Just before the COVID hiatus began back in the spring, the Nets launched their promotion for season tickets in 2020-21. The theme was the “Kings of New York,” which was ambitious considering the Knicks long-standing dominance in the city. But why not?
Yes, both Joe Tsai and newly minted CEO John Abbamondi have said that the presence of two top-notch, competitive teams helps both organizations because it raises the level of interest in pro basketball in the league’s biggest market (something that hasn’t happened since 2012-13 when the Nets won 49 games and the Knicks 54.)
But there is also no doubt that the Nets want to increase their penetration of the metropolitan area. While Knick fans might point to the disparity in attendance and TV ratings, that disparity is shrinking. This last season, the Knicks did average 18,881 fans at its home games, roughly 2,500 more than the Nets drew, at 16,403. But that hides some other data that should have the bosses at MSGS, the Garden entity responsible for the Knicks and Rangers.
In 2015-16, the last season before Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson took over Brooklyn, the disparity in attendance between the two teams was nearly twice what it was last season. The Knicks with Carmelo Anthony and exciting rookie Kristaps Porzingis outdrew the Nets by 4,687 fans and despite winning only 11 more games than the Nets (32 to 21), the Knicks finished fifth and the Nets 27th in league attendance.
Moreover, the Nets have shrunk the gap in terms of percentage of seats sold. The Garden, built in 1968, is typical of that age, a giant bowl with nearly 20,000 capacity —19,812 to be precise— for basketball. Barclays Center, built on a smaller footprint in 2012, holds 17,732 fans with seating closer to the court. In 2015-16, the Knicks averaged 100 percent capacity, the Nets only 83.6. This season, the gap had shrunk to only 2.5 percent, 95 percent to 92.5. In fact, the Knicks and Nets ranked 19th and 20th in percentage of seats sold, according to ESPN.
There are other leading indicators of change. In 2015-16, the Knicks were fourth in road attendance, the Nets seventh, both with more than 18,000 per game. This season? The Nets with rising star power ranked ninth, the Knicks 16th. Fans across the NBA weren’t so much interested in what R.J. Barrett could do.
And in local TV ratings, the gap is shrinking as well. In 2015-16, Sports Business Journal reported Nets games on YES Network were the league’s lowest-rated games for the second straight season and seventh time in nine seasons. Ugh.
Specifically, Brooklyn had a 0.46 rating in New York that season, about 34,000 households. The Knicks, despite not making the playoffs, had a 1.98 percent rating, more than four times the Nets and up 58 percent over 2014-15. Since then, things have changed.
This season, the Nets had a two percent drop over 2018-19 while the Knicks dropped by 19 percent. This comes after the Knicks dropped 38 percent the season before and the Nets jumped by 22 percent. The gap between the two teams’ viewership had been cut in half, with the Knicks now at 0.85 to the Nets 0.45. In fact, since 2015-16, the Knicks have lost 57 percent of their audience on MSG, dropping from 1.98 to 0.85. After some up’s and down’s during the Nets rebuild, the YES telecasts held steady. (Holding steady with such great production is not great, but it’s better than losing more than half your audience in five years.)
On national media, the Nets delivered a milestone this season as well. The final seeding game in the “bubble,” the dramatic Blazers-Nets game, delivered 1.52 million viewers on TNT, making it the most-watched season finale since 2011 (Spurs-Lakers: 2.62 million). Overall, the Nets ratings for ESPN and TNT games ranked 12th out of the 27 teams that were on national TV last season and had the fourth biggest increase in ratings over 2018-19. The Knicks, on the other hand, were 27th and last. Their ratings drop for national TV games was also the worst in the league with 69.5 percent fewer viewers than the season before.
It’s not just about attendance or TV ratings. This year, the Knicks didn’t make the top 10 in NBA merchandise sales, despite the fact that the sales figures are based on what gets sold in the NBA Store, blocks away from the Garden, and online. The Nets had two of the top 12 in Kevin Durant, No. 7, and Kyrie Irving at No. 12 ... and they played 20 games between them.
Even the stock price of MSGS has dropped precipitously this year, going from $220 a share in February to $150 on Friday. (Tsai increased his net worth by $671 million on THURSDAY. Just sayin’.)
Of course, it’s not just about numbers. The Knicks on-court product is awful. They’ve made the playoffs only once in the eight years the Nets have played in the city. The Nets have made the post-season five times in that same span. Not to mention the growing disparity between the city’s perception of the two team’s owners. Let’s just say that Tsai’s reputation has been greatly enhanced since first the pandemic, then protests hit New York City. James Dolan’s not so much. Right, Spike?
So despite the comments by Tsai and Abbamondi, the Nets know that with two healthy superstars on the horizon (and hopefully a title run) and the Knicks likely to struggle, they have an opportunity to further reduce those gaps and turn things around.
