Brooklyn is a brand. No secrets there. Brooklyn Beer; Brooklyn Industries; Brooklyn's Finest. Even made up crap like "Brooklyn-styled pizza." Brooklyn has always been a brand. A Tree Goes in Brooklyn; The Kid from Brooklyn; It Happened in Brooklyn, Last Exit to Brooklyn. In a recent NY Times article, Stephen Metcalf found the word "Brooklynize" in a 1920 bulletin put together by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Being that most don't go to the chamber of commerce for cool, chances are the term had been out for far longer than 1920.
So after their Brooklyn intro, the Nets leap from 31st (out of 30 teams) to 4th in jersey and merchandise sales shouldn't have come as a surprise. The real humdinger is how anyone from the Newark days, well, anyone in charge of pimping gear, still has a job today. Did I mention they had previously finished 31st in a 30 team league? They finished behind the Seattle SuperSonics. Seattle doesn't have a sales team. Seattle doesn't have a marketing team. Seattle doesn't have a team, period. And if they did, they probably wouldn't be rocking the can't-miss black unis inspired by sales of Derrick Rose's alt. jersey. So what depths of futility were the Jersey offices delving into to finish behind a franchise that last played when Dumbya was President?
We don't know the answer to that but we do know that this past season Nets gear did outsell the Sonics. They also outsold 26 NBA teams which actually exist. But Brooklyn already is a brand. It already has history. Already has a rep. Already is famously known as the fourth largest "city" in America. Regardless of color scheme, how hard is it to peddle jerseys with the name Brooklyn on it? Especially for an area hungry for its first major league team since the Dodgers bailed in 1957.
Maybe the rebranding success stories should be taken with a grain of a salt? How could sales not skyrocket after finally breaking from the era of errors? Not that those errors were ever forced upon the Nets. The Nets pretty much did it to themselves shortly after Jason Kidd started getting migraines. But when his head was clear, there had been another era. One of near greatness. Ultimately, there were no rings. Ultimately, there was none of the timelessness they enjoyed during the limited Dr. J times. But under Kidd there was a spell of six straight playoff years, five of which saw them get past the first round. Although the run lasted into the 2007 season, their last true contending role came in 2006 before Nenad blew out his ACL and in turn, his promising career. Just like this past year, the 2006 Nets closed strong. Just like this past year they finished with a 49-33 record. Replace Joe Johnson with Vince Carter and the amount of isos were about the same too. Surprisingly to some, different sets of numbers show that even the popularity of the 2006 New Jersey Nets was about the same as the 2013 Brooklyn Nets.
Attendance in 2006 was 16,886 per game. In 2013 it was 17,187. The regional sports network cable rating in 2006 was 1.01. In 2013 it was 0.96. Jersey sales were ranked 10th in the league in 2006. In 2013 it was 4th. While this marked the first time the Nets have cracked a top-five ranking in merchandise sales since the NBA began making those numbers public following the 2002 season, sales were decent throughout the Kidd period. In fact, the New Jersey Nets finished in the top-ten in gear sales every single year between 2002 and 2007.
So while things are leaps and bounds ahead of the self-sabotaging years of trading for Yi and marketing him as a global star, of marketing other teams with reversible jerseys, of scrubbing "New Jersey" off their unis while still playing in New Jersey, there's another secret out there. Not the secret of reaching never before seen levels of popularity. That honor still belongs to the Dr. J Nets. Instead, it's the secret that there's only been a mild upgrade since the last time the team won 49 games. Even with a brand new billion dollar arena, even with the chance to market Brooklyn which is and has always been a brand onto itself, even with added media coverage, even with the can't-miss black unis, things are still fairly comparable to what they were in 2006. Not to get it too twisted. Obviously revenue streams (oceans in this case) are much higher than ever before. Obviously corporate sponsorships and the ability to play in your own digs has added cheddar. But as for tapping into a greater public interest? Well, numbers show things are pretty similar to what they were seven years ago. Attendance averages, TV ratings, merchandise rankings, are all comparable to 2006 levels.
Perhaps the secret to rebranding the Nets wasn't in truly rebounding to previously unimaginable heights? Perhaps the secret was in making things so atrocious in the post-Kidd stretch that anything afterwards would look like a miraculous upgrade? Brett Yormark can e-mail about celebrating success but not resting on his laurels. A better question for the Nets CEO, who coincidentally completed his first season with the Nets in 2006, is do they even hand out laurels for simply getting the team's buzz back to where it was when he started? If so, mazel tov. If not, then maybe the goal shouldn't be shattering 2012 levels of popularity, but instead truly shattering 2006 levels of popularity.
Much like Charlie Day's show, it's always sunny in Nets Dailylandia. Endless positive spin comes with the territory. But the basic numbers don't spin. Let's save the rebranding shoulder pats for when the Nets are truly more popular than their "Big 3" days.