BY EVAN WEINER
So how do you push your way onto the world stage and become a global sports brand name like Manchester United, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods? That is the question that Irina Pavlova will be attempting to answer in the upcoming months as she leads the campaign to make the New Jersey, soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets a player on the world stage.
The former majority leader of the United States House of Representatives Tip O'Neill joked that all politics is local and sports owners believed that all sports is local but that is no longer the case. Manchester United is better known as ManU and is a huge worldwide brand. ManU and other football (soccer) teams that have global name recognition but no National Basketball Association franchise is on that level.
New Nets owner Russia's Mikhail Prokhorov may be able to elevate the New Jersey, soon-to-be Brooklyn, Nets to that lofty perch but there is much work to be done locally whether it is in Newark or Brooklyn. Prokhorov's Nets franchise is scheduled to make a stop in Newark for two years before heading through either the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel and over either the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge or through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the new Brooklyn arena.So how do you make the Nets not only Moscow's team but Beijing's team?
"That's only the first step," said Pavlova, who is the President of Prokhorov's Onexim Sports and Entertainment, talking about her owner's purchase of the Nets. "We also have one of the two (NBA) Chinese players (Yi Jianlian) on our team that we are very excited about. I think really is no limit to how global the New Jersey Nets brand can become. I think Mikhail Prokhorov brings a new dimension to this team."
According to Nets President Rod Thorn, the Nets will be in China for pre-season games and will play two regular season games in London, England, which means the Nets franchise is about ready to enter the global stage. But again there is a matter of taking care of business at home.
"I think it is going to be a fluid process, it is not just three things we need to do get there," said Pavlova. "We have the move (from the Meadowlands to Newark), we have a very exciting summer ahead of us and I think we will look at it as more if you look at Michael Jordan or you look at Tiger Woods, there are both an international brand. I think our strategy is going to evolve around building the New Jersey Nets into something like that where the name transcends borders and cultures and countries."
The Nets franchise is moving. The Meadowlands is in the rear view mirror and there is a temporary stop in New Jersey before the migration across the Upper New York Bay to Brooklyn. Getting from point A (the Meadowlands) to Point C (Brooklyn) is not as easy as getting on Route 3 and hopping through the Lincoln Tunnel and turning to south to get to the Manhattan Bridge and then to the new Atlantic Yards building. How do you go from Point A to Point C?
"U-haul," laughed Pavlova. "Obviously it is a complicated process but it has been in the works for a while and we have a lot of support from a lot of our constituents. It is not easy but it is going to get done."
The Nets organization may have to go through three fan bases in the New York City area by the time the team is ready to become a player on the global stage. There is the fan base that was left behind at the Meadowlands, there will be an interim stop in Newark and then Brooklyn. NBA teams, along with those in all other sports, rely on a lot of corporate support. Will the corporate base that bought luxury boxes and club seats at the Meadowlands move to Newark and then will that money move to Brooklyn or will new corporate money be poured into the Nets and can the team induce the New Jersey corporate dollars to cross two tunnels or bridges to get to Brooklyn?
"We definitely hope our fans will follow us and that we gain new ones. We welcome everyone," she said.
The Brooklyn arena will be the fifth major venue in the New York area although it will be the newest one in 2012. There are plans to renovate the Charles Dolan-family owned Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, there are the two New Jersey buildings at the Meadowlands and Newark and the Nassau Coliseum out in Uniondale on the Island.
Chris Botta on his Islanders Point Blank website reported that the New York Mets ownership group, the Wilpon family (who are New York City real estate people), have brought in another real estate company – Jones, Lang and LaSalle – to kick the tires and explore the possibility of building an arena in Queens in the junkyards across the way from the Mets' new stadium.
Dolan's Newsday newspaper dismissed Botta's story but that property has been eyed by developers and once was mentioned by Donald Trump back in 1984 as a possible home for a new football stadium for his United States New Jersey Generals. Can six arenas in such a small area co-exist?
"To be honest with you, I am not following everything to same extent you mention, so I am not familiar with the Islanders situation," said Pavlova. "We broke ground in March (in Brooklyn), we are going ahead with it. So far everything is going smoothly and we are hope it will continue to go that way. We are planning to open in two years. So the season of 2012-23, we plan to be there."
How far into the building process is the Brooklyn arena?
"They're digging," said Pavlova.
The Nets basketball franchise has been around since 1967, first as the New Jersey Americans, Teaneck-based American Basketball Association squad then as the New York Nets between 1968 and 1977 in various buildings on Long Island and then back to New Jersey in 1977.
The team moved into the Meadowlands in 1981. Despite having Dr. J and winning two ABA titles in 1974 and 1976 and joining the NBA in 1976, the team has never captured the attention of the tri-state area like the Manhattan-based New York Knicks. Getting equal attention in New York has been a tough go for decades, so will it be easier to get global attention?
"I can't tell you exactly how it is going to go," said Pavlova. "Obviously we will have a marketing team that will work on that. It is not an overnight process but that's in the plan."
A Russian owner, a pre-season in China and regular season games in London could change the Nets perceived perception. People have a perceived perception of the Nets which is probably not deserved. New Jersey has had some NBA success but the Meadowlands and New Jersey have never been fairly compared to the Garden by the New York media even though Sumner Redstone once threatened to move his New York Rangers franchise to New Jersey and his Knicks to the Nets old Nassau Coliseum venue if he didn't get a break in property taxes and the electric bill at the Garden in the early 1980s. Redstone got both. Redstone had no problems with New Jersey for his hockey team but the New York media has never bought New Jersey or Long Island for that matter as the big time even though the National Football League Giants and Jets played across the street from the Meadowlands Arena and the Jets trained next to the Nassau Coliseum.
Again, it is all about perceived perception.
Rod Thorn, an NBA lifer who played in the league when teams were still moving from city to city back in the 1960s, would like to elevate the Nets franchise onto the global stage.
"I think that certainly is a lofty goal," said Thorn. "Something that we will obviously aspire to. We have a leg up by having an owner like Mikhail who is known all over the world and has owned sports teams before. That is something to really look forward to. I think our going to China has more to do with us having Yi right now than it does anything else and then we are also going to London in March to play regular season games. So, it is exciting, there are a lot of experiences that we are going to have here in the next couple of years and everybody is looking forward to it.
"Basketball is an international sport, teams play all over the world. So there is a base for basketball virtually anywhere. Pre-season for China. Two games in London."
Thorn started in the NBA in 1963 when the league barely had a TV contract, the NBA was not seen on national TV in the United States in 1961-62, and Chicago had just moved to Baltimore. Thorn was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1963. Thorn also played for the St. Louis Hawks, a franchise that moved to Atlanta in 1968. The NBA of Thorn's youth only shares the initials NBA with today's league which is an international business.
"Not really," was Thorn's response when asked if he thought the NBA would grow into a global presence. "But during my time over there (with the NBA office between 1986-2000), the league really became more involved in international play with the McDonald's Open first (in 1987) and by participating in the Olympics and World Championships, so it happened while I was there, I didn't even think about things like that."
Now Thorn is running a team with an owner who plans to make the Nets brand a global presence along side of Manchester United and icons like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Lebron James. It is all about getting the product in front of people whether it is in Moscow, Beijing or London. Prokhorov is planning to push the Nets onto the global stage which is so un-Nets-like.