By David Mitchel, Director of Marketing
The Nets franchise in the National Basketball Association (NBA) is undergoing a re-branding effort. The Nets are moving from New Jersey to the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The team will be called the Brooklyn Nets next year, and they unveiled the new logo and color scheme yesterday. New uniforms will be coming soon.
The focus of this piece should not be whether or not the move was right for the franchise (certainly debatable), but given where things stand now, are the Nets re-branding properly?
A little history lesson is in order before I get into the specifics on the re-brand.
The Nets have been flip-flopping across the Hudson River for decades. In 1967, the Nets were an inaugural franchise of the American Basketball Association (ABA), and then known as the New Jersey Americans. The next year, the team was moved to New York and became the New York Nets. New York Nets was a terrific choice for a team name, because a net is a meaningful part of a basketball hoop, and it sounded close to team names of the New York Jets of the NFL and New York Mets in MLB. Given that the Nets home base was on Long Island, and the Jets/Mets were playing at Shea Stadium in Queens, there was rooting interest synchronicity among sports fans in the areas east of Manhattan. The Nets had some of their best years in the 1970s, winning ABA championships in 1974 and 1976. The ABA merged with the NBA in the Summer of 1976. The Nets remained in New York for one more year, then moved to New Jersey in 1977.
35 years is a long time. The Nets have the potential to make new fans in New York, but they are turning their back on the fan relationships they had built during the last 35 years in New Jersey. However, the Nets’ history in New Jersey was mostly putrid. There were two Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003 with Jason Kidd as the star player, but save for those years, there was not much to get excited about.
The new logo and color scheme is black and white, which seems very boring. This is supposed to bring back memories of the old New York city subway system in the 1950s, which was when the borough of Brooklyn last had a pro sports team (the Brooklyn Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958). However, 1958 was more than 50 years ago. I can understand how the logo and color scheme can connect meaningfully to the brand in theory. However, in practice, I believe it will fall short. I’m not convinced that the NBA merchandise buyer cares about the coloration of the 1950s New York City subway system.
A look that would connect more meaningfully to the brand would be an updated modification of this color scheme and uniform. This red, white and blue color scheme with that uniform would be a great hit. This was the idea that the Toronto Blue Jays just implemented with a new logo and uniform design of their best days in the 1980s/early 1990s. Last year, the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL reverted to their silver & black color scheme of 1988-1998, which included some of their best years. Both the Blue Jays and Kings got a good deal of positive sentiment about their re-branding efforts. After all, the Nets had their best years in New York with that color scheme and uniform set and that is truly meaningfully connecting to the essence of the brand. I also believe that the name ‘New York Nets’ is a better, more inclusive name than ‘Brooklyn Nets’ as well. New York Nets give them greater appeal in boroughs other than Brooklyn and harkens back to the glory days of Julius Erving and the ABA.
In the video accompanying this article, some brand management and profitability issues are discussed. The Nets are selling tickets at a greater rate in Brooklyn and have greater sponsorship opportunities. This can positively affect the revenue and profitability stream.
The most important aspect of the Nets re-brand is the quality of the product that they put out on the court. The Nets were tied for the 5th worst record in the NBA this season. Their best player, Deron Williams, is a free agent and there are strong indications that he will sign with another team next year. If that happens, next year is not looking good and the Nets could be a few years away from being respectable, which will affect ticket sales, sponsorship sales and merchandise sales.
There’s a lot not to like about the Nets re-brand, but a lot of these issues can be put on the back burner with a high quality team on the court contending for a championship year in and year out. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case in the near future.