ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
In just over 10 days, professional basketball, at least the NBA version, will officially leave the state of New Jersey, when the Nets host the Philadelphia 76ers in what will be their final game during a two season transition period from the IZOD Center to their new home two rivers away at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.
From Teaneck to Piscataway to East Rutherford to Newark, New Jersey's star-crossed NBA franchise has seen a host of memorable, and like any organization, some forgettable nights. While the protests of the announced move have long been drowned out by the endless positive beat on the move to Brooklyn by the organization, the move will leave New Jersey with a bit of a gap in the professional sports landscape for the first time in almost 30 years.
The question will be, is the Nets brand better or stronger in Brooklyn than it has been in New Jersey? And can or will the Knicks or even the 76ers, look to capture at least a portion of the small but solid fan based that may feel disenfranchised by the Nets long anticipated move?
As far as brand strength, the Nets under the current ownership and leadership have never been louder and more active. Not a day goes by when the team is not trumpeting some appearance, partnership or activity, both in Newark and in Brooklyn. It is a constant beat to keep the franchise relevant while their rock solid competitors in Madison Square Garden rise and fall through Linsanity, coaching changes and the other drama surrounding "The World's Most famous Arena."
The Nets have long preached promotion and family entertainment, and tried hard to keep their Jersey ties as strong as possible as their vision was drawn more and more to the gleaming new Barclay's Center and its September opening. This season's promise of a strong finish at The Pru was dashed in an injury-riddled season, as fans focused more on players to be (including one from Orlando) more than the ones here many nights. Still the Nets sold the experience, and did they best they could in a lame duck building to paint a smile for the fans who stayed loyal, the hopes of maybe even luring some to their new digs. While many franchises could have emotionally walked long ago, the Nets kept trying and trying to reward, even though departure was imminent.
Will Brooklyn be better for the team? There is an old saying in sport, "You either sell hype or hope," and the Nets have done a good job of trying to sell both during their latest non-playoff run. The move to The Prudential Center from IZOD did bring some hope and certain newness to the franchise, but the move to Brooklyn certainly symbolizes a fresh start. New arena, new professional sports in the largest borough of the City of New York, Long Islands millions not far away, a great new transit hub in the offing, and maybe with some strong moves, general manager Billy King can help right the recent wrongs of administrations past.
We all like new, and no one would like a fresh new start more than the Nets. Better? Maybe. Different and fresh? For sure. A new challenge to the established and hard charging Knicks for fans and dollars? Maybe, but then again, given the size of the market, the challenge may be different, but certainly not new.
So what about the building, which recently has been the subject of more than a little bad blood between the primary tenants and Mayor Corey Booker. Will the area suffer a blow without the Nets? Given the versatility of the building and the quality of shows that have been brought in and could be expanded, probably not. There are always concerts and other events that can probably use the dates, and those events, along with the Devils and Seton Hall, will keep the building moving and thriving without the current NBA tenant. Is it better to have the Nets than not? Yes. Is it a death sentence when the team vacates? Not at all.
By the way hoops will not be leaving Brick City at all, between the return of the WNBA Liberty, the NBA Draft in June, the Hall and other events, the hardwood will continue to get used at The Rock, just not as often as in the past two years. In the end, the Nets have had a nostalgic, if not always successful run, in New Jersey. They leave the state with a more vibrant brand than when they came from Long Island, and return to that same piece of real estate that juts into the Atlantic (albeit a little closer to the mainland U.S.) with lots of lessons learned and memories created and promotions spun. It may not have always been the "Perfect Together" slogan that former Governor Tom Kean always used for his State, but it was a good fit and one that did grow over time.
Those lessons learned from a business perspective will serve the team and their fans well in their new digs, and hopefully will even pull some fans with their memories to check out the new place, in their old state. Every brand needs a dusting off from time to time, and the Nets brand will now get one, courtesy of their time spent in New Jersey.
Joe Favorito has over 24 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.