Abbamondi told season ticket holders two months ago that the Nets will go for the “next generation” of New York area fans. Abbamondi described that “next generation” as fans who are as young as 8-to-10 year-olds, believing that if, as expected, the Nets have success in the coming years, it will translate to lifelong loyalty. Abbamondi didn’t say what specific initiatives he’d institute to make that happen.
But it’s difficult to believe that if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert deliver next season and Tom Thibodeau can’t, the Nets won’t adopt a more aggressive marketing campaign ... beyond kids. Tsai is a very competitive fellow and Abbamondi’s last job was with the Knicks.
The build-up in fact has already begun without much intervention by the Nets. You can see it on social media which is filled with predictions of a Nets title run. Knick fans, meanwhile, try to stir up controversy over what KD and Irving said in this podcast or that interview. It’s all they got.
Bottom line, chants of “Brooook-lyn” should ring true on the left bank of the East River this coming season, perhaps a siren’s song to those remaining orange-and-blue loyalists.
Speaking of marketing initiatives...
Social media has been buzzing the last few days with reports that the Nets will wear a New Jersey Nets throwback uniform this season. The rumor began apparently mid-week with sourcing from NBA fans in France and Brazil and took off.
There is NO confirmation but there are plenty of hints...
... and photoshops.
It should also be noted that the NetsStore has quietly added some retro gear based on that 1991 design.
As Pooch wrote back in April, the Nets are looking to resuscitate their New Jersey fan base. It appears that Joe and Clara Tsai as well as John Abbamondi think there’s traction there, something Brett Yormark didn’t see.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Kyrie Irving was a proud New Jersey Nets fan growing up and has said so...
And while he has an apartment in Brooklyn, his family home is West Orange, as its been for long time.
The Nets departure from New Jersey was a long, slow and ugly process with memories of replacement jerseys and the removal of “New Jersey” from the team’s jerseys to stationery. Can they bring back those Jersey fans and get them to drive or take NJ Transit and the subway to Barclays Center? Superstars can do amazing things for a team.
The personal nature of Perk’s attacks on Kyrie
It keeps happening. Kendrick Perkins, who during his career played with Kevin Durant in OKC and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, unloaded on Irving again on Friday, making it personal once more. Perkins replied to Irving’s comments on Durant’s podcast, “The Etc’s with Kevin Durant.”
It’s more stream-of-consciousness than a certified rant, and if you’re a Knick or Celtic fan, you might find it entertaining...
If you don’t have the time or inclination to watch Perk, he trashed Irving for his boast that he’s never had a teammate he can trust with the last shot like Durant. Of course, Irving won a championship with LeBron James. Perkins called Irving a “hater” and “jealous.” Perkins has also called Irving a “bird brain.”
Of course, this is not the first time Perkins has gone after Irving personally. It’s his schtick, a big part of his ESPN gig. But his track record ain’t so good. Some of us recall his prediction that KD and Irving were headed to the Knicks, claiming inside sources. Perkins also criticized Irving for his stance on social justice and the NBA return to play in the “bubble,” then had to recant. He said, among other things that Irving was making “a whole bunch of noise for nothing” to “make news.” In other words, he was a phony.
“He’s not a powerful voice; he’s a popular voice,” Perkins said back in June . “There’s a difference between being powerful and popular. Powerful, you’re actually moving the needle. No one is listening to Kyrie. The NBA is going to continue. All he’s doing is causing unnecessary drama between the NBA brothers that we don’t need right now.
“Him lashing out is just making news and making a whole bunch of noise for nothing because the NBA seasons is going to happen. LeBron James wants to play. Chris Paul wants to play. Russell Westbrook wants to play. Anthony Davis, Giannis — when they first voted for the NBA to come back, the vote was 28-0. Everybody wants to play.”
Well, after the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha and the failure of Louisville prosecutors to bring charges in the Breonna Taylor killing, there’s been a deep rethinking of Irving’s position, including ironically by Perkins...
Want to go back further? Perkins agreed with Celtics fans in November that Irving had timed his shoulder injury so that he didn’t have to return to TD Arena and face the Celtics crowd. He essentially agreed with Boston fans that Irving, who hit the biggest shot in recent NBA Finals, was a coward...
Kyrie looked at the schedule before the season started and planned this whole injury thing because he didn’t want to go back to Boston this upcoming week!!! He didn’t want that smoke in the Bean Town. Smh— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) November 23, 2019
He told told NBC Sports Boston back then: “Every time I think of that guy, I want to throw up.” That was before Irving was forced to have shoulder impingement surgery. Is there anything more personal than suggesting a player is a shirker, a coward?
Here’s yet another example from this season, if you’d like. In February when Irving was elected a vice-president of the NBA players union, Perkins went on another rant, saying it was “the blind leading the blind.” A cheap shot at those players who voted for Irving as well as a personal attack on Irving.
Despite Perkins’ comments, the vote showed that Irving is indeed seen as a strong representative for the players, a leader in the union. The other night when Irving went on Instagram Live to talk about his comments to KD, among those who showed up to watch were Carmelo Anthony, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell and LaMelo Ball. Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy was also on hand.
