For those who don’t know, pro basketball has actually been back on Long Island since the Nets moved to the Barclays Center. Brooklyn does reside on the western end of one of the most populous and engaged bodies of land not part of the mainland US. However last year, a team with its sights a little further out east did its quiet dry run to no attention in the cavernous arena, as it prepped for a real return of pro hoops to Long Island proper this fall and winter.
That would be the Long Island Nets, who will call the refurbished NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum its own in just a few weeks. Playing in what is now the G League, the Nets owned and operated affiliate went through a test run of sorts last year as the Coliseum readied, and now has a chance to take a page out of the success of the Atlantic League Long Island Ducks success and bring a fun mix of professional sports family entertainment to a massive area which once supported an NBA franchise (before the demise of the ABA and the Nets subsequent move to New Jersey) and has had its challenges with the now Brooklyn-based Islanders since the Coliseum went its current size reconfiguration. Under Alton Byrd, who helped build the WNBA Atlanta Dream, helped reinvigorate hoops in the UK and has New York ties with his time spent as a standout at Columbia, the LI Nets will start, and have started, at the grassroots level with smart community engagement even before they play a game.
To find out where that started in earnest this past weekwith their “Stuff-A-Bus” campaign, working with the United Way and new partners like Burger King and Target to get much needed supplies collected as kids head back to school. While not new, Stuff-A-Bus is in its ninth year with local at-risk kids, the power of the Nets overall brand and the cache of sports involvement brought extra partners and dollars to the event, making it one of the largest back to school programs any team is doing in the area, a great next step that is added on to clinics and other “must do’s” that the team will do to fill seats and raise awareness on a limited budget as the G League season begins.
The move to such a solid area follows the model of G League success elsewhere (the Knicks are not that far away with their affiliate in Westchester County, and that team has drawn well even with a limited support system for marketing and community events), but Long Island may be the most fertile market for hoops that the league may have, along with a crown jewel of a facility. Having front office staff who have had success with leagues like the WNBA and the G League and know how to market the product, and more importantly, the experience, successfully with the parent club not that far away also is key, even with the NBA nets in big time rebuilding mode as they try to keep what has been an ardent NBA fan base engaged in a challenging time.
However for the Long Island Nets, it will all be about grassroots experience, with corporate partners and with community groups who have not had much in the way of basketball to call their own in some time. Are their big challenges to market minor league sports in a major market? Sure. However the success that minor league and Indy league baseball has had in and around the area as affordable family entertainment bodes well, as does the fact that Long Islanders like, and deserve, having a tram that is not “New York” to identify with. The history is there for lots of promotions tied back for senior fans of the game, and then there is a new generation looking to learn and grow. That mix is unique for the G League, and gives the Long Island Nets a chance to carve their own successful path, even with the shadow of the NBA version not that far west.
New arena, new identity, long history at affordable prices. The Long Island Nets are going to school to build their own brand, and that started with some backpack stuffers for a few thousand kids right before Labor Day.