The Brooklyn Nets fan is a “thing.”
We’ve all heard the bad jokes of Knicks fans and even pundits that the Nets have no fans or that they’re too passive or too distant or, worse, too hipster! But if this season, with all its ups and downs, has proven one thing, it’s this: those jokes are outdated.
There is a Brooklyn Nets fan and he/she is not casual, but organic, loyal and proud. The face of that new fan can be found nightly in Section 1 of Barclays Center. home of the Brooklyn Brigade, those 100 or so rowdy denizens of Section 1, with their loud voices and creative chants. They’re the leaders, but they are not alone. They are also the mirror of what’s going on across Brooklyn, in particular.
Indeed, the Brigade, in its 10th season, came into its own in 2021-22. They are now known around the league. Scruffy, yes, but witty too. In other words, very Brooklyn.
There was the appearance on Good Morning America by the Brigade’s “first family,” founder Bobby Edemeka and his triplet brothers, David, Donald and Dennis.
They are the Nets’ analog to Knicks celebrity row but unforced, unrewarded, fans.
The Brooklyn Brigade and Nets fandom are in fact regularly seen — and of course heard — on national television and not just at Barclays Center. National and local TV announcers took notice of the Brooklyn Brigade at Madison Square Garden in February when Cam Thomas buried a bomb and the hopes of Knicks fans. They were well heard in an otherwise silent Wells Fargo Center when the Nets ran the 76ers out of the gym in March.
After the Philly game, in fact, Kevin Durant (the subject of never-ending “MVP” chants and a big fan of the Brigade) took note of their cheers and chants not once but twice after the game.
“It just felt good, quieting all them down midway through the game,” Durant told the TNT crew while nodding toward fast departing Philly fans. “Near the end, it was very quiet. “We didn’t hear any Ben Simmons chants from the Sixers fans. It was more Nets fans than anything. So it was good.”
Then, afterwards, talking to YES Network, he continued.
“Our fans traveled,” said KD. “It was pretty remarkable to see Brooklyn fans because the label on us is that we don’t have any fans. So hear them in a huge arena like this, fighting against another energetic crowd, like the Sixers fans. I’m starting to see it more and more. last couple of years since I’ve been here. that fans are starting to travel. We’re going to need that going forward.”
Of the group’s trip to Philly, Edemeka said, in his typical understated way, the experience was “amazing.” Indeed, it was shocking. Despite having only about 10 members on hand — the group would have been larger but the Sixers said they couldn’t accommodate more — the group dominated the atmosphere at Wells Fargo as Sixers fans were stuck in stone silence.
But nothing beat the night of February 16 when Thomas topped off a 28-point comeback with a 29-foot dagger to beat the Knicks at the Garden. If there was a moment this season that symbolized the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets fan, it was this one.
The tables turned. It wasn’t the Knicks fans dominating Barclays Center, a common occurrence in the past, but the reverse: When that shot went down, it was the Nets fans throughout the arena — and specifically, the Brigade — that dominated the World’s Most Famous Arena.
So rowdy had the Brigade been all night that the Garden assigned not one, but two, unsmiling security guards to the section that held 50 or so Brigade members. They even tossed one Brigade member for, they claimed, “blocking the aisle.” Yeah right. Then, Killa Cam did what he did and they shrunk away like the rest of the Knicks fan base.
The chants were so loud, in fact, that they were heard above the din by the players ... and the GM.
“I loved it,” he messaged NetsDaily as the game ended. “That felt incredible. You could hear the Brooklyn chants on the bench.”
A week ago, Marks who had personally delivered cases of Modelo to the Brigade over the years, went up into the stands to personally thank the fans.
“Six years ago, you couldn’t see a Brooklyn hat anywhere in MSG,” recalled Marks. “Now, they can’t show anywhere on the JumboTron without seeing a Brooklyn hat. That just shows what you have done.”
The owner took note as well, tweeting last week...
I was at The Garden last night and proud to see you guys represent. @KDTrey5 heard you loud and clear. @BrooklynNets #ControlOurOwnDestiny https://t.co/MvyvZbkoyd— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) April 7, 2022
And yes, they’ll be in Boston Sunday in Section 308 of TD Garden.
