By: Spencer Kennedy
Professional sports leagues, particularly in American culture, are money-making machines. Think of that $7 beer at the ballpark, that $80 authentic jersey you just had to have, or the eight and nine-figure contracts that are becoming more common for big league athletes – there are a lot of costs, but there are even more revenues. The National Football League – the most profitable of all – makes it possible to sell thirty seconds of television ad time during the Super Bowl for upwards of $4 million. Exciting gameplay and high-caliber athletes are required to bring in audiences, but the driving force behind profitability is marketing.
If a team cannot attract a large fan base, foster their loyalty and support, and build a recognized brand, then no one will buy the overpriced beer or the expensive jerseys. Enter marketing. For example, the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets are a team that has displayed adaptive and effective marketing strategies in a challenging situation. A brief case study of the Nets demonstrates the success of smart marketing.
This coming basketball season, which kicks off October 29th, will only be the second in which the Nets call Brooklyn their home. Having been based in New Jersey for the past 35 years, the Nets have had to completely rebuild their fan base in Brooklyn. Determining where supporters are located is the first step in reaching an audience, and the explosion in social media usage has been a key source of data for the team’s marketers.
Nets CMO Fred Mangione explains that ‘Nets Nation’ – their nickname for fans – is “young, tech savvy, and eager to consume content at all times”. By capitalizing on trends of mobility and digitization as well as advanced consumer research methods, Mangione and staff have been able to disperse a) more content than ever before, and b) attractive content that keeps followers engaged. For instance, by using the hashtag “#HelloBrooklyn” and creating a presence on eight networks (including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube and others), the Nets saw an increase in Twitter followers from 93,000 to 63,000, and an increase in Facebook fans from 208,000 to 573,000. By satisfying the needs and wants of the consumer, Mangione hopes that ticket sales and other revenue streams will follow naturally.
Representing Brooklyn means representing a diverse audience, which is why the Nets chose to begin broadcasting games in Spanish and Russian instead of solely English. First was the integration into the digital cohort, and now they are diving into the varying subcultures within Brooklyn. After establishing the team as a household name, the next step is to look outward and expand the audience size. “Our goal is to own Brooklyn, and then in [the second] year expand to engage the other boroughs,” said Mangione.
A final strategy the Nets have employed is a cross-promotional partnership with the New York Islanders, one of two NHL hockey teams based in New York. This is an unusual case where both teams are either new enough or underrepresented enough that a combined marketing effort is wholly beneficial. Taking advantage of economies of scale is a common business tactic, but it should not go unnoticed in this situation. While they are not exactly a brand new team (they only changed location), the young Brooklyn Nets have pulled out all the stops and will enter the 2013-2014 season making more noise than many NBA teams that have been around for decades.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention: Jay-Z was a part owner of the Nets… think that helps?