PARIS — “It was interesting to see them pick a side. And for wherever their allegiances were, they were rooting for their team. But again, it’s about the competition, the environment was great.”
That’s what Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff had to say after his team broke the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA’s first 2024 venture to Paris, a prequel to the league’s inevitable presence in the Summer Olympics, just six months away. Sure, the Cavs may have gotten the win as the “home” team, but the crowd for the evening belonged to the Nets.
That may be little consolation to Brooklyn’s fans who watched their team score 34 points in an entire half of NBA basketball, but it’s music to the ears of the organization’s revenue department. If the Nets aren’t the NBA’s most global franchise yet — the Lakers retain that distinction as they do domestically — they’re certainly up there. They’ve now played 24 games outside of U.S. soil, the most of any team.
Those efforts are paying off. Per Sports Business Journal, the team ranks in the top ten (and often higher) in every available metric to measure international fandom, whether that’s overseas social media followers, “favorites” on the NBA App, or League Pass viewers.
The Brooklyn Nets hope this is just the start. In the spring of 2023, Andrew Karson — Chief Marketing Officer of BSE Global, the Nets’ parent company — helped launch an “international marketing arm” to help the team achieve its overseas goals. It’s believed to be the first such move by an NBA franchise, Toronto Raptors peculiarities aside.
“I think, clearly, the NBA is increasingly global,” said Karson just before tip-off in Paris. “We feel like being positioned in Brooklyn, in New York ... we feel like there’s immense opportunity. So I think our organization has been very proactive, historically. And certainly, we still are, about wanting these opportunities for us.”
And the NBA has given Brooklyn those opportunities in spades. Why wouldn’t they? The team has proved to be an active and willing partner, and continued that trend in Paris. In addition to the game, the team helped present An Orchestral Tribute to Notorious B.I.G. at the historic Théâtre du Châtelet, and opened a pop-up shop at Sonny’s Pizzeria, serving, of course, New York-style slices:
At all these events, Nets fans showed up in spades, 3,600 miles away from the borough.
Said Karson: “It’s very easy to reach people now. You still have to be thoughtful in what the content is and hope that it resonates, right? But we have about 20 million followers across all the platforms now,” later adding, “We were trying to build a very curated group of people who are interested about this opportunity to be able to then, you know, give them more personalized experiences while we’re here.”
It’s not something that goes unnoticed by Nets fans around the globe, including this French teenager named Tom; he can be seen in the last photo above, and I shared his frankly adorable story here:
The teenage Nets fan in the final photo, named Tom, already had signatures from Mikal, JV, and Sean Marks from the prior day.— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 11, 2024
I might’ve broken protocol, because when we started talking at the shop, I quietly told him Harry Giles was on the way.
His mother then takes out a… https://t.co/pELt3vK8nm pic.twitter.com/crOJHIBAbz
Others flew over the English Channel for the experience, including a group of UK Nets fans led by Aidan McConachie. The 28-year-old Scot started rooting for the Nets soon after their move to Brooklyn, and is a part of a dedicated group of fans that take full advantage of the international opportunities the team provides.
I met up with him prior to the game, where he discussed what it’s like to be an NBA fan abroad. Certainly, it’s much different when his squad makes concerted efforts to establish themselves across the Atlantic: “We appreciate it,” said McConachie. “I mean, it’s great that we can come over here and do this type of thing, and we’ve had a great time so far.”
Not only does he commend the Nets for their international efforts, but can vouch for the benefits as well. He estimates, anecdotally, that Brooklyn is a “top-5” most popular team in the U.K., for the same reasons the NFL has recently exploded in Europe: “I think the NBA could take a massive kind of look at what the NFL are doing over here, and especially in London; they market it so well.”
In talking to executives like Karson or fans like McConachie, the message is clear: Build it and they will come. The Brooklyn Nets have realized this, and now other teams are following in their direction.
When I asked NBA Commissioner Adam Silver about the Nets’ intercontinental focus, he commended the Nets organization who after all have been owned by the league’s first Russian and Chinese governors...
Now that I’m back in the media room for halftime, I can post this video. Was able to ask Adam Silver a question on Brooklyn’s efforts to globalize their product, and here’s his response: pic.twitter.com/Aqo96bOlj0— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 11, 2024
“One of the big changes I’ve seen over my time in the league, there used to be a lot of arm-twisting to get teams to travel … it wasn’t something they were pleased to do. Now, it’s very different. Even in the last few days I’ve been here, I’ve received several texts from general managers whose teams are back in the U.S. saying, ‘How about us?’”
Silver noted Brooklyn’s importance in this shift, saying: “The Brooklyn Nets have been one of the teams that has led the way. We’re thankful for that, and I think this game is only going to become more global, and this league is only going to become more global.”
It’d be hard to argue with the NBA’s leading man. There’s the social media numbers, the proof of Nets fans here in Paris, and the fact that the 2023-’24 season began with a record 125 foreign-born players under contract. It’s been floated by many that, at this rate, 50% of the NBA’s player pool will be international by 2029, notably by former Notre Dame Men’s Basketball Head Coach Mike Brey:
125 international players on NBA rosters today…word is by 2029 over 50% of league will be internationally born…got to be a wake up for grassroots, high school, college and USA Bball— Mike Brey (@CoachMikeBrey) October 24, 2023
So, where’s the money Lebowski? Providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences for dedicated fans makes the heart sing, but where is Brooklyn’s main focus?
One obvious path is streaming — more Nets fans overseas means more of them will want to watch games — but Karson notes logistical difficulties there: “So, the media one is the most challenging, given the local, national, and global rights that the league owns. And then obviously, we have an amazing partner in YES [Network], but that’s really local distribution for the most part.”
While team merchandise is a layup — with Karson noting that “a lot of football clubs in Europe are able to monetize global fans, creating fan clubs, tokens, things of that nature,” as a path for the Nets to emulate — it’s small potatoes in the NBA revenue-sphere. Any marketing revenues outside a 90-mile radius of the home arena gets shared 30 ways.
There’s also the old-school approach to the new-school: getting fans from across the globe to come on down to the Barclays Center. That’s not so far-fetched, per Sports Business Journal: “Already this season, about 36% of Nets single-game ticket purchasers are international, up from 22.3% last season.” JFK isn’t that far from Barclays Center.
For now, Brooklyn is casting as wide a net as possible, both literally and figuratively. Says Karson: “We’re thinking about it all.”
Only one thing is for certain: The Paris trip is only the latest example of the Nets international focus. The Brooklyn Nets will continue to be world-travelers.