September 21, 2010: If anyone can make fans, consumers and marketing partners forget about a forgettable 12-70 NBA season, which ended less than six months ago, it figures to be Brett Yormark, CEO of Nets Basketball and president/CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment.
The franchise has done about all it can to reverse the über dismal experience of the 2009-10 campaign by starting every conversation with the word "New," as in new coach Avery Johnson, new general manager Billy King, new temporary arena Prudential Center (the team's home venue until the so-new-it-hasn't been-built-yet Barclays Center opens in 2012) and new vp-corporate marketing Mike Zavodsky, all under the auspices and financing of new owner, Russian billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov.
What really isn't new is that Yormark and his team are successfully convincing marketing and sponsorship partners — of which there are more than 70 listed on the team's Web site — that there is no light at the end of the tunnel because, in fact, there is no tunnel.
The newest venture: an integrated marketing campaign, "Experience It," which the franchise is touting as a "call to action for its fans for the 2010-11 NBA season.
“'Experience It' is a natural progression from our summer campaign, 'It's All New,' as we are encouraging fans to be part of the exciting new direction of Nets Basketball,” said Yormark. “Our story is compelling and clearly resonating as we are off to the best start in franchise history in new full season tickets sales.”
The campaign, handled in-house, wipes the 12-70 slate clean and also bypasses the fact that the team was among those that sought to, but ultimately did not, sign free agent LeBron James. Still, even without what would be considered an NBA marquee name (Brooks Lopez is a diamond in the rough and Carmelo Anthony still plays with the Denver Nuggets until further notice), the team will garner international exposure via pre-season games against Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets in China (Beijing on Oct. 13, Guangzhou on Oct. 16) and then two regular-season games in London vs. the Toronto Raptors, which also is part of the lead-in to the 2012 Summer Olympics in the U.K. city. The Nets also plan to make a stop in Moscow to hold a series of clinics prior to their pre-season games in China.
"I am very happy that the Nets are participating as the home team in the NBA's first international regular season games in Europe," Prokhorov said during a press conference when the 2010-11 schedule was unveiled in August. "Along with our pre-season games in China in October, the games to be played in London next March demonstrate my commitment to bringing the NBA experience to international fans and making the Nets the first global team in the NBA. I thank the NBA for organizing these games."
"Some teams are more anxious to travel than others or rather some teams are more opposed to travel than others, and so we had these two teams and it seemed like a good idea," NBA commissioner David Stern said at the press conference. "Mr. Prokhorov, when he bought the team, made it clear he would like very much to travel."
More proof of the Nets' unique international power is that NBA opened an office in Russia earlier this month and credited Prokhorov, the first non-U.S. businessman to own an NBA team, with being a major catalyst in the decision. The international card also plays well for the team's future in Brooklyn, which has been a landing Mecca for generations of European immigrants. And even with strong local opposition to the project that includes Barclays Center, the fact that musician and entrepreneur Jay-Z, who is a part owner of the team, constantly talks about and has remained close with his Brooklyn roots, is helping the franchise make friends in the borough.
"This is a great time for the NBA to expand its presence in Russia, especially given Mikhail Prokhorov's commitment to further grow the sport in the country," NBA deputy commissioner and COO Adam Silver said at the time. "We are excited to open our first office and we welcome Egor Borisov [as vp-development for Eastern Europe and Russia], whose wealth of experience and tremendous enthusiasm for the game will help spur the continued growth of basketball in the region."
In a another significant nod to distance itself from the past, team ownership has filed papers with the NBA league office to officially change the franchise name in conjunction with the move to Brooklyn in 2012. That would be a much more profound change than past incarnations, which saw the franchise morph with the American Basketball Assn. in 1967 as the New Jersey Americans in Teaneck to the New York Nets on Long Island — during which time Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Rick Barry were on the roster — and then back to New Jersey as part of the four-team merger with the NBA in 1976 (which also included the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs).
Looking ahead to 2010-11 and beyond, the Nets are not only being aggressive, they are attempting to play smash-mouth activation against the rival New York Knicks. During the summer, the Nets put up a 225 x 95 foot poster featuring Johnson and Prokhorov located within passing distance of Madison Square Garden. Prokhorov also is setting up offices in Manhattan, which will also be used by the Nets.
According to the team, the "Experience It" campaign will be widely featured through the Nets’ 2010-11 inaugural season at the Prudential Center via TV, radio, print, outdoor billboards, NJ Transit and PATH trains, social media, digital media and special branding in Newark.
"They had a 12-70 team and [Brett Yormark] can sell the concept of how successful the franchise will be in the future." — Mike Kelly, Phillips-Van Heusen
“Our new ownership has generated unprecedented buzz and has put in place extraordinary leadership with Coach Avery and Billy [King]," said Yormark. "It’s clear that our fans are pleased about our future as we get ready for the start of the season.”
In addition to Barclays, which paid an estimated $400 million for 20-year naming rights to the new arena, founding partners and sponsors to date for the upcoming 18,000-seat Brooklyn venue include ADT, Haier, MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Jones Soda, Izod, MetroPCS, Ahneuser-Busch's Budweiser, Willis Group Holdings, Cushmand & Wakefield, EmblemHealth and High Point Solutions. The team's bevy of marketing partners and sponsors also currently include Aflac, Canon, Coca-Cola, Foxwoods Resort, Geico, LG, McDonald's, Sony, State Farm and Wrigley.
According to Mike Kelly, evp-marking for Phillips-Van Heusen, whose brands include franchise partner Izod, "While the Nets are moving [from Izod Center to Prudential Center] we are moving with them to some degree to Barclays Center, where we will open a huge Izod Nets Team Sports Store. Brett Yormark is an amazing guy. They had a 12-70 team and he can sell the concept of how successful the franchise will be in the future."