Vision being executed by Brett Yormark, Barry Baum and staff
BY JOE FAVORITO
ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
From the time they moved from Long Island and took up their temporary home in Piscataway, the New Jersey Nets — now branded just NETS basketball — have been a wayward brand.
The Nets found themselves caught in the long shadow of the Knicks. Changing and confusing ownership, a futile attempt to change the name to the Swamp Dragons, a revolving door of players and coaches, even tragedy in the form of the untimely death of star player Drazen Petrovic, all seemed to keep the Nets from ever becoming an effective brand. Therefore it was difficult drawing sponsors, filling seats or being relevant in a very crowded marketplace.
However, positive changes on the basketball court, led by General Manager Rod Thorn and Coach Lawrence Frank, led to a pair of NBA Finals appearances and more excitement than the franchise had ever seen. Still even with the on-court changes, the franchise still lacked creative vision and a business savvy. And that failing continued to slow the development of the brand.However, all that has changed during the last few years. Even as the team continues to plan for its move out of the state to an arena in Brooklyn, the brand finds new ways almost on a daily basis to create news and buzz, add value to its partners and grow brand relevancy in the tri-state area.
The vision is led by CEO Brett Yormark and his staff, and executed by PR head Barry Baum.
Some of their ideas are innovative (the Nets were one of the first teams to create substantial green initiatives, tied to sponsors), some are controversial in their effectiveness (including a series of reversible jerseys as part of a season plan that could encourage more non-Nets colors in the arena than Nets jerseys), some are fun (senior dance teams, an endless list of fan promotions), some are trend-setting (the Nets sold the first practice jersey sponsorship this week), and some just make great brand sense (hosting job fairs in a down economy, developing partnerships with the Asian and Latin community and looking abroad for emerging sponsors like LG and Barclay's).
However all are geared toward the same goal — keeping a brand vibrant and as relevant as possible in a time when sponsor and fan dollars are at a minimum, and the on-court product, not to mention the franchise, is in transition.
Now critics may say that even with all the stellar efforts, the Nets' brand value, their ticket sales and even sponsor revenue have not risen significantly. And that negative is attributed to a team that does not have the stars and marquee players that it did several years ago (with the exception of All-Star Devin Harris).
The better question to ask is, where would the franchise be without the efforts being made to keep the status quo and grow the casual interest among fans?
The answer is irrelevant. The key concept that must be addressed is franchise value. The franchise, without marketing or lacking a strategic communications push, would be in terrible shape. It would be difficult to woo a fan base when discretionary dollars come into play.
Will winning help? Always. Will a settled future, in Brooklyn or New Jersey, make a difference? Yes.
One thing is clear though. There is no team in the tri-state area, or maybe even in professional sports, that gives a fan or a brand more news year-round than the Nets do. They continue to find ways to create an experience in and around their brand that is important to their constituents.
So when a family or an individual is thinking of entertainment, or a brand is trying to find an affordable way to reach a particular demographic, the Nets brand is conspicuously present. It's a smart way to do business, and one that many franchises, and even colleges, should emulate.
Joe Favorito has over 23 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. Visit him at JoeFavorito.com.