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Nets — and Liberty — rise to top in business metrics

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Two Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Sportico, the sports business site, continued its examination of Joe and Clara Wu Tsai’s New York sports properties Wednesday and Thursday with some new metrics on fan engagement that bodes well for the both of Barclays Center’s home teams, the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty.

Thursday’s report also has Joe Tsai offering yet another idea for improving fan experience, adding Twitch to live game coverage!

Sportico’s Brendan Coffey reports that over the past year and a half, despite COVID, the addition of stars and superstars is driving success for the Tsais’ powerhouse parent, BSE Global, and its two basketball teams.

Here are some of those metrics...

  • The Nets are in the top three of social media engagement with 319 million from November through May of this year. The other two are the Lakers and Warriors. The Nets Instagram account surpassed three million followers, not comfortably ahead of the Knicks who are at 2.9 million.
  • The Nets as a team are now No. 2 behind the Lakers in merchandise sales, according to Fanatics, which includes the NBA Store as well as other outlets. And three of the top four sellling jerseys belong to the “Big Three” of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. That’s up from 31st, behind the Seattle Supersonics, in 2012.
  • In China, the Nets rank No. 1 in social media engagement among all NBA teams, surpassing the Los Angeles Lakers, whose fandom has been sustained through Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as well as the Houston Rockets who gained their leadership by taking Yao Ming in the 2002 Draft, then lost it after Daryl Morey’s 2019 tweet supporting Hong Kong’s democracy activists.
  • The Nets added the most fans of any NBA team in the past 12 months, according to YouGov, with the 18-34 segment growing 99 percent in the past year. Younger fans now comprise 53 percent of Nets fans, while YouGov finds the Knicks well behind at 41 percent.
  • YES ratings for the Nets rose more than 70 percent this past season despite some late-season shifting of games to the YES2 Network (which didn’t include Comcast, the nation and region’s largest cable provider.) That’s the biggest jump among NBA teams by a long shot.

“Interest in this team is at an all-time high,” John Abbamondi, BSE Global CEO, told Sportico.

“We go direct-to-consumer in terms of getting our fans into Barclays Center and creating our fans on social media,” Tsai.

Similarly, the Liberty’s metrics are rising, as Clara Wu Tsai and Keia Clarke, CEO of the WNBA club, pointed out Wednesday in a Sportico guest column honoring the Liberty’s 25th anniversary.

  • Based on that same Fanactics data, the Liberty are now No. 1 in WNBA merchandise sales, rising to to the top after they drafted Sabrina Ionescu in the 2020 WNBA Draft. Ionescu’s jersey is the top-seller among WNBA jerseys.
  • In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Liberty media coverage increased more than 24 percent year-over-year. While attendance is still suffering from COVID-19 fears, the team has gained a number of new sponsors in New York, strengthening the case for increased funding.

Abbamondi argues that it’s not just “rolling the ball out on to the court.” The success is due to being creative, not being bound by strictures. He cited the Nets adoption of Jean-Michel Basquiat-inspired jerseys —- and a BSE-funded curriculum on the artist work in the city’s schools, home of the next generation of New York fans the Nets covet.

Tsai also told Sportico that he can see a lot of possibilities for deeper fan engagement, depending on how creative the league — and its media rights holders — want to be.

“What if, in addition to broadcasting games on ESPN and ABC, and streaming games on ESPN+, we can have another way of presenting a game on Twitch, with a Twitch gamer calling the game?” said Tsai. “In that Twitch stream you could do sports betting, play interactive games within that engagement experience and earn cryptocurrency. I don’t think it will cannibalize ESPN.”

The NBA and its rights holders will be negotiating a new deal in the next couple of years. Expect a lot of changes to the traditional linear TV contracts. The current deal runs through 2024-25. It’s one reason why Tsai wants to be on the board of governors media committee.

“Dude is smart,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote Coffey in an email. “He has the big picture in mind for the league and is focused on winning for his team. He puts in the time to be a great partner and contribute the benefit of his experience to make the league better. All you can ask for in an owner.”

For the Nets, of course, success in the aisles of the team store and social media is dependent on what happens on the court.

“It helps if you’ve got a better team on the field, too. That’s always a big deal,” said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross, told Sportico. “Who wants to wear a jersey of a team that is 20 and 62? And do you want an aging star, like the Nets used to have, or guys who are the top of league right now?” added Matheson.