So how did Irving respond to this latest personal attack by his former teammate?
Kyrie Irving says he heard Kendrick Perkins' 'Bird Brain' comments and acknowledges he was in a dark place at one point— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) October 4, 2020
"That’s his opinion nor do I feel disrespected by anything like that. . . I take the criticism serious from the people I respect."
( @boardroompods ) pic.twitter.com/15rFckAiPA
As economical with words as he is with the basketball, we’d say.
Perkins seems to have an obsession with Irving. And ESPN takes advantage of that. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Sure, Irving is controversial. He speaks out ... and we do find it ironic that some of the same writers and pundits who criticize Irving often lament milquetoast comments by players. Can’t have it both ways.
Irving is a Net and a unique personality in the NBA, which draws out fans and pundits. He may be controversial, make mistakes, piss people off, be emotional but he respects the game and we look forward to watching him next season, particularly if they allow fans into TD Garden.
Draft Sleeper of the Week - Isaiah Joe
We learned this week the names of some Draft prospects the Nets have spoken with. The list is no doubt shorter than the ones the Nets keep ... and keep secret. That said, the list includes Jalen Smith, the Maryland big; Desmond Bane, the TCU sharpshooter, Tyrell Terry, the Stanford point guard and Isaiah Joe of Arkansas who like Bane is a shooter.
Joe is a 6’5” combo guard who is all over the mock drafts, maybe more so than any prospect. He’s been projected in the late 20’s to the early 50’s. Currently, the Ringer has him at No. 26, ESPN No. 46
A 21-year-old sophomore, Joe played two years in Fayetteville and his second year ended with arthroscopic surgery on his MRI.
The Ringer’s Draft Guide says this of him: “A dynamic and prolific 3-point threat, though he needs to round out the rest of his game.” Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer added that comparables include former Nets Allen Crabbe and R.J. Hunter.
Joe does not have the gaudy numbers that Bane can claim, hitting only 34.2 percent of his 3-point shots, compared to better than 44 for Bane. And he’s not as physically strong as Bane who already has an NBA body. But he is more of an athlete than Bane ... and somewhat because of that is a 3-and-D prospect. He can also play a little point guard.
Here’s a highlight package...
Is it possible that Joe could fall to No. 55 where the Nets have the Nuggets pick? If he should and if the Nets keep the pick, expect him (or anyone taken that low) to follow the lead of Jaylen Hands and be assigned to either the Long Island Nets or a friendly overseas destination. Speaking of Hands, a quick perusal of his Instagram account will make you sweat along with him. The 6’3” Hands may never play for the Brooklyn Nets with the surfeit of guards with similar skills, but the kid has been working his ass off in California.
Chris Chiozza spoke with Alex Schiffer of The Athletic and, as usual, Chiozza deadpanned it. We remember how he described Kevin Durant’s time working out with the “extra work crew” ... “If he gets better than what he is right now, it is going to be a long season next year for whoever is guarding him.”
In talking about his best game, the rollicking overtime win over Boston just before the hiatus, Chiozza said
“I mean, that game will always be one I remember just it being the first one I actually played.”
When Schiffer asked him about KD’s comments that he had impressed during those workouts and “bubble” games.
“Honestly, I found out on Instagram. The Nets posted it and a lot of people were sending it to me. It was surreal. KD and people like that of their stature, to hear compliments from him and how he thinks my game and how I should be in the league was a huge confidence boost. I’s nice to have a guy like that on your side. He makes me want to continue to prove myself and show other people what he’s seeing. He knows basketball. If it comes from him, you know it’s true. Now I have to continue to prove that point.”
Chiozza who will be a restricted free agent whenever free agency opens said he’d like to be back with the Nets and said that although his shooting in the “bubble” wasn’t what it was in the week before COVID hit, he felt he played well.
“Personally, I felt like I played pretty well, but not as good as I wanted to play. I think like a lot of that was I didn’t shoot well in the bubble, but I feel like I did well running the offense, being a team guy, getting guys shots and playing good defense.”
And if he missed out in the game of musical chairs that is the Nets backcourt, the 24-year-old thinks he’ll be fine.
“I’m pretty certain that I’ll find somewhere. I’m not really trying to think about it too much. I take it day by day. Just focusing on what I can control. Free agency isn’t something I can control. I’m just going to let everything play out and hope for the best.”
In the immediate future, Chiozza plans to head out to California and join the Nets who’ve been working out there.
It’s going to be a long off-season. If the preseason doesn’t start until around Christmas, a pretty good bet, that means another 10 or 12 weeks, punctuated by the Draft on November 18 and free agency somewhere around Thanksgiving. In a normal season, the Nets would have been taking questions on Media Day last week, starting practice this week with the first preseason games on tap.
So, hang in there. We’ll give it our best shot to keep things current. Stay safe, have fun ... and VOTE!