Stoute's Plan to Market the Nets? Kissing Up to Brooklyn

Translation CEO on Borough Pride, City Rivalry and Bruce Ratner as a Modern-Day Robert Moses

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Old meets new in ads for the Brooklyn Nets.
Old meets new in ads for the Brooklyn Nets.
After much hoopla over a possible rebranding -- fueled by majority owner Mikhail D. Prokhorov's playfully ambiguous mentions of a coming name change -- part-owner Jay -Z recently announced that the New Jersey Nets are to remain the Nets upon their move to New York. But unlike other area teams -- such as the Jets and Giants, who technically play in New Jersey, the Queens-dwelling Mets and, of course, the Bronx's New York Yankees -- they'll be taking on the name of their home borough rather than the city as a whole.

Nets officials have been busy hyping Brooklyn as an iconic globally-recognized brand. Translation Founder-CEO Steve Stoute, whose agency is handling marketing for the team, said the New York City borough is marketing gold. "The power of the Brooklyn brand is so resounding. It means so many things: hard work, gentrification and diversity, music, culture." And while there are still critics upset over the use of eminent domain to make way for the Barclays Center where the team will play, Mr. Stoute said Brooklyn residents should "be ecstatic" about the move.

The decision to keep the Nets name might prove a tougher sell. Mr. Stoute talked to Ad Age about the move, the branding and, sure to rile up critics of how the stadium came about, this "gift" from developer Bruce Ratner.

Ad Age : Despite the Brooklyn name, you're still selling the Nets -- a brand New Yorkers associate with New Jersey, and more recently, with losing a lot.

Mr. Stoute: I think because it's a move that everyone has been expecting for so long, there's a natural reset button. There's so much energy and anticipation around building a world-class facility that it's not as hard as you might think. Brooklyn as a borough is bigger than most of the [other cities that have] teams in the NBA.

Ad Age : Of course, the Nets are Brooklyn's first major sports team since the Dodgers.

Mr. Stoute: And I think that people are excited about that . People are excited that the borough has a team.

Ad Age : People are used to thinking New York basketball equals the Knicks. With this summer's billboard right across Madison Square Garden -- featuring not the Nets, but Jay -Z and Mr. Prokhorov -- and Mr. Prokhorov's comments about stealing Knicks fans, it seems you're aiming for an aggressive, rivalry-based approach.

Mr. Stoute: The rivalry is going to be natural as a result of two teams in the area. There's already a Brooklyn-Manhattan rivalry. A lot of people from Manhattan are moving to Brooklyn. It's all healthy competition.

Ad Age : What are some of the specific things Translation is looking to do to get New Yorkers rooting for the Nets?

Mr. Stoute: Brooklyn is very diverse in culture and income. We have to make the team affordable for all. Our goal is making everyone feel like this team represents the hard work and personality of Brooklyn. It's no different than what we had to go through to get the team there.

Ad Age : What specific initiatives do you have underway to convey those messages?

Mr. Stoute: We did something where we took arena chairs and put them outside the Cyclone in Coney Island and the Brooklyn Bridge. What we're saying is that Brooklyn has iconic scenes. We're showing that a great team is coming into town.

We're going to go wider in our merchandising and our apparel offering than other NBA teams. I'm not going to get into specifics out of respect to the process.

Remember there are only 41 NBA home games. We have to program the Barclays Center all year round with great concerts, the circus, boxing, college basketball. We want to make this thing an epicenter for entertainment.

Ad Age : Another factor in all this is that the Atlantic Yards project has been steeped in controversy. What will you say to win the neighborhood over?

Mr. Stoute: I think that there's always going to be people who resist change. It's a human reality. I look at what they had to go through and say it wasn't easy, but it made sense. It was there to improve, to uplift, to contemporize, to bring back sports to the borough. It's the Barclays Center of Brooklyn. It's of the people. This is Bruce Ratner's gift to them. He is our generation's Robert Moses.

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