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Rebranding The New Jersey Nets

January 26, 2011

I recently read an article about Boca Juniors, an Argentine soccer club, and its desire to form an MLS franchise with the Boca Juniors name. This is not new territory for the MLS as one of the sixteen current clubs is Club Deportivo Chivas USA, or Chivas USA as it is more widely known. Chivas USA is the American branch of C.D. Guadalajara, a popular Mexican club, and was founded in 2005 in Los Angeles by Guadalajara’s owner Jorge Vergara. Competing for attention with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA was close to the middle of the pack in team attendance in 2010 finishing 10th. The Galaxy finished 2nd.

As compared to other teams that have to compete with a more popular team in the same city, Chivas USA is holding its own. In 2010, the Chicago Cubs ranked 7th in MLB attendance while the Chicago White Sox ranked 17th. As well, the New York Yankees ranked 1st while the New York Mets ranked 12th. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels ranked 3rd and 5th respectively. During the current NHL season, the New York Rangers rank 14th in team attendance while the New York Islanders ranked 30th and the Los Angeles Kings rank 13th while the Anaheim Ducks rank 25th. During the current NFL season, the New York Giants and New York Jets were 3rd and 4th respectively in team attendance while the San Francisco 49ers were 11th and the Oakland Raiders were 32nd. Finally, the current NBA season has the Los Angeles Lakers ranked 8th while the Los Angeles Clippers are 15th. Thus, we see that Chivas USA is holding steady by being in the middle of the pack. There is obviously a more popular team in Los Angeles, but Chivas USA is still able to bring in fans.

How does Chivas USA do this? The team markets to a particular fan base – the large Hispanic population of Los Angeles, which makes up 48% of Los Angeles’s population according to a 2009 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. Games “[have] the feel of a Mexican first division game,” the fans are passionate and knowledgeable, and Chivas USA’s following roots just as hard for their American team as they do for Guadalajara. The team also does community work with the Hispanic population and has corporate sponsorship aimed at the Hispanic population. Chivas USA has embraced its role as a Hispanic team in an American league. By doing this, it has grown and cultivated a fan base that sustains the team and allows it to succeed.

In two years, a new franchise will be joining the fraternity of professional teams that compete in a major market against a more popular team. The New Jersey Nets will be moving to Brooklyn and looking for a new identity. There were recent rumors that the new identity would be the Brooklyn New Yorkers, a nickname which would obviously try to brand the team as New York’s team, but is that truly possible? Is it possible for a team to move into a market with such a historic and popular franchise and brand themselves as that city’s team. Not even the previously mentioned teams have done this as the majority of them are historic franchises that have played in their leagues for decades. They’ve cultivated fans and followings. The Nets will be entering a market where one team has dominated and is likely to continue dominating because of their recent resurgence.

Thus, the Nets may consider taking a page out of Chivas USA’s playbook and brand themselves uniquely and to a specific community in New York’s diverse population. Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of the Nets, has previously been a financial supporter of PBC CSKA Moscow, a Russian basketball club based in Moscow, Russia. So, why not rename his team as CSKA New York or some version of CSKA’s name when it moves to Brooklyn? Maybe, playing to the larger Italian community is the better play and partnering with Lottomatica Virtus Roma would be a strong fit. Perhaps, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv B.C., the Israeli basketball club based in Tel Aviv, Israel is the strongest play as New York is home to the second largest population of Jews outside of Tel Aviv. We know how successful the games have been when Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv B.C. comes to play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

New York provides a great scenario for the most global of the American sports leagues to try a new strategy in branding a team. Whatever the Nets are called when they move to Brooklyn, they’ll be a tough sell if they’re the same old Nets. The Knicks and Amare are popular and only getting more popular, so instead of plastering billboards over Madison Square Garden and trying to take over all of New York, the Nets should focus on taking over a large and sustainable segment of the population. Partnering with a European club could play to a particular ethnicity or religious group in New York and provide the team with opportunities abroad and the ability to be more global than the Knicks. In doing this, Prokhorov will be able to bring in new and different sponsors and provide unique opportunities to free agents.

It’s not a sure fire way to win over New York, but it is a different and new way to do it. Prokhorov will have to convince fans to support a team with which they have no history, so why not play to their personal side. The Nets should consider going global and partnering with a foreign team in order to rebrand themselves into a relevant New York team.

– Jason

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