NBA's Nets Tap Translation to Burnish Move to Brooklyn

Agency Must Stoke Pride in Lackluster Team Moving to Stadium Plagued by Protests

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The foundation is in place, the steel is poured and the suite concourse level is starting to take shape. Still, the impending move of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn and the opulent Barclays Center now under construction has been so fraught with controversy, the franchise felt compelled to hire a branding firm to help "position" the move.

New York-based Translation is charged with speaking to a variety of constituencies surrounding the Nets' move from New Jersey, including potential new season-ticket holders, current season-ticket holders, longtime fans of the team, local businesses and, perhaps most important, to a vocal though now dwindling group of citizens who have long opposed a new arena in Brooklyn, saying it will change the dynamic of the beloved borough.

Steve Stoute
Steve Stoute

"Our job is to remove all doubt that what's coming to Brooklyn is going to make Brooklyn one of the finest entertainment capitals in the country," said Steve Stoute, president of Translation.

Barclays Center expects to open its door in the summer of 2012, with the Nets beginning play there later that fall.

"Obviously this is a moment we've been waiting for for six years and we only get one shot to get it right," said Nets CEO Brett Yormark of the move to Brooklyn, which was first announced in 2005. "We figured we'd outsource some thinking. We like Translation and we like their leader and the fact that they have a deep bench. The initial work we've received from them has been dead on. They'll help us not only on the Nets brand, but also identifying the Barclays Center."

They'll need it, on both fronts.

An artist's rendition of Barclays Center
An artist's rendition of Barclays Center

Part of the branding struggle is that the Nets have been something of a nomadic franchise ever since coming into existence as one of the first American Basketball Association (ABA) teams in 1967. The club went from playing in Teaneck, N.J., to becoming the New York Nets when it moved to Long Island, and then went back to the New Jersey Nets when it moved to Piscataway, N.J., in 1976, the same year that several ABA franchises merged with the National Basketball Association.

In 1981, the Nets moved into the Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, N.J., at what was then known as Brendan Byrne Arena, a 20,000-seat building next to football's Giants Stadium. Two seasons ago, they moved into the new Prudential Center in Newark.

As for the Barclays Center, the arena is part of a planned residential/retail development center known as Atlantic Yards. The plan has been under scrutiny and opposition ever since being announced, and only last year did the dismissal of several pending lawsuits pave the way for the development to break ground.

Norman Oder, an independent journalist and critic of the project who writes the Atlantic Yards Report blog, said he knew about the hiring of Translation. He also acts as a one-stop shop for every criticism of the move.

"I suspect they're trying to reinforce a sense of inevitability -- that the arena is coming -- after years of false promises about the timetable," Mr. Oder said. "That said, they likely have multiple audiences to play to. For one thing, they've only sold a small fraction of the luxury suites and they need those sales to pay off construction. They have the advantage of newness, being a new team in the market, but they also have to fill a building at a time when, at least for now, people have less and less discretionary income. The working assumption has always been that 30% of current New Jersey fans of the Nets would also attend games in Brooklyn. But the team has gotten worse [the sixth worst record in the league at 15-37], and it has been a very long goodbye. If that means fewer New Jersey fans, then they have to reach out as broadly as possible, geographically and demographically, in and around Brooklyn."

In fact, Translation plans on doing that very thing from two angles -- appealing to the nostalgia factor that the Nets would be the first major professional sports franchise in Brooklyn since baseball's Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958, and pumping up the Barclays Center as a world-class entertainment venue.

Expect Translation to play to a variety of multicultural audiences that reflect the team and the city of Brooklyn, including utilizing rap star Jay -Z, a part owner of the team, as well as the principal owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Brooklyn has a thriving Russian population in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

"We have a brand, the arena, for housing great talent. And we have a brand, the Brooklyn Nets, and we need to make them a phenomenon in 2012," Mr. Stoute said. "We won't be treating this like a relocated team. We'll be treating this like a team that has a new brand value. Our work is going to be as diverse as Brooklyn itself."

Mr. Stoute said Translation's first work for the Nets is expected to break this spring.

"It's a delicate situation they have here," said sports marketing expert Drew Kerr, president of New York-based Four Corners Communications. "On one hand, you don't want to alienate New Jersey fans. On the other hand, they are headed to a genuine, beloved borough. With any kind of move, even just across the river, there are still a number of constituencies that have to be made to feel good."

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