Moving Forward with a Losing Team

netslogoThe New Jersey Nets are currently suffering through a historically bad start to their season. Seventeen games, seventeen losses and a fired head coach is a tough stretch to say the least. While the goal of the business side of the franchise is to generate a profit regardless of the product on the court, there is no doubt that this type of situation can be very damaging to the organization. In particular, the Nets have several factors they must overcome:

  1. A very poor product on the court, arguably the worst in the league
  2. Operating in a very crowded market with many sports and entertainment alternatives
  3. A weak mass transit system that doesn’t let them tap into the New York audience
  4. The fact that the team is moving to a new building in a new city in the near future
  5. A complete shift in management as Bruce Ratner sells the team to Mikhail Prokhorov

With these hurdles standing in their way, what can the Nets do to keep the business moving forward while the team performance does not cooperate?  Here are a few ideas, some of which the team has already implemented.

  • Market basketball and the NBA without focusing on the Nets – The team has already done this with one of their earlier ticket package incentives that gave buyers reversible jerseys featuring players on the other teams. They can take this further by openly promoting the best opponents that are coming in to town over the coming weeks.
  • Focus on specific games instead of the entire season – If you think about trying to sell all of the remaining games, it can be quite an overwhelming tasks. So focus on specific games and opponents that give you the best chance to succeed and concentrate your sales efforts on those dates.
  • Discounted pricing – While cutting prices doesn’t fix the underlying problems, it does open the product up to a wider audience. Since the team isn’t a draw, the buying decision for consumers comes down to what form of entertainment they want to see. In order to compete with options like going to the movies, the price need to be comparable. This approach can also be achieved through special “family packs” that combine tickets with food and merchandise for a fixed low price.
  • Connect with season ticket holders – The worst potential impact of the team performance is the eventual loss of season ticket holders. Every effort needs to be made to maintain relationships with these customers through this tough time, as they are still the biggest source of ticket revenue. Give them additional free tickets to share with friends, reward them for referrals and let them take part in game experiences so that they still get the most value and enjoyment out of their season tickets.

If you were in charge of sales and marketing for the Nets, what would you do right now?

4 thoughts on “Moving Forward with a Losing Team

  • December 1, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    The Nets should rehire Jon Spoelstra and let him turn the organization around.

    As he mentions in his books, you should ignore the New York audience and focus on the New Jersey market, the 9th biggest marketing in the nation.

    He gives dozens of other suggestions to revive the Nets organization–Surely things haven’t changed too dramatically since then.

  • December 2, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I like the initiatives you mentioned but I’m having a tough time with the first one. I can understand it on a short-term basis but, im my opinion, the long-term implications outweigh the short-term:
    You’re not building your fan crowd;
    You’re diluting the New Jersey Nets brand;
    You’re pushing your marketing team to the limit (every home game, it needs to market an entirely different segment) with a high probability of failure; etc.

    The question here is not if people are not buying tickets to the games but WHICH people are not buying tickets ANYMORE and those are the Nets’ fans.
    As so, the Nets should focus on what the Nets’ fan cares about: the fact that they’re changing: their ownership is changing, the coaching staff has changed, maybe they’ll make a change to their roster soon… and bring those fans back to the arena by creating new expectations! We all know how much less expensive it is to get a repeat customer than a new one and I can’t imagine the Nets being able to afford excessive spending right now with the transition to the russian owners…

  • December 2, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Brad – Jon’s books are excellent, and I’m sure some of the ideas he shared from his Nets days in “Ice to the Eskimos” can still be applied today.

    Paulo – In general I would agree with you, but the fact that the team is transitioning to a new city in the near future lowers the risk of “diluting” their current brand. The Nets as the currently exist are harder to market than the NBA and professional basketball, so I think this will actually help their sales/marketing staff. And at the same time, it might make it easier to transition to their new “Brooklyn Nets” brand.

  • December 3, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    The Nets situation is a difficult one that requires a lot of creative marketing. Ultimately, in this market, the product on the court needs to sell itself, but when it doesn’t you need to create alternative reasons for drawing crowds. Events such as high profile speakers performing pre-game and youth groups playing on the court are events that have worked for teams in similar circumstances.

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