What the Brigade has done is provided a competitive advantage to the team as the team’s owner, GM and captain have acknowledged and led the cheering which has been getting louder and louder and louder.
But it’s important to note that the Brigade is by no means alone. The fan base is bigger and better and louder. People first began to notice that at the end of last season specifically in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. If only KD had worn a smaller sneaker. When that two-pointer went down sending a Game 7 into OT, Barclays Center exploded. As Ian O’Connor of the Post wrote the next day...
If you were inside Barclays Center, you will never forget the sound the crowd made when it realized the season wasn’t over after all. Madison Square Garden was never louder.
It was a milestone, a marker laid down by the fanbase. Then, this season, with COVID restrictions on indoor venues loosened and fans liberated, it took off.
And it’s not just the eye test that proves it. Not just the volume of the “Broook-lyn” chant, Nor just the black-and-white (tinged with some Jersey red, white and blue) palette inside Barclays Center nor the creativity of the Brooklyn Brigade’s chants.
There’s data, hard business data, to prove the point.
With the Nets regular season now complete, attendance numbers are in. The team averaged 17,354 per game this season, or 97.9 percent of the Barclays Center capacity. That percentage, aided by some late season standing room sales, ranked ninth in the league. The raw number ranked 13th. Both are the best the team has averaged since moving to Brooklyn in 2012-13. The Nets also recorded all-time high crowds as often as KD and Kyrie recorded 50 point games.
In fact, you can go back to the early 2000’s in New Jersey when the Nets twice went to the NBA Finals and you won’t find anything even close to this year’s numbers. (The two EC champs sold out a mere 68.8 percent of the Meadowlands in 2001-02 and 76.0 percent the next season. Game 4 of the NBA Finals in 2003 didn’t even sell out.)
Only five years ago, the franchise was, decidedly, a joke and it was reflected in the numbers. In 2016-17, Marks first year at the helm, the Nets ranked 25th in percentage at 85.2 percent and 28th in raw numbers at 15,429. But that was all a long, long time ago.
YES Network ratings are way up as well, nearly 40 percent over 2019-20 before the pandemic hit and 95 percent since 2018-19, the last traditional season, going from an average of 40,000 to 78,000 households, per a YES release Friday. No team has seen its regional sports ratings jump as much. In comparison, the Nets 2016-17 ratings were the lowest for any NBA team in six years, They drew only 27,000 households in the New York area that season.
Nationally, the Nets keep putting up big numbers. At one point late in the season, seven of the 25 biggest national TV audiences featured the Nets, including the highest rated game, the Nets buzzer-beating victory over the Lakers in L.A. on Christmas. It drew nearly 5.8 million.
There’s other data as well that measures the depth of commitment. Merchandise of all sizes, shapes and types are flying off the shelves and not just in the USA. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving jerseys are among the biggest sellers everywhere, in North America, Europe, Japan, and the UK, based on data from the NBA and Fanatics. Social media is way up too. The Nets on Instagram surpassed the Knicks numbers last year and overall, Nets social media are the cusp of the NBA’s top 10. The Nets international presence is high in places as far away as the Philippines,
And hey, ND just broke 50,000 Twitter followers!
Where there isn’t available data, there’s the eye test again. The strategy of focusing a lot of its marketing on young fans — “next generation” fans who are as young as 8-to-10 year-olds — seems to be working. The number of fans in that age group are quite evident in any YES Network sweep of the stands.
The reasons why all this has happened are myriad. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are not just superstars on the court but big, magnetic and unconventional personalities. Sean Marks turned things around (maybe more than once.) Success matters. The Nets have been in the playoffs seven of their 10 years in Brooklyn. There’s also more of a connection between fans and owners than there has been in the past.
Then, there’s just the relief, the release from the pandemic. No city, no county in the U.S. was hit as hard as early as New York and Brooklyn. One month, Brooklyn would have the highest death toll, the next month it would be Queens. For more than a year, thousands of unclaimed bodies from all over the city were held in mobile morgues, refrigerated trucks, in the parking lot across from the Nets training facility, clearly visible through those magnificent windows. The Nets offer feel-good civic pride, tarnished perhaps by Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated but still strong.
Whatever the reason, the Brooklyn Nets fan is. It’s taken a while, but he/she exists and has great lungs.