New City, New Owner, New Arena, New Logo, even "New Jerseys". Over the past year, much has been made over one of the largest public rebranding efforts to impact American sports in decades. Attempting to make the most of a move to a city that is home to its own recent notable rebranding efforts, the New Jersey Nets have done much to capture the publics imagination with its move to Brooklyn and have made it clear that this team will be new in almost every way.
Starting with the purchase of the team by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov over two years ago, a brash new style of ownership commenced with selling the message that the move to Brooklyn would not be simply a relocation of the team but a complete rebranding of the Nets as an NBA franchise. The Nets have benefitted from their popular association with minority owner Jay-Z, the generous financing for their Arena by Barclays Bank, and their change to a new team logo which may reflect the only aspect of the move to Brooklyn that could be described as "minimalist".
While all of these factors bode well for the teams future success in Brooklyn, one important point stands out when it comes to rebranding a sports team, that your team brand is only as strong as the brand of those players on your opening day roster. Cue to Dwightmare (a trademark not liklely sought out by Orlando's Dwight Howard) 2012, and you can see how much star power, particluarly in the NBA, means to the brand of a team. The Nets, realizing that to add a star of D12's stature, they would have to retain a player of Deron William's stature, did what was necessary to bring back the Texas native whose eye had been wandering towards his hometown Dallas Mavericks since the Free Agency period began.
In order to keep Deron Williams, and thus further their efforts to land Dwight Howard, the Nets knew they had to add an attractive piece to the roster. With most teams holding onto their franchise superstars for dear life, one player was notably very available, Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks. The currrent owner of the most head-scratching contract in the NBA, a contract that exceeds those of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony, Joe Johnson was widely thought to be significantly overpaid based on his Tier 2 talents, lack of star power, and his lack of connection with Atlanta fans. To Atlanta, he was expendable and his trade necessary in order to start their own rebuilding process, to New Jersey, he was the player who could help keep the player that would land the player the Nets truly wanted on their opening day roster.
In an era of the "Big Three" in the NBA, where in order to compete or be attractive to available players, a team must have a trio of stars-super stars on their team, the Nets made the trade for Joe Johnson, and although not their preferred player of choice, he was instrumental in working out an extension for Deron Williams. Without Deron Williams, the Nets would have opened their new arena with a roster largely seen as a disappointment. So while the analysts can argue the finer points of the competitiveness of the Nets roster, the teams rebranding efforts should be viewed as a success. However, without landing those first two star pieces, and keeping hope alive to land D12 sometime over the next year, the new arena and those new uniforms would have, on opening day, felt otherwise quite empty. For more, a NY Times recent article and a LA Times article on the Brooklyn Net's rebranding efforts.