Brooklyn Nets, Brett Yormark Think Global, Act Local

Brett Yormark, CEO for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and the team's home venue, Barclays Center, is a man with a plan that he has been building for more than a decade.

He wants the Nets to become popular and marketable not just in the borough of Brooklyn — which, with its more than 2.6 million residents, would be among the five largest cities in the U.S. — and not just in other places that share the name, including Brooklyn, Calif.; Brooklyn, Conn.; Brooklyn, Ind.; Brooklyn, Iowa; Brooklyn Mich.; Brooklyn Miss.; Brooklyn, Minn.; Brooklyn, Ohio; Brooklyn, Ore.; Brooklyn Penn.; and Brooklyn, Wisc.

His blueprint includes Russia, China, Europe and, perhaps equally important, New York, N.Y.

"When we moved [from New Jersey in 2012], it was like a blank canvas, relocating to Brooklyn. We launched in a humble way." Now, Yormark said, "Brooklyn and beyond is what we're trying to do from a marketing standpoint. Attracting global partners is very high on our radar screen."

And, closer to home, "I want to own the city."

Yormark, speaking at Leader Insights’ Sports Business Summit in New York earlier this month, has always been about marketing and creating an image beyond the scope of the product.

Following four years as a marketing executive with the then-New Jersey Nets, he became in 1998 head of corporate marketing for Nascar, extending during this tenure the auto circuit's reach well beyond its traditional core and beyond its traditional marketing aspirations.

Since rejoining the Nets in 2006, he has made it cool to fans, and rewarding to marketing partners, to be associated with a team that last went to the NBA Finals in 2003 and has made the post-season just twice since 2007, with the prospects for this season dwindling.

"At the end of the day we're selling a product — entertainment," said Yormark. "The evolution to a performance brand is something on which we are really focused. And you'll see it in how we portray our brand [in marketing]."

However, he stressed, "Winning validates what you're selling day-to-day. I want to own this city [and] the way you own it is by by winning and getting to the playoffs."

In lieu of titles, selling an image is what the Nets hierarchy has done well. Jay-Z was a minority investor until late 2013, but he and his equally high-profile wife, Beyoncé, remain in the franchise spotlight. Jimmy Fallon, Rihanna and Chris Rock regularly populate Celebrity Row during games. None are discouraged from wearing Nets merchandise in public.

London-based financial firm Barclays, in the midst of a $200 million, 20-year naming rights deal for the multi-tasking facility built in Brooklyn to coincide with the team's move, is just one of some 100 marketing partners, many with global reach and many with roots in Brooklyn.

"Barclays gives us an international halo over our brand," said Yormark. "[But] there are close to 100 languages spoken in Brooklyn," making the vicinity its own global melting pot and marketing pot of gold.

Although there have been reports of the franchise being for sale, the principal owner remains Russian billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, the league's first non-North American team owner. The NBA, which is on its own worldwide brand-building quest, has in recent years sent the Nets to play games in such locations as England and China, and the team has hosted events in Russia. 

The venue itself has made Brooklyn a must-be destination. The New York Islanders move in next season, adding an NHL element to an arena that also hosts college basketball, boxing, concerts and last month the 2015 NBA All-Star Game Saturday Night events (with crosstown Madison Square Garden getting the game itself).

Keeping the core fans happy is a priority, but also important is building out the team and its products.

"We are constantly asking, How do we expand our fan base? How does the casual fan become more engaged?" And, regarding the rivalry with the crosstown New York Knicks, "How do we get the fan who is sitting on the fence?"

Bottom line: "Be local. Be national. Be global. Global is the place we need to be," said Yormark.

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