The Anatomy of Fandom: Jocking Jay-Z


Hi, I'm Jay. I have a bridge to sell you.

“We will turn Knicks fans into Nets fans. It’s part of success.”

Those were the words of the Nets Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov at an introductory press conference back in 2010 (via NYDailyNews).  His first real foray into the American spotlight, Prokhorov already began laying the groundwork for a marketing campaign to steal NY’s basketball heart, regardless of what happened on the court.

Stationed just across the river from the ‘Mecca’, the Brooklyn Nets will attempt to maintain their existing fanbase in NJ (all 3 of them) while simultaneously trying to make you forget they were ever there.  What will likely be a case study in strategic and persuasive marketing, the Nets have a few things on their side.

First up is the state of the Knicks organization.  Fresh off a first round flame-out, ongoing issues with Amare Stoudemire and letting Jeremy Lin head to Houston, Knicks fans are far from content with James Dolan & co.  If Linsanity is in full swing in Houston while the Knicks are floundering, the allure of an alternate option may begin to gather steam.

Second: $$$.  Having an owner with endless pockets can’t hurt, as shown in the offseason acquisition of Joe Johnson and efforts to pursue and land Dwight Howard (albeit unsuccessfully).  Off the court, these funds allow Prokhorov and team to put the Nets front and center in NYC, as they they did in 2010 with their ‘blueprint for success’ billboard near Madison Square Garden.

Finally at the core of this campaign sits Jay-Z, whose standard introduction now takes about 30 seconds to complete – rap legend, fashion entrepreneur, producer, club owner, NBA owner, Blue Ivy daddy, etc.  The main source of the Nets ‘cool factor’, Jay brought instant street cred. and status to a brand that had been relegated to…well…Newark.  It was a no-brainer for Prokhorov to put Jay at the forefront of the new brand image, from his aforementioned, pun-filled ‘blueprint’ billboard to crediting him with the design of the Nets new logo.  The latter which is a simple, black and white visual evokes memories of when N.W.A. made the LA (don’t call us Oakland) Raiders cool.  (Side note: check out the hilarious, albeit short-lived “Logos By Jay-Z” tumblr site to laugh at HOV’s design prowess)

The Nets efforts mark an almost unprecedented marketing strategy for a professional sports team; rebuild the brand around an iconic owner, while almost seemingly distancing themselves from promoting the actual product.  In late September, the Nets will open the the Barclays Center (their multi-billion dollar home arena) not to a basketball-based celebration of the team’s stars, but instead to an 8-night back-to-back-to-back-to-back (you get the picture) concert series by their part owner.

The Nets have based their strategy on capturing and harnessing the romanticism of Brooklyn (from the Dodgers to Biggie) and combining it with Jay-Z’s superstar status.  The seemingly unfounded element in Prokhorov’s declaration to steal Knicks fans is that ultimately, no wants to align themselves with a losing franchise.  Basketball fans will wonder whether Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are enough to tilt the scale of basketball fandom in NYC, while the Nets Front Office will continue to  say ‘but look at all the pretty lights!’

At the end of the day, being labeled a bandwagon jumper is the scarlet letter of fandom – a black mark on one’s track record that diminishes all future celebrations in the eyes of your peers.  Just ask the Knicks flagship fan Spike Lee, who recently declared that he would not become a Nets fan despite growing up in  Brooklyn.  While you may see a few more New Yorker’s rocking the black/white of Jay’s new brand, it’s a leap of faith to assume that the masses will leave their lifetime’s worth of memories at MSG behind.

If you believe that, there’s a bridge to BK I’d like to sell you…

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Written by Stephanie Rudnick
Stephanie Rudnick

August 22nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

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