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Lewis: Nets push market towards younger fans looking for ‘lifelongs’

Brooklyn Nets vs Milwaukee, 2021 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals Set Number: X163667 TK1

The Nets have sold out three straight home games and a fourth is possible against the Bulls tonight in Brooklyn. Two of the three have been record-setting with more than 300 standing room tickets sold. As most Nets fans know, that hasn’t been a regular feature of the team’s history.

It’s all part of the Nets growth in popularity, exemplified by everything from huge national and record local TV audiences to social media platforms (where the Nets now have a half-million more Instagram followers than the Knicks) to merchandise sales, where per Fanatics, the Nets “Big Three” jerseys are among the top five sellers in the NBA.

Sustaining that growth will be big challenge and as Brian Lewis reports Saturday on Post Sports+, the Nets ownership and management are all-in on marketing to the younger fans in New York and around the globe. No use trying to proselytize a Knicks fan who watched them win in the 1970s and compete in the 1990s. Go for the kids.

“This team is thrilling to watch on the court, but we’re also connecting with Nets fans in new ways, whether through our marketing or community initiatives,” Abbamondi told Lewis. “Our goal is to help create memories for people that result in them becoming lifelong fans.

“One of our approaches to reaching the next generation has been to marry sports with Brooklyn culture through music, fashion, and art. We’re just getting started in building the Nets brand and we’re excited by how inclusive and fun it feels.”

Indeed, it seems the Nets are investing in a lot of different ways. Take a look at the last week when the Nets were selling out. There was a halftime concert by L’ll Kim vs. the Timberwolves and a rap by Deyvn Young in the stands vs. the Knicks. Both artists are Brooklyn-born.

James Harden, accompanied by Sean Marks, Steve Nash and two assistants, hosted a clinic for more than 130 youth from six community organizations Monday at the Carey Gabay Recreational Complex not far from Barclays Center. The visit celebrated the Nets new deal with addidas that will help expand the Nets Basketball Academy, a local youth program that’s already welcomed more than 30,000 kids to over 450 events in its five-year history.

There’s the new promotion, “Friday Night Live,” that L’il Kim’s concert was part of. The Nets are also highlighting a player every Friday: Blake Griffin on November 19, Durant last night and Patty Mills who’ll be featured January 7. The first 10,000 fans get custom t-shirts. That’s kind of traditional.

But as Lewis notes, it doesn’t end with the players signing merchandise to be given away or free stuff. They pick a community group that the Nets host that night.

The Nets are even working with city schools, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai are financing a new curriculum on the art of Brooklyn-born Jean-Michel Basquiat in middle and high schools. There’s also a student-run concession stand at Barclays Center this season that’s managed by Food Education Fund students from Food and Finance High School - New York City’s only culinary high school. It’s located in Manhattan.

Joe Tsai told Lewis that while winning a championship is the overall goal, long-term you have to think about building a fan base. Tsai wants to make money.

“Yeah, well, certainly if you look at this season, our goal is to win a championship,” Nets and Barclays Center owner Joe Tsai told the Post. “We’ve put the roster in a position to win. But as someone who looks at things from a longer-term perspective, we also try to build a solid franchise.

“And this year, next year after that, we signed Kevin to an extension, so the Nets are the team to watch, I guess, for the next several years.”

Tsai has also spoken openly about incorporating a number of non-traditional attractions that are more likely to appeal to a younger fan’s game experience, Tsai, who co-founded Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and knows a bit about marketing, believes there will be a shift in the fan experience. It will go, he told NetsDaily in October, from a passive, media model of fan engagement to an interactive one that would include fan tokens, NFTs and of course, sports betting.

The Nets are also exploring how virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) can be integrated into the fan experience both at the arena and at home.

Tsai and his team are in it for the long-term. He reportedly sees the Nets as a legacy investment, one he can pass on to his children. But there are short-term gains that give the organization confidence that a talented team plus good marketing will succeed.

The most telling are the TV numbers. The Nets are big draws when they’re on national TV and just this week got another TNT game. More significantly, their local numbers have jumped. Lewis reports games are averaging 67,000 total viewers on the YES Network, up 24 percent from the 54,000 they drew to this stage of the 2019-20 season. That’s nearly a doubling of what Nets were delivering to YES five years ago: a mere 34,000.

And those sellouts are helping attendance. Things started out slowly but they’re one of the few teams whose attendance is up from 2018-19, the most recent season not shortened by COVID-19, as Lewis notes.

The Nets rise in all those metrics, of course, is mostly about who’s on the court. There’s no indication that Tsai isn’t committed to providing the resources to the team.

“Do you think that is still a question?” Tsai joked in his NetsDaily interview. “I mean I did pay luxury tax last season. This season, it’s all public information, I’ll be paying over $100 million in luxury tax.

“So the answer is yes, yes, I’m committed and I’m committed for the long haul.”

So, that should be fun to watch ... for children of all ages.