I’ve seen some bad sports marketing campaigns in my day, but the New Jersey Nets may have just taken the cake. As you may have heard, fresh off taking the “New Jersey” off their jerseys, which didn’t win them points with this proud Garden State resident, the Nets are now telling their fans to root for players on other teams by giving out double-sided jerseys with star opponents on them. Look, I understand the majority of people who go to Nets games are going to see other teams’ star players, since the Nets don’t really have any of their own since trading Vince Carter. I mean, I love Devin Harris, but he’s not going to be an enormous box-office draw. So in theory, the campaign makes sense. And I realize that the Nets are desperate for money in a tough economy. I get all that. But I just feel like it’s something you just can’t do to your players. You can promote coming to a game against the Cavs to see LeBron James, you’d be stupid not to, but to actually push merchandise of other teams? I hate the principle of the Nets’ players looking out into the stands and seeing a sea of Kobe Bryant jerseys.
In addition, have the Nets stopped to think that it’s a terrible message to send to potential free agents? “Sure Joe Johnson, sign on and we’ll promote the hell out of Dwight Howard coming in to destroy you!” Here’s a quote from Nets chief executive Brett Yormark:
"The reality of the situation is that we target the casual sports fan in New Jersey and New York. As much as they like the Nets, they also like the opposing star players. The Match-Up plan enables us to market our players as well as the star players in the league. We’re a young team, the NBA is a league of stars, and we’re not ashamed to say that our fans are coming to watch the opposing star players as much as ours."
Why aren’t they ashamed of that? They should be. Isn’t it a problem when the best you can do for a counterpart for a LeBron jersey is Jarvis Hayes? Is anyone going to wear the Hayes side of that? I mean, is there anyone in America who currently owns a Hayes jersey, period? I think if a kid shows up at school with a Hayes jersey, he’s asking for a pounding from his peers. How about Courtney Lee, who Nets fans haven’t even seen in their uniform, matched up with Bryant in a rematch of their one-sided NBA Finals? He’s No. 6 – maybe they should have marketed it as a throwback Kenyon Martin jersey. Even their two most marketable stars, Harris and Brook Lopez, are overshadowed by brighter stars Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, respectively. Look, the idea here is to build up your own team’s identity. I still think it’s unconscionable to completely abandon any pretense that your games are anything but an outpost for LeBron and Kobe to pillage the Meadowlands.
Wouldn’t it have been enough to simply give out jerseys of the Nets? Are five jerseys of your own team not enough of a draw, rather than exterminating brand loyalty and replacing it with an investment in other teams’ players? The idea is to get the younger generation hooked on Nets players, rather than say, Wade, so that they’ll come more than twice a year. Because I’m a generous guy, how about I offer up some free marketing advice? How about: “The Start of Something Big” – and stick Devin and Brook on the posters and billboards? Then call attention to the fact that the Nets are building toward being under the cap for 2010 and signing some big-time talent, but that a couple of key pieces are already on the roster. Then in 2010, you’re all set up for “The Future is Now.” But the Nets need to figure out that putting themselves on a level below their opponents demeans the franchise and kills its value, and that it’s tough to break that cycle once you’ve started that trend. As such, I’ll look forward to next year’s marketing campaign, with jerseys of the loaded 2010 Free Agents – on their respective other teams.