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Brooklyn Nets having some success in luring Russian fans ... at least in Brooklyn

Christof Koepsel

The Nets are becoming more Russian ... on the court, in the front office, on the web and as some NetsDaily research shows in the Russian enclaves that dot south Brooklyn.

The team will have two Russian players for the first time with Sergey Karasev, the youngest player on the bronze medal-winning Russian Olympic team two years ago, joining Russian hoops icon Andrei Kirilenko.

Dmitry Razumov, long a front office presence as Mikhail Prokhorov's No. 2, is now officially chairman of the board. Sergey Kushchenko, a Nets board member for the past three years, is now president of the VTB basketball league in Russia. Although the presidency is largely ceremonial, he has already suggested that he could help bring the NBA, specifically the Nets, to Russia. And quietly, the Nets have upgraded their Russian language website.

But what about Russian fans in Brooklyn, where neighborhoods like Brighton Beach and Midwood have a big Russian presence? Are they becoming Nets fans? Initially, ownership and management hoped the presence of Russian ownership would immediately give them a pop in those neighborhoods. Didn't happen. It's all about players, not owners, they realized. Now, with the addition of two (very good) Russian players, there's more anecdotal evidence that Russians and Russian-Americans living in Brooklyn are becoming fans ... like hearing Russian being spoken while waiting on lines. Can it be proven?  We don't have access to the vast marketing resources the Nets do, but decided to do a little research ourselves to see if the data supported what we hear.

Turns out that there is some.  We cross-referenced census data on which Brooklyn zipcodes have the largest Russian  populations with the New York Times zipcode-based fan map of Facebook likes. The Times drew up estimates of team support based on each team’s share of Facebook "likes" in a ZIP code 

We chose a dozen Brooklyn zipcodes where the Russian population is five percent or greater. Are the Nets adding fans in those zipcodes where Russians live? They are. The zipcodes are among the areas where the Nets have become most popular, where they have made the most headway against the Knicks, again measured by Facebook likes. In all but two of the 12, the Times reported that the Nets garnered 20 percent or more of the Facebook likes. In the other two, they had 19 percent. That's relatively high. The Times data showed that the Nets are the No. 1 team in only one county in the US, but that county is Brooklyn, where the Nets now have a 22-to-21 percent advantage over the Knicks ... and only seven zipcodes nationwide, all in Brooklyn, where they are No. 1.

In the five Brooklyn zipcodes with the heaviest Russian population, more than 10 percent, the Nets have 20 percent of the fan base, including 21 percent in Brighton Beach, the iconic Russian enclave.

Here's the raw data: The first column in the neighborhood that dominates the zipcode, the second the percentage of Russian and Russian-American residents derived from the census data, the third the breakdown of Knicks/Nets fandom derived from the New York Times data. The last column is the zipcode

Brighton Beach 20.22 27/21 11235
Coney Island 15.70 28/20 11224
Sheepshead Bay 12.74 27/22 11229
Midwood 11.03 22/22 11230
Flatlands 10.87 21/19 11239
Bath Beach 10.44 28/19 11214
Gravesend 8.29 29/20 11223
Windsor Terrace 6.66 26/20 11218
Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill 5.25 24/21 11201
Mill Basin 4.86 24/22 24/22
Park Slope 4.82 23/26 11215
Bay Ridge 4.71 28/23 11209

There's some other ancillary, if spotty, data to support the premise that the Russians are starting to "feel" the Nets. In Manhattan, there's a bit of a groundswell in Nets fandom along the East Side, according to the Times data. That's also where Russians like to live in Manhattan. Even though the numbers are in only in the teens, it's hard to imagine they were in anything more than (low) single digits before Mikhail Prokhorov's purchase and the move to Brooklyn.

It's all admittedly imprecise and there are no doubt other rationales for increasing fandom in those zipcodes. But it's a fun exercise at a time when the US and Russia seem to be reverting to their 50-year long Cold War standoff and Mikhail Prokhorov seems to be caught in the middle. He's been mostly quiet but has written that Russia is unprepared for US sanctions. Last month, his sister stepped down from the leadership of the political party he founded. Civic Platform's rank-and-file favors Russian moves in Ukraine; she does not.

Does it mean anything? Not much, other than Russians in New York (and no doubt Russia itself) are starting to see the Nets as their team. The larger geopolitical issues, we hope, won't intervene.