There are some obvious similarities between the New Jersey Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers. They play in the two largest markets in the country. And they share their market with one of the storied franchises in the NBA. As such, it is difficult to emerge from the shadows and find an identity some times.
There are differences as well of course. Most notably, the Nets have been much better than the Clippers over their history, while the Knicks have been much worse than the Lakers. In fact, although the Clippers have the fewest playoff appearances of any team in the last 30 years while the Lakers have the most championships during that time, the Nets have been every bit as successful as the Knicks since joining the NBA in 1976, and much more successful in the new millenium. Since the Nets joined the NBA, they've had 16 playoff appearances, 2 Finals appearances and zero championships. The Knicks have have 19 playoff appearances, 2 Finals appearances and zero championships. But in the last eight seasons, the Knicks have just one playoff appearance, zero playoff series wins and zero winning seasons. During that same span, the Nets have made the playoffs six times and been to the NBA Finals twice. So there's little question which of the New York area teams has been better in recent years. It's not even close.
Still, the Nets now find themselves in a rebuilding process. It was not that long ago that New Jersey had a 'Big Three' they believed could rival any trio in the league (Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson). They even thought they had a fourth guy in Nenad Krstic to join the big three. But Krstic tore his ACL, and the other three have been traded away to save money, and the team is almost devoid of 'stars' at this point. (Although it's interesting to note that there's little question that they got the better of the Kidd for Devin Harris trade, and it's not like Richard Jefferson earned his money in Milwaukee, and he has since moved again. None of these were bad trades - but the NBA is star-driven, and Devin Harris and Brook Lopez don't cut it - not yet anyway.)
So what is a marketing department to do? Give away LeBron jerseys. of course.
In a move that takes marketing the opponent to dizzying heights, the Nets are offering free jerseys with ticket packages. The jerseys are reversible, featuring the opposition's star on one side, and the Nets player matched up against the star on the other side.
With no big-names on their roster following the trades of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter over the past 18 months, the New Jersey Nets have taken a novel approach to ticket sales this season -- they're marketing LeBron, Kobe, K.G., Dwyane and Dwight Howard.
The Nets on Thursday announced a special 10-game "Match-Up" ticket plan through which their fans can also get a collection of reversible jerseys with the uniforms of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and Howard on one side and the jersey of the Nets' player that will match up against the visiting star on the other.
Kurt Helin of Forum Blue & Gold also has a good post about this program on the NBC-LA web site - and a hat tip to Kurt since I stole my picute caption idea from his headline.
Now, the Clippers have for as long as I can remember marketed their tickets using the stars of the NBA. LeBron has probably appeared in more Clipper newspaper ads in the last five years than any single Clipper. It makes perfect sense for selling tickets, certainly in a market as large as metro LA or metro NY. The NBA is a cult of personality, and there are a LOT of LeBron fans out there.
But I see enough opponent jerseys in Staples Center during Clipper games as it is. Can you imagine if they were GIVING away Kobe jerseys for Clippers-Lakers? It's one thing to use the star-power of the opponent to sell tickets in a down economy. It's quite another to facilitate the re-design of the interior of your home arena in enemy colors.
A couple of asides to this story. Blake Griffin is already putting the Clippers on the map. The ten games the Nets are including in this promotion include all the ones you'd expect - Kobe/Lakers, LeBron/Cavs, Wade/Heat, Howard/Magic, Garnett/Celtics, etc. - and some you might not, like Griffin/Clippers. Also included in the package is a game against the Knicks - but you kind of have to ask yourself, 'What Knicks jersey will they give away?' I mean, do the Knicks have a star? Maybe they'll just make a LeBron jersey for that game as well.