Brooklyn Nets flying high in new NBA home

Brooklyn Nets' Paul Pierce (34) grabs a rebound against the Detroit Pistons
Image caption Paul Pierce (in white) is one of a number of big-name additions to the Brooklyn Nets team

A year ago on Tuesday, Brett Yormark, chief executive of the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball team, was watching his team play its first game in its new home after a move from New Jersey to New York.

Twelve months on, and the 10-mile move to Brooklyn now looks inspired, with an expensively assembled "super-team" of stars, playing in front of bigger audiences in a new arena.

"In every respect the move has been transformational," Mr Yormark tells the BBC News website.

"We have moved a few miles but we could have moved to the other side of the country, such is the difference. We got more buy-in from New York people than we expected.

"The resources we have at our disposal are now so different."

Those resources include a much bigger potential fan base (if measured as a separate entity from New York, Brooklyn would be the fourth biggest city in the US), and the attractions of playing at the new, multi-purpose indoor arena, the Barclays Center.

In its first year of operation, the venue has staged 200 events and had 2.1 million people through the doors, moving it into the top tier of global indoor arenas.

And the move has paid off commercially for the Nets.

The team has gone from 31st position in terms of NBA merchandise sales to fourth place, while in the ticket sales table they have gone from 27th to fifth.

Mr Yormark believes merchandising sales should be even better this year, since the summer additions of star players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

"When I was in China, lots of kids were wearing Brooklyn shirts and caps," he says.

"And I have seen our merchandise in sporting goods stores in the UK too. It is exciting to see our brand taking off globally."

Meanwhile, on Facebook the team has gone from 90,000 "likes" to 1.2 million.

'Sports performance brand'

"What we thought would happen has truly come to fruition, and then some," says Mr Yormark.

"But there is still room for more. We should all be happy but not satisfied."

As a sign of that success, the club has felt confident enough to increase its premium ticket prices by 35%.

Image caption The Barclays Center has hosted a year of major sports and leisure events

It comes on the back of the creation of a superstar line-up during the summer, for the 2013-14 NBA season.

The team features players who have made a combined 35 appearances in the annual NBA All-Star game, and as well as Pierce and Garnett, also features Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez.

The team's payroll of $102m (£64m) is reportedly the highest in the league.

"The brand is now evolving as a sports performance brand," explains Mr Yormark.

"We launched last year as a lifestyle brand - one which attracted people at different touch-points... be it because we were a Brooklyn brand, because of our traditional black and white lettering and logo, or because of our connection with Jay-Z.

"We are now looking to change those casual, lifestyle, fans into avid Nets sports fans, as we have gone about building the team on the court."

'Street credibility'

Rapper and hip-hop entrepreneur Jay-Z was the public face of the club's move to Brooklyn, having input into the team logo, and also owning a stake in the franchise.

Image caption Jay-Z helped to promote the Nets following the move to Brooklyn

He has since sold his share in the Nets, and the Barclays Center, for $1.5m according to Forbes magazine. The sale was necessary under NBA rules, after he set up his own sports agency.

"He doesn't need to be an owner to still be involved," says Mr Yormark. "He is a Brooklyn person, and a season-ticket holder. I expect we will continue to see him at games.

"He initially gave us street credibility. He helped raise that awareness and interest during the move to Brooklyn."

In the 2012-13 season, the team made the NBA play-offs, picking up in the second half of the season after a slow start.

"Last year was good, but we want to improve on that," says Mr Yormark.

"People are now asking if we can win the championship. Pressure comes with that, but it is the sort of pressure I like."

Pressure also comes in the globe-trotting nature of his role, having recently paid visits to Russia and the UK to sell the Nets and the NBA.

UK 'important market'

With the Nets' owner being Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the club has sporting ambitions to become a prime NBA brand in that country.

"It is a priority market both for ourselves and the NBA, but it is still at a developmental stage," Mr Yormark says.

Image caption Brett Yormark has been at the Nets' helm since January 2005

"Having said that, I was recently in Russia meeting with 65 companies there who wanted to know how they could get involved with the NBA."

The UK, along with China, is one of the more advanced markets outside the US, and the Nets has commercial ties with Barclays and other British sponsors such as Cushman & Wakefield, and National Grid.

The NBA also has UK offices in west London.

"It is the gateway to Europe - it is arguably the business centre of Europe and people here want to learn more about basketball," says Mr Yormark.

And, with the Nets coming to London to play a regular season game at the O2 arena on 16 January, 2014, he says the UK capital is also "a manageable flight for our team - comparable to a west coast flight in the US".

"The UK is a very important market as we continue to globalise - we want to be very active here," he says, adding that the Nets are looking at the possibility of cross-promotion with the English Premier League.

In a crowded global sporting marketplace, Mr Yormark believes the NBA can compete with other sports such as American Football, baseball and football.

"As a sport, we have to differentiate ourselves through our content - we have, in my mind, the greatest athletes in the world - gifted and with star power," he says. "The sport is fast, engaging and exciting."

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