One remains in transition, with an owner who could arguably be their biggest drawing card for now. The other remains firmly in place on perhaps the most valuable piece of real estate in Manhattan, with more surprises on the court on opening night than controversies, perhaps for the first time in well…forever. That's where the Knicks and Nets stand as brands one game into the regular season, both undefeated and both competing for attention and dollars in an always crowded marketplace. Both also have a very unique approach as to how their brand grows, and where it could potentially go.
Make no mistake about it, the Knicks in almost every way, except in wins and losses, remain atop the value board in the NBA. Their tickets sell, their fans show up in droves, their coach is popular, their players are fun to watch and they have a big name to build around again. They also have a renovation of arena going on, one which is matching in many ways their renovation of brand. The Knicks these days are about the future and are not the win at all cost franchise they have been over the last 20 years, usually with diasppointing results.
So while the Knicks push renovation and restoration, the Nets push innovation and transition. Instead of Continental Airlines there is now Aeroflot, the Russian airline reflective of new owner Mikail Prokhorov's background. Where American Express or Chase was a partner is now Barclay's Bank, who will title their new arena in Brooklyn after their run at the Pridential center is up in a few years. Chinese and other other Russian brands also dot the landscape, and the Nets lead the league in press releases and promotions all designed to keep the brand relevant if the new faces on the court for new coach Avery Johnson falter. Their approach is aggressive, public and very much a call to action to at least come and check out what is going on once, all of which is a shot in the arm for the Prudential Center as Newark continues its bounce back and a new group of hoops fans come through its doors for the first time.
So where does that place the Knick. While the Nets go for the new names and try to be more the innovators, the orange and blue pull in the traditional, the steady and easily understandable, from JP Morgan Chase and Hugo Boss. Even their latest spirit sponsor, 1800 Tequila, is high end and more reflective of the clientele of Wall Street and Broadway that fills MSG's current front rows and soon to be renovated suites. The names are reflective of a high ticket higher level overall experience that is expected at MSG, maybe a bit more selective and exclusive than the Nets wider expanse of brands who may be engaging with professional sports for the first time, at least in the U.S.
All of this back and forth is great news for fans and for companies looking to engage with pro hoops in the New York area as the season tips. It means there is something for everything and the doors are open for competition. Have a high end bran.? The Knicks can find you a place on their roster. A new brand maybe a bit more edgy or looking to reach a more suburban crowd at a price that does not fit Manhatta.? Then try the Nets. It doesn’t mean that one is necessarily better than the other, it means that the experience is different and in a battle for discretionary dollar that difference means that everyone can fit, perhaps for the first time.
Will the battle for high end sponsors heat up in some categories if the teams surprise and do well on court, another key factor that has been missing in recent year. Perhaps. That will certainly bring in more eyeballs for TV and digital partnerships, if not for in-arena promotions. The Knicks have proven that they can fill the building even with a mediocre product on court, while the Nets had struggled to get butts in seats even in their best of years (although the move to the Pru and their aggressive approach in recent years should make that much easier now). What is clear is that both teams have made the experiential essential for fans, and the result is rosters of partners that are now filled and active, a good thing for the business of hoops in the New York area, and hopefully for fans as well.