Published March 01, 2011
LONDON – Owned by a Russian, awaiting two games in London and preparing for a move to New York, the New Jersey Nets have the look of globe-trotters.
The NBA team is on a mission to become the face of the league outside the United States, cheered by fans across Europe, Asia and Africa.
"Our goal truly is to globalize our business, to project ourselves in a global fashion," Nets CEO Brett Yormark told The Associated Press. "We're very excited about what's in store for this team, and I think over the course of the next 18 months, 24 months, you'll see us more active globally."
The Nets were bought by Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov last year. They get another chance to raise their international profile they play the Toronto Raptors on Friday and Saturday in London in the first regular-season NBA games in Europe.
That follows a preseason trip to China last year and a basketball clinic in Russia before that, and precedes the move to the New York borough of Brooklyn in 2012.
"It truly becomes a business strategy and it's something that we've embraced and something that ownership and Mr. Prokhorov would like to see," Yormark said.
The NBA, like the NFL and NHL, has been trying to have a stronger international presence. It made successful preseason tours of China and Europe the past few seasons, and regular-season games outside the United States were the next step. NBA Commissioner David Stern saw London as the logical place, with the 2012 Olympics there.
"It's going to be different," Nets coach Avery Johnson said after his team lost Monday to the Phoenix Suns in overtime. "Somewhat of a playoff atmosphere for two nonplayoff teams just because of all of the excitement of going to London."
That works for both the Nets and the NBA, which would like to see more teams emulate New Jersey's international drive.
"Building the sport of basketball and the NBA internationally is a priority for the league as a whole, but we're thrilled that the Nets are so supportive of this," NBA Europe senior vice president Sophie Goldschmidt said Tuesday.
The Nets see themselves as the link between American sports and fans outside the United States in part because of their Russian owner, European players on the roster, several international sponsors and the upcoming move to Brooklyn.
"We're really trying to differentiate ourselves from any of the other NBA teams, or even the other teams in U.S. sports, in that we want to offer our product, which is NBA-quality basketball, to fans all over the world," said Christophe Charlier, the chairman of the board of directors for the Nets.
"Whereas the other teams are focusing on their local market or their state market, we're trying to attract fans over here in Russia and in London ... in China and elsewhere, to become Nets fans. And be the team that's most accessible to fans around the world."
The Nets already have a Russian-language website and a deal with a TV network in the country to broadcast games. And although the NBA has a say in what the Nets can and cannot do internationally, they are working to get their name out there.
"You need players of a global appeal. That was something we didn't necessarily have until (last Wednesday), where we fortunate enough to acquire Deron Williams ... probably one of the top 10 players in the NBA," Yormark said. "The move to Brooklyn will reinforce the global appeal of our team. As we continue to acquire players of a global appeal, (that) will help also."
Russia is likely to be the key to the success of the venture. The NBA has already opened an office in the basketball-loving country.
"We're making big efforts to make the Nets Russia's home team," Charlier said from his office in Moscow, where he is also deputy CEO of the Prokhorov-owned Onexim Group. "It wouldn't be a surprise that we're going to do some interesting things in the Russian market during the offseason."
Although Charlier would not say what's in store, Yormark summed it up for everyone already following the team.
"It's a good time," he said, "to be a Nets fan."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling throughout of Yormark)