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Branding the New Jersey Nets: New Building, New Hope

It's another dark spring in New York. Save for the Devils, there is no postseason at Madison Square Garden, the Izod Center or Nassau Coliseum, so the attentions and the dollars of the casual sports fan can shift fully to baseball, and maybe a bit to soccer as spring fully arrives.

Now the lack of postseason for the Knicks, Nets and Islanders, and now again for the Rangers, is always a cause for concern. However, as Don Nelson, now the winningest coach in NBA history, said once, you sell two things in pro sports... winning or hope... and for another year, the world's largest media market will look to again sell hope... and a good amount of hype. Will it work again? The one team that has to win the biggest hype award of any team anywhere this year still has to be the New Jersey Nets, who ended their forgettable run at the Meadowlands with another loss on Monday night.

The Nets are leaving the IZOD Center for a two-year stay in Newark and then head to Brooklyn and the new Barclay's Center when it is done. The hope for the fan is more than a little different than for the Knicks, who are treating the phrase "cap room" like it will put on a jersey itself next year (hence the sale of hope). If you have hope and live in New Jersey, by the time the hope arrives you may have to trek across two bridges and a city and a half to see it. So the Nets this year sold the experience -- the experience of the NBA, of their opponents, of supporting the worst team in the NBA of supporting players who genuinely cared about the community; and the coverage they received for each experiential sell was substantial.

Need a job, bring a resume and the Nets will help out. Need your taxes done? The Nets have that too. Want a home pizza delivery by a millionaire? The Nets are your team. Call a play from the bench? Yes that's the Nets. Senior dancers, free shopping bags, sponsor mentions by the dozen? The Nets are your team. Winning hoops? Nah. Now whether that fan experience translates into anything for ticket sales for the future is not as material as it is for the Knicks, who will be staying and trying to renew very high ticket prices in the very immediate future. The ability to keep brands engaged for New Jersey was probably more important than filling seats with paying customers this year, although the long term success for the franchise will have to be both.

Regardless, what the Nets lacked in box office draw they made up for in brand awareness this year.

So as the lights go out in all but one arena in New York for the spring, the hope of every franchise is again being pitched -- hope for new arenas, new value, new players, new seasons, new opportunities. And it is that pitching of hope which all those franchises believe will keep dollars coming in through the summer until the balls and the skates come back out. Will it continue to work in this challenged economy?

The one thing each team in the area that has going is that there is really no one to come in and pirate those dollars with great on ice or on court success (except the Devils, who still lag way behind in interest despite some great marketing strides, and a run to the playoffs, this season). Every team is almost in the same boat. So what is needed by each one is added value and the cultivation of a loyal and solid fan base which believes that their team has sold in the best plan for success. We shall see which one or ones will be the winners, both on the field and in the branding and sales world.


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