The Brooklyn Nets are using a winning start to the National Basketball Association season and a $1 billion arena to build a rivalry with the New York Knicks.
The Nets have gained attention in a city saturated with professional teams and fans who keep allegiances through decades and cross-country moves, according to Robert Boland, chairman of the sports management program at New York University’s Robert Preston Tisch Center. The team’s Barclays Center also is competing with the Knicks and Madison Square Garden for sponsorships and corporate partnerships, Boland said.
The Nets (11-8) host the Knicks (15-5) tonight in their second of four meetings this season. Brooklyn has lost four straight games following a franchise-best 11-4 start, including an overtime win against New York in Brooklyn on Nov. 26.
“The storyline is no longer the big Knicks versus the little Nets, or even the new Nets,” Boland said in a telephone interview. “It’s two giant conglomerates selling sponsorships in their arenas. It’s more a battle of equals.”
The Nets moved from Newark, New Jersey, into the new Barclays Center, next to Brooklyn’s main transportation hub, before the season. It is part of a $4.9 billion development project, 5.3 miles (8.5 kilometers) from the Knicks’ Midtown Manhattan home at the Garden, which bills itself as “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
The Nets were bought by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov for $200 million in May 2010.
Through rebranding, relocation and renewed success, the Nets have built a new identity that, while different, rivals that of the two-time champion Knicks, according to Scott Becher, managing director of Z Sports & Entertainment, a division of Florida-based Zimmerman Advertising.
“The design and vibe of the new arena is urban and hip, also a bit of a departure from the more corporate MSG,” Becher said.
The Barclays Center has scheduled college basketball tournaments, concerts and boxing matches to surround 41 Nets home games. The National Hockey League’s New York Islanders announced they will move from Uniondale to the building in 2015.
The non-NBA schedule has helped expand the arena’s corporate portfolio, according to Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of sports management at NYU. The building’s founding partners include American Express Co., Honda Motor Co. LTD, EmblemHealth Inc. and MetroPCS Communications Inc.
“They are fully maximizing that facility as a multiple-revenue-generating asset,” McDonnell said in a telephone interview.
The Nets didn’t make Chief Executive Officer Brett Yormark available to be interviewed for this story.
Nets merchandise bearing the new black and white logo, designed with input from Brooklyn-born rapper and minority owner Jay-Z, is the fourth-highest-selling franchise at the NBA’s online store and main Manhattan shop, according to the league. The team wasn’t in the top 10 last season, when it went 22-44. The league doesn’t provide information beyond those franchises.
Ticket sales are up 505 percent from last season, 411 percentage points more than the next closest team’s growth, according to aggregator TiqIQ.com. Nets tickets have an average listing price of $193.72 on the secondary market, third in the league behind the Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, the website said.
The boosts in ticket and merchandise sales show a franchise that has gained a foothold in the New York market, which has nine teams in the four major sports leagues and includes fans still loyal to baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, who left for Los Angeles in 1957. The pursuit of corporate partnerships was another obstacle for the franchise, according to Boland.
“A lot of the money that flows into franchises is from licensing, sponsorship and club seats and luxury boxes, and that market has really expanded and gotten much more competitive in New York,” Boland said.
Jay-Z himself declared success when the Nets beat the Knicks 96-89 in overtime on Nov. 26, their first meeting of the season.
“The city is under new management,” he said on Twitter.
Madison Square Garden isn’t ready to give up its crown.
“While we respect any competition, the Garden will always be the Garden,” the company said in a statement. “Madison Square Garden is located in the heart of New York City, sitting on the busiest transportation hub in the nation, and has been a destination for New Yorkers and visitors to the city for over 130 years.”
The arena is two-thirds through a privately funded $1 billion renovation.
The Nets were mentioned in recent seasons as a possible destination for LeBron James, the reigning league Most Valuable Player now with the defending-champion Miami Heat; Carmelo Anthony, now with the Knicks, and All-Star center Dwight Howard, who was traded in the offseason to the Lakers from the Orlando Magic.
Instead of acquiring Howard, the team re-signed 24-year-old center Brook Lopez, which may be an equally effective strategy, according to Greg Anthony, a former NBA guard and now an analyst with TNT. Lopez, who has missed the last five games with an ankle injury, is leading the team with 18.5 points and 2.5 blocks per game.
“He’s keeping the ball alive, he’s blocking shots, he’s being more of a factor on the interior, and that’s really, more than anything, why this team has the potential to be really good,” Anthony said in a telephone interview.
The Nets also retained three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams and defensive specialist Gerald Wallace, and added six-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson, Bosnian forward Mirza Teletovic and 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Reggie Evans. The team doled out more than $330 million in contracts, according to ESPN.
The Barclays Center is operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group, which runs more than 100 facilities worldwide, including Staples Center in Los Angeles. Madison Square Garden Co. also runs a pair of theaters in New York, in addition to other entertainment buildings. Boland said competition between those companies furthers the Nets-Knicks rivalry.
“If the Knicks remain good and the Nets remain good, and MSG and AEG continue on a global battle for facilities opportunities, then this rivalry will really continue to grow,” he said.