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How NBA's Nets Said "Hello, Brooklyn"

by Max Follmer  |  11.15.2013

This year’s Sports Media Marketing Summit & Awards in New York will feature seven-minute master classes from sports industry leaders and media innovators.

In anticipation of the Summit, Brief spoke with Fred Mangione, CMO and Chief Revenue Officer of the Brooklyn Nets, who will deliver one of the master classes on his efforts to rebrand the team as they moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn. His session is on Nov. 19 at 2:00 p.m. at The Paley Center for Media.

Rebranding an existing sports franchise and re-launching in the largest city in America—a city filled with savvy and rabid sports fans—was never going to be an easy task for Fred Mangione and his marketing team. Logos had to be created, tag lines had to be developed, promos had to be cut. But those weren’t even the biggest challenges.

Mangione and his crew at the then-New Jersey Nets also had to do their day jobs.

“We still had to close out New Jersey and pay the bills there. Brooklyn was kind of our night job,” said Mangione, chief marketing officer and chief revenue officer of the now Brooklyn Nets. “We were managing two franchises at once.”

Once the credits finally ran on the final New Jersey season, the marketing team had a new challenge as they crossed two bridges and headed into Brooklyn: they had no idea what their final product was going to look like. The Brooklyn Nets were still taking shape as players continued to negotiate and sign with the team.

“We were just selling the dream of Brooklyn, and the brand Brooklyn,” Mangione told Brief.

And even as the team came together as the first season approached, the borough itself remained an integral part of the Nets’ marketing strategy.

Unlike other teams that feature the team’s nickname (Knicks, Bulls, etc) on the home jersey and the city name on the jersey worn for away games, the Nets sport the borough name on both versions.

“People always ask, ‘why didn’t you change the nickname of the team? Why did you keep the Nets if you wanted to rebrand?’” Mangione said. “It was never about the second name; it was always about the first. It was always about Brooklyn.”

And Brooklyn being Brooklyn, the Nets adopted a very humble approach as they made their way into their new home.

“We never wanted to take the approach that we were coming in like ‘oh Brooklyn, you’re lucky to have us,’” Mangione said. “We took a very humble approach because of what the borough means to everyone who lives in it. We took the approach that we’re thankful to be a part of this.”

The overall theme of the marketing campaign heading into the first season at the new Barclay’s Center was “Hello, Brooklyn.”

Players’ photos were plastered across buses and subway stops, with the copy highlighting something personal about each of them as they introduced themselves to the borough.

“Hello Brooklyn. I’m #8, Deron Williams, three-time NBA All-Star and father of four,” read one.

“It literally was just a clean hello. We wanted to keep it simple: ‘Hello, Brooklyn; we’re here. We’re glad that we’re now going to be a part of the fabric of the borough,’” Mangione said. “We didn’t want to be too bold. And it took off. As simple as it was it took off. It was the old ‘less is more’ approach.”

And although the Knicks are just across the river, Mangione said that their strategy was never about creating a cross-town rivalry. Yes, the Nets want to eventually own the Tri-State area—something the Knicks have arguably done for a while—but that’s not their focus.

“We’re not worried about what the other clubs do,” he said.

Instead, they’re focusing on telling the story of a club that made it to the first round of the playoffs in their first season, and is tipped to go even further this year.

With three new impressive players on the 2013-14 roster—Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Andrei Kirilenko—the Nets have tweaked their slogan for the second season to evoke that championship journey, asking “Hello Brooklyn. Are you ready?”

For Mangione and his team, striking that right balance of swagger and humility, super-premium positioning and regular-Brooklynite attitude has been a delicate balancing act. After all, they’re in a market full of savvy consumers and sports fans who can smell B.S., and in a borough where residents aren’t afraid to call out to the players they see outside the Barclay’s Center and remind them to make Brooklyn proud. It’s a tough crowd to please, and selling the team poorly could be a showstopper in Brooklyn and New York City.

After all, as Mangione pointed out: “You’re not new in New York often.”

Fred Mangione’s Master Class “Bringing It to Brooklyn: a Case Study on the Brooklyn Nets” is Nov. 19 at 2pm at The Paley Center for Media.

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