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Is Knicks re-branding plan an acknowledgement of Nets surge?

Sopan Deb, writing in the New York Times Sunday, profiles Steve Stoute, the marketing consultant the Knicks hired to re-brand their faltering franchise.

Most of the article is about how Stoute, described as a “lifelong Knicks fan,” hopes to revitalize the franchise he calls, in a moment of rarefied, almost laughable, exaggeration, “the premier global brand in basketball.”

But, as Deb writes, the hiring of Stoute also suggests that the Knicks may finally be admitting the Nets pose a threat to their dominance of the New York market.

Hiring Translation is a rare acknowledgment by the Knicks that they may be losing clout. And it just so happens that across the Brooklyn Bridge, the Nets, a resurgent franchise with a modern arena and plausible dreams of a championship within the next three years, are primed to pick off some of the Knicks’ loyal fans. Stoute’s goal is to play prevent defense in the marketing sphere.

Indeed, Stoute might know something about Brooklyn’s rise. He was also a big part of the Nets “Hello Brooklyn” re-branding when they moved to the borough in 2012. He also might know something about the Knicks failed efforts in free agency. According to Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report, Stoute was first brought in last summer to help prepare the Knicks’ presentations to top free agents. Of course, that turned out to be a fool’s errand when none of the top free agents agreed to even meet with the Knickerbockers.

Deb points to a key indicator of the Nets intrusion in the New York market.

There are signs that the relationship with consumers is fraying. According to ESPN, the Knicks sell an average of 95.1 percent of their home seats, good for 18th in the 30-team league. This number has declined every year since 2016, when it was 100 percent. In contrast, the Nets have risen from 83.6 percent in 2016 to 92.7 this season. The Knicks rank 11th in attendance, drawing an average of 18,836 people a game. In 2016, that number was 19,812 — fifth in the N.B.A.

There are other indicators, like the recent news about sales of NBA gear.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant placed 10th and 12th in the NBA, respectively, in individual player jersey sales, despite their injury-racked seasons. That helped the Nets place 10th league wide in total merchandise sales. It’s the first time since 2014 - when Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Joe Johnson ran the show - that Brooklyn has been in the top-10.

And if you look closer at the list, you’ll note that no Knick player made the top 15 and the Knicks as a team didn’t make the top 10 ... despite their arena being 10 blocks away from the NBA Store. No word on the last time that happened, but it’s been a while.

And in the coming weeks, Sports Business Journal will release its mid-season survey of regional TV network ratings that will no doubt show a decline for MSG and an uptick for YES. That will come on top of last season, when MSG’s rating dropped by 39 percent while YES’ went up by 22 percent.

Stoute will also have to deal with Durant’s regular commentaries on the Knicks not being cool, not being good enough to attract top free agents including him. The most recent came earlier this week when in talking about the reasons he chose Brooklyn, he laid out the franchise —and the borough’s— attractiveness. Asked specifically about whether he had looked at other destinations, KD replied “not really.”

“I looked at the Clippers. I took a peek at the Knicks through my due diligence but I really wanted to play for the black and white,” Durant told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. “I liked the brand. Brooklyn was an up-and-coming city that needed some new flair. new basketball injection. Because being in Oklahoma City, I knew what that was like, having a new franchise around. I was excited about hopefully doing something like that again in Brooklyn with a new team.”

He also said he didn’t like the rumors that he and Irving were destined for the Knicks.

“That’s the media hyping that sh*t up. I never came out and said anything about me wanting to play for the Knicks, ever. Ever,”

So, will Stoute be successful? Will Leon Rose and William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley be successful after they’re hired, as rumored? Will the Nets championship ambitions pan out? Hard to tell. But as the safety warning on your car’s rear view mirror notes, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”