Rebranding a Franchise: From Tampa Bay to Brooklyn
December 22, 2011 1 Comment
When Stuart Sternberg purchased 48% of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004, he approached the team with a “buy low, sell high” mentality. During the ensuing eight seasons, Sternberg who came from a finance background, was able to take the Rays from worst to first, winning the American League in 2008 and winning the AL East division in both 2008 and 2010, while completely re-branding the entire franchise. The Devil Rays were a team stuck in mediocrity, a mirror image of the New Jersey Nets of the NBA.
After Russian Oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov (valued at $17 Billion) purchased the Nets from former owner Bruce Ratner with the intent on moving the team to Brooklyn, he remarked that he is “excited to take the worst team of the league and turn it to be the best”. Yet, as Sternberg has demonstrated as owner of the now renamed Tampa Bay Rays, you cant win the heart of fans through wealth and adding players; in fact, Tampa Bay’s highest ranked payroll since Sternberg’s purchase of the team has only been $63,313,305 million ranking at twenty-five out of thirty amongst MLB Clubs. Sternberg along with friend and current President of the Rays Matt Silverman, knew that in order to win back fans, they would need to re-brand the entire franchise from the team name down to how their ushers interacted with fans. It is in this light how Prokhorov and CEO Brett Yormark wish to change the Nets in the eyes of not only their fans but potential customers in their new home in Brooklyn.
To change the perception of the team Sternberg and Silverman needed to start at the root of the problem; the Devil Rays had no identity or fan-base. Former owner Bruce Ratner was characterized in the same fashion as former Rays’ owner Vince Naimoli, a penny-pinching owner with no true knowledge of the sport; sending away veterans from two Eastern-Conference championship teams in order to cut down on the bottom line. “A lousy team breeds apathy. A lousy team with a jerk for an owner makes people stay away in protest”. Like Sternberg, Yormark has realized that the team needs to attract new fans and bring back old ones with grass roots community marketing, incentives and enhancing the fan experience of professional sports.
In order to create a more fan friendly environment, Yormark has taken a page out of Sternberg’s book and looked towards Walt Disney as the benchmark for customer service. Sternberg had the Ready At Your Service (Rays) University; Yormark will have Nets employees trained by the Disney Institute itself. “One of the things I think about when I get ready for Brooklyn is, has the service element truly been defined in this marketplace?” Yormark has stated. “I would challenge people to say, in many respects, no it hasn’t. We are going to refine the service experience”. In order to reach out to the community the Rays have become more involved with local charities and have built fields in poor neighborhoods. The Nets in comparison have brought “their latest fan-friendly attraction: ‘The Experience,’ a state-of-the-art, interactive, souped-up and hooped-up mobile marketing tool” to not only Brooklyn but to Prospect Park and Newark as well. To grab the attention of younger fans Nets head coach Avery Johnson surprised the boys basketball team at Ronald Edmonds Learning Center (MS113) in Brooklyn, New York by coming in to coach them for the day. It is these grassroots marketing moves that should allow the Nets to follow in the footsteps of Sternberg and the Rays.
Yet, improving customer service is only significant when one can entice customers to actually show up to games. In a new or smaller market (Tampa Bay and Brooklyn) it is now important to not only put a exciting product out on the field or court but to maximize the experience of the game. From 2008 to 2010 the Tampa Bay Rays hosted 27 post game concerts, which raised their average attendance from 22,666 to 31,514 fans per game. While the Nets have not announced any post game concerts for the 2012-2013 season, they have announced that rap superstar, Jay-Z will open the Barclays Center with an eight part concert series. The concert series will bring potential fans to the arena, even those that would never attend a Nets game, and will provide a taste of what the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets will have to offer, a similar tactic that Sternberg has employed in Tampa Bay.
However, there has been one enormous difference in how the Rays were re-branded in 2008 and the current Nets’ rebranding in 2012, a name change. Regarding the Rays name change Silverman noted that “it gave everyone an excuse to start fresh and separate themselves from the Devil Rays and everything associated with the name”. Therefore the question arises; why would a team two years removed from a league worst 12-70 record and historically one of the jokes of the NBA not want to re-brand themselves with a name change? The lack of name change was met with mixed approval. Darren Rovell of CNBC sports business report responded to the lack of change that “not getting rid of the name Nets is a major mistake, [a] Chance to rebrand themselves, get attention”. Yet Mike Nueman the managing partner at Scout Sports and Entertainment shed a different light on the Nets’ choice: “As the third home of the team, with roots on Long Island, keeping the Nets name made sense, even if the glory years of Dr. J and even Jason Kidd are a distant memory. More importantly, by keeping the team name the same, it emphasizes the Brooklyn. I think it’s the Brooklyn that will come before the Nets when people think of this team”.
Whether or not the decision to remain the Nets in their move to Brooklyn will impact the resurrection of the team will be proven during the ensuing seasons. Yet, one can be certain that by mimicking the Silverman and the Rays’ strategy in enhancing the fan experience, providing incentives for fans and utilizing grass roots marketing the Nets will become a more fan-friendly and popular team. When Silverman took over the Rays in 2005 they quickly rose to the sixth-most fan-friendly team among all major league sports in an ESPN.com survey. By employing the aforementioned tactics, coupled with putting a winning product on the court, the Brooklyn Nets ranking should not only rise in ‘fan-friendliness’, but in overall popularity as well.
***Quotes taken from Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2% unless otherwise noted