Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey said that “Luck is the residue of design.” “The Mahatma “would be proud of his borough’s current tenants in professional sports then. Now there is no way, even in his wildest dreams that Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark could have foreseen a billionaire Russian owner, the failure of an NHL team to achieve a deal in the region for a new arena, or even a future Hall of fame coach and several hall of Fame players all converging within a relatively short time to make the centerpieces of his business, the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, the talk of professional sports in recent weeks.
However what Yormark and his team could have foreseen was setting up a brand that was capable of capitalizing on success should that success come along, and that’s what has happened not just for the Nets, but for Brooklyn Sport and Entertainment as a brand. The days of packaging promotions around Green initiatives, free tax return nights, and jerseys of visiting players in an outdated arena in the Meadowlands may seem like a century away for some, but those were the seeds that helped lead the brand to its success today. Hokey promotions and a thirst to keep the team relevant in any possible way despite the turmoil or inconsistency on the court made the Nets brand one to be noticed, if not valued by many. The team continued to position itself as the Barclays Center became a reality and Mikhail Prokhorov ceded the team from Forest City Ratner. That constant buzz of new ideas even made the team more relevant as it went from the Prudential Center in its transition year, wrapping up a star crossed history respectfully in New Jersey, while all the while looking ahead to Brooklyn.
By almost all accounts the first Brooklyn year was a success. Awards for innovation, a return to a borough for professional sports (although the very successful minor league Cyclones are there and remain a great draw), lots of “firsts” from college basketball to boxing, all became the mantra of year one. It was all Brooklyn all the time, and even the team performed well enough to be a draw along, with its new arena.
So now Brooklyn is set, the launch year is complete, and what’s next is now on the horizon. That horizon, through both luck and design, now includes an NHL tenant as well as possibly an additional venue to manage and sculpt should Forest City Ratner beat out Madison Square Garden for the rights to develop what is now the Nassau Coliseum. The Nets brand and its buzz and business acumen now extends to Charles Wang’s Islanders, perhaps one of the best on-ice resurrections in the NHL, and now perhaps one of the better business stories in sports which we will now hear about every day, if the Nets spin doctors have their way of building brands come true. Year two also sees a Nets team, with an owners deep pockets, be a team of stars, ones which casual fans won’t need any introduction to. From new coach Jason Kidd to the coming veterans from Boston to newest signee Andrei Kirilenko (who will help fill some additional seats from the heavy Russian area of Brighton Beach), there will be more buzz and brand interest associated with the on-court performance of the Nets than there has been in years. All of that is good business for the brand, the arena and the borough.
But what about beyond Brooklyn? There is where the real value lies, and that’s where the business can now expand its reach. The exciting team and its state of the art arena now extends several hundred miles east into Long Island and through Queens, drawing casual hoops fans and now hockey fans as well. The star power of the Nets team can pull fans probably from Manhattan and even from New Jersey now, something which in year two of a launch may have been harder to do. Does it mean the mega brands of MSG and the Knicks should be shaking in their Nikes? No, there is a large enough market for hoops anyway to go around. But for ancillary brand building and getting casual dollars, the Nets brand extension, especially if they win the bid for the Long Island arena projects, could continue to become that much more powerful in the TV world, in the digital world, in the sales world and in the event world. Brooklyn as a borough has a power all to its own, now its home standing sports brand has ratcheted up its limelight as well. Of course there remain many “ifs,” the team has to play well and win, the arena has to continue to manage costs and make it affordable, the Islanders transition has to be smooth and successful and the economy needs to stay strong. If all those go well, the brand is positioned better than it ever has been before.
So yes, many of the events that have put the Nets brand in the position today could not have been predicted. What could have been predicted is that the team and brand leadership was going to be relentless in taking advantage and telling the world about every move, and when the sun came out and opportunity arose, they could literally cash in. They are moves that Mr. Rickey would have liked, and if he were alive today, would certainly support as the Nets become bigger than the borough.