Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why did the Nets fail to take hold in New Jersey? A host of reasons, including a late move to the 'burbs (and maybe one more: the media landscape)

An interesting article in The Record today, headlined Game over for N.J. Nets, but who'll miss them?, explores why the New Jersey Nets never quite took hold in New Jersey. An excerpt:
“People in New Jersey didn’t identify the Nets with New Jersey,” said [former Nets president Jon] Spoelstra, now a sports-marketing consultant. “It’s not like San Antonio, Utah, or Sacramento. I think those fans have gotten really wrapped up in their teams to where they become part of their lifestyle.”
[Michael] Rowe, a former New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority official who succeeded Spoelstra in 1995, said the location of the team’s Meadowlands base also played a role.
“The Nets were one of the last teams to move to arenas that were out in the suburbs,” said Rowe, president of the Cranbury-based sports management firm Positive Impact. “Eventually, arenas started moving back downtown because it was found that the after-work crowd, the steak-and-beer business communities, the mass-transit people, would support a team. And you didn’t have that here, so the Nets didn’t seem to get adopted by enough people in their home market. New Jersey has more than 500 medium and small towns, to where there was never a town even big enough to host a parade.”
Both also pointed to the large shadow cast by the New York Knicks, just across the river.
The article also references the lack of a consistently good team.

The authors miss one significant reason, I believe: the suburban nature of the Meadowlands arena--the home during most years in New Jersey, until the interim move to Newark--and the suburban nature of the state means that there was relatively little coverage from the New York City media.

With New York City television stations covering the Brooklyn Nets, as well as the sports-heavy tabloids New York Post and and New York Daily News, the relocated team will reap much free publicity.

And in the Star-Ledger

Also see Dave D'Alessandro's column in today's Star-Ledger, headlined Nets are leaving a place that never really felt like home:
“There was never really a lasting identity,” added Buck Williams, the greatest player in franchise history until [Jason] Kidd showed up in 2001. “No matter how good the intentions, execution was a problem. It was hard to compete for attention because of the transportation issue — fans had to drive through rush-hour traffic on the Turnpike to get here, because you’re not in a city.”
Indeed, market circumstances were an issue. But in this unforgiving business, it was also a Murphy’s Law franchise, and with every success there was always another detour, another misstep, or another tragedy around the corner.
D'Alessandro on Atlantic Yards:
And in the coup de grace of public manipulation — economic, emotional or otherwise — a real estate developer named Bruce Ratner bought the team in 2004 for the sole purpose of using it to justify the seizure of land via public domain, and making the Nets’ new arena the centerpiece of a $5 billion complex in Brooklyn that he will build mostly with taxpayer money.
This process took more than eight years from conception to groundbreaking, and every step of the way, you got the impression that the Nets — and anyone who actually cared about them — were watching the clock, as Ratner stripped the team of assets and sold managing interest to an oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov.


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