the fold.
Earlier this month, we found out the Nets will once again charter buses to the Barclays Center from Paramus, New Jersey. They did this last year too, but only 9.8 percent of the fans the Nets drew to Brooklyn returned to homes in New Jersey. Meanwhile, the Long Island Rail Road added trains on Nets game night to make the change from Jamaica to Atlantic Terminal as seamless as possible, and the Nets drew roughly the same percentage of fans from Long Island to the Barclays Center in 2012-13: about 10 percent.
It begs the question: which market is more fertile ground for the Nets to expand their fan base — New Jersey or Long Island?
The Island seems to have the inside track. The Islanders kicked off their season this month, and you can feel the Nets’ influence at the Coliseum. All graphics on the scoreboard bear the Nets’ font that had popped up since “A Shift in Power” became their slogan. “Bound for Brooklyn” signs were scattered across the arena, and even though some Long Islanders bemoaned a train ride to the Isles’ exhibition game against the Devils, the majority of the near 15,000 in attendance at that game were Long Islanders. And don’t forget: the Nets have committed to playing a preseason game per year at the revamped Coliseum when Forest City Ratner completes the renovation.
Meanwhile, Jersey seems lightyears away. Yes, the Nets only NBA Finals appearances took place in the swamp lands, but by the time the Nets packed their bags for Brooklyn, they were playing to near-empty houses (not that we blame anyone — those were some brutal teams). Is there ill-will among Jersey fans about the Nets abandoning their old home, both literally and figuratively? The organization largely rebooted when it came back to New York, but it’s hard to imagine many existing New Jersey fans minded. After all, winning mends a lot of broken fences, and this team did a lot more of that last year than in the last few in the Garden State.
I do think the Island stands to undergo a bigger Nets renaissance. This is anecdotal, but I can tell you many Long Island youngsters find the city lifestyle alluring, and the cache Brooklyn has gained over the last decade has to make their basketball team seem sexier in the eyes of a young portion of the suburban demographic. Couple that with the cross-promotion dream scenario that exists for the last few seasons the Islanders call Nassau their home, and you have a built in captive audience. The team could help by making a deep playoff run, which always seems to make more fans pop out of the wood work.
As the Nets move forward, and Brooklyn expands its reach past the borough, the organization is bound to solidify their footing in the metro area. Where it is anchored remains to be seen.