Nets bag marketing opportunities

4/3/2010 - NBA Devin Harris New Jersey Nets + more

Want to show you're proactive about getting two of your fans' voices heard?

Invite them over for lunch and a chat.

Want to make sure countless other fans are part of that experience while getting some nice marketing exposure, as well?

Stream it live over the Internet.

That's what the New Jersey Nets did Tuesday.

Some background: At a March 22 home game against the Miami Heat, Nets CEO Brett Yormark shouted at a fan wearing a paper bag over his head -- later identified as Chris Lisi of Middletown, N.J. -- and the two had a bit of an exchange.

In a statement issued March 23, Yormark defended his actions, saying: "I did not agree with the way this person expressed his opinion of our team last night and I let him know. It's been a frustrating season for all of us, but I will continue to stand up for our players, our fans, and our organization."

But where there is conflict and subsequent publicity, there is also opportunity.

That same day Yormark issued his statement, he also dreamed up a marketing promotion: Show up with a bag on your head to the next game against the Sacramento Kings and you'd be offered a nylon Nets bag with a pack of player trading cards, a poster and a printed note from Yormark stating: "Thanks for letting us see your face. We hope to see it more often at Nets' games."

And on Tuesday, after accepting an invitation from Yormark, Lisi and his brother, Rob -- along with the Nets' radio team of Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw -- sat down at the Nets' headquarters in East Rutherford for the aforementioned lunch, which was provided by McDonald's.

Delivered in a brown bag, of course.

Carrino, Capstraw and Yormark wore suits; the Lisis were in casual wear.

The constructive talk -- highlights of which can be viewed on the Nets' Web site -- was dominated by Yormark and Carrino; they spoke of the team's bright future, the upcoming lottery pick, money for a max free agent, new ownership and moving to the Prudential Center in Newark and on to Brooklyn after that.

Carrino mentioned that NBA teams have gone from bust to boom in a matter of a season before.

When prompted for a question, Lisi inquired about Devin Harris' season, and he said he enjoyed the team's in-game entertainment. Other than that, he mostly sat in his chair and listened.

So what was the lunch and the decision to stream it on the Web about, really? Well, in one way, it was a way to sew up the rift between Yormark and Lisi in the public realm.

But it was also the perfect setting for a marketing opportunity coupled with original, high-access content to connect with fans -- perhaps the ultimate goal in the digital age.

For brands, it's not just about getting the message out; it's about getting the message out in a way in which the consumer feels a deeper connection, feels as if the brand is human and is talking to, and including, you.

It's not just about becoming a Facebook fan of the NBA, it's about Pau Gasol individually thanking fan No. 340,965 by name.

While Yormark spoke of the team's bright future, he also looked into the camera and encouraged fans watching the video stream to visit Netsallnew.com -- a Web site displaying a digital representation of all the bright-future points that were hammered home in the meeting.

He encouraged them to get season tickets for next season.

"Our Web site is a direct link to our current fans, and we felt it was the natural place to stream the brown-bag lunch," Yormark said in a phone interview Friday. "It was just another way to showcase to our fans that they're always going to have a voice with our franchise. We are a team that is very accessible, starting at the top."

Yormark also added that more than 5,000 people clicked in to watch the lunch broadcast, and that high volume contributed to a capacity problem that meant not everyone was able to get in and watch.

Because the brown-bag lunch stream was a success, Yormark said, the team has discussed doing live, unique video content midday during next season.

In a phone interview Wednesday night, Lisi confirmed the Web site issues.

"They said so many people logged on it was starting to crash the Web site," he said. "I told so many people to watch it; I didn't think besides the people I told a lot of people would be watching it. I was a little shocked."

Lisi also said he's not embarrassed about the Nets and said he put the bag over his head "as a joke, to have a little fun," while adding it was "a little pointless" to drive the hour from his home for just the lunch -- though he and his brother did talk to one other team official not present at the pow-wow beforehand.

But for the Nets and their marketing message of a hopeful future? Mission accomplished.

"From it, we were able to have some fun -- create some marketing around it," Yormark said. "For the last week, we've been front and center. I can't recall how many times a 10-65 team has had this much attention -- at least in the last couple years. … I look at this overall as a pretty positive experience."

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.