You see the billboards everywhere from the Upper West Side to Secaucus, the hoops battle for Gotham…the Nets brand against the Knicks. One takes over subway cars with sleek images of its multi-million dollar renovation, the other takes out newspaper ads challenging companies to become their latest corporate partners. One lauds cheerleaders and dancers on “Fox and Friends,” the other lines up celebrities to do a Letterman “Top Ten” list. One pushes its business head, Brett Yormark, to the forefront with every new initiative; the other has a head of business, Dave Howard, whose name never makes the media. One owns the broadcast station it plays on, the other is the television stepsister, albeit on the most watched regional cable channel in the nation (YES). On the airwaves, one has the ESPN partnership on a less visited FM-specific station, the other calls the home of NY sports (WFAN) its place of radio residence.
Welcome to NBA in the New York area, 2013-14 style.
Who will win? It will be interesting to see. On the court both now sell stardom…aging, recognizable stars whose clock is ticking toward a run at greatness. This is no longer the new kids on the Brooklyn, or the Prudential Center block against the Ivory Tower atop Penn Station. It is recognizable, national faces on both sides of the East River, clamoring for major dollars in marketing and sales. The days of large group outings to fill seats for at least one team are gone, for now. The two franchises have never really been in lock step with on-court success. The rise of Jason Kidd’s Nets outshone the Knicks of Tim Thomas and Stephon Marbury in terms of wins, and then the Carmelo Anthony and A’mare Stoudemire Knicks took the center stage again as the nets retooled, rebuilt and set their business goals across two rovers into the heart of Brooklyn. Gimmicky and buzzworthy partners and promotions filled seats in the interim, while MSG continued to pull in large scale partners as it had for almost its entire history. Now, the playing field, at least in terms of buzz, appears to have balanced.
The Nets and the Barclays Center have become a spectacle in a positive way, with full houses and ticket prices that may have already outpriced the average blue collar Brooklyn family they were coveting just a few years ago, but that’s the cost of fame. Lower prices to see the Barclays can go to college hoops, or the Globetrotters or the Atlantic 10 Tournament now. The Knicks and MSG? Once again they are must-watch TV for casual fans, with celebs of a higher level ringing the court every night, while hundred dollar glasses of champagne pour on the new walkways high above the court. The building didn’t really need a renaissance for its loyal fans, but in an era where even super models may go for a slight nip and tuck, the time for making the palace more palatial was right.
So where to go from here in this “battle?” The Barclays center team won a huge battle to the east with their takeover of Nassau Coliseum and the annexation of the Islanders down the road. That creates new seamless inroads into Long Island and even Queens, longtime stalwarts for the tenants of MSG. The Knicks can try and reclaim those parts of New Jersey that may have fallen by the wayside in recent years and now are wide open with no NBA team in The Garden State, and a new president in Steve Mills who has called New Jersey home for years. NJ Transit is a lot easier to take into 33rd Street than it is to traverse a second subway ride, and there are corporate dollars left behind in New Jersey that the Knicks high prices could demand.
For all their growth, the Nets will have challenges that they did not in previous years. Their well-oiled PR machine could always find a player or two for the latest community initiative to gain ancillary attention. Now a team of aging stars whose focus is on the court, not the community will make Brooklyn’s all out event blitz less frequent. Then again, winning on the court can still trump winning off the sports page as well. For the Knicks, they will continue to do the obligatory events to keep them connected to their loyal core following, while continuing to grow the casual observer and even the foreign tourist who make MSG, like a trip to Yankee Stadium, a “must see” new York experience at any price. They have also done a solid job of trumpeting new partners into the Garden fold, with companies like SAP thinking that their ROI on the MSG experience outweighs the lofty price of brand entry above Penn Station.
In the end, an area which had so little in terms of “new” in the arena space now has seven gleaming new facilities on all sides of the Hudson, with the revamped MSG and the still-new Barclays joining the slightly older but always solid Prudential Center for winter time attention. The Nets on court moves have set the sites for less off-court hype, while the Knicks continued star power can more than hold their own, now with an elegant, revamped home to show their well-heeled fans. We are also talking about filling buildings under 20,000 night in and night out, not the massive areas of seats that Citi Field or Yankee Stadium or even Met Life Stadium or even Red Bull Arena have to offer. This is a basketball-savvy area that loves its pro sports and enjoys the buzz, which is good for the hype machine of both Knicks and Nets. Will one come out on top? The battle will probably ebb and flow, dictated more by the moment than the long term. Who will win? The buildings for one, and all the ancillary businesses around them who have had in some cases to endure strike-shortened NHL and NBA seasons in recent years. The business partners for another, who can probably reap more benefits this year as the competition ramps up than in previous years. The media for another, who should have their fair share of drama on and off the court as the season progresses. And hopefully the fans has well, who for a long time have seen more hype than hope over an elongated period of time, even with all the steep prices bandied about.
Are there losers? Maybe those on many levels who can’t afford the big bucks, but in an era when digital and experiential are growing, the actual event attendance is less and less a must and more and more a maybe. Regardless, it should be an interesting winter of hoops, as not one, but two basketball brands wage war to see who can be the kings of the area.
If nothing else, it will make for great drama, and that drama is what drives the business of sport in the area.