With James Harden trade, Brooklyn Nets get another brand booster

Key Points
  • The Brooklyn Nets' addition of James Harden could help the team continue to take over the New York City basketball scene and outdo the Knicks.

In this article

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on during the second half of an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on December 05, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.
Vaughn Ridley | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

If the Brooklyn Nets knew for sure they'd land James Harden, perhaps the club might've held off on a deal with Motorola and driven a harder bargain.

The jersey patch deal would be worth more with three prominent players over two. That's the brand power of a National Basketball Association superstar.

And Harden is sure to give the Nets more brand appeal once he arrives on the New York City basketball scene, while the James Dolan-owned Knicks can only watch.

The Nets are completing a transaction that will land Harden, the 2018 NBA MVP, in a trade with the Houston Rockets that involves two other teams, six different players, four draft picks, and four draft swap options (trading picks), according to various reports.

The Nets did not immediately return a phone call seeking verification of the deal.

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is also included in the trade that will send him to the Rockets. And the Cleveland Cavaliers even landed a few assets, including 2016 first-rounder Taurean Prince. With Harden making $41 million in salary this year, the clubs needed to match salaries in the deal; hence, the plethora of players involved.

One day after expressing his frustration, Harden finally gets his wish to be traded and reunite with former teammate Kevin Durant and another star, Kyrie Irving – whenever he can return.

The Nets also won in the deal as their brand increases with Harden's stardom and his massive audience he brings with to him. The Nets were already in a good position with Durant's return, paring with Irving, which helped land the Motorola patch deal. Harden gives the team another bump, and means that Alibaba co-founder and team owner Joe Tsai has three NBA superstars since purchasing the team for more than $2 billion in 2019.

"There is potential for really great impact," said Jene Elzie, the Chief Growth Officer for New York-based sports agency Athletes First Partners, in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday.

'Intensely James Harden fans'

Elzie, a former vice president of international marketing for the NBA, pointed to a trend among sports fans siding more with athletes than teams, especially in the NBA. She said Harden's transaction would help the Nets' brand grow both in New York and overseas.

"We see more today, especially with the proliferation of social media among young people consuming sports; that trend towards more player-focused fandom," said Elzie. "Now, people follow the players to establish their favorite team.

"There are a subset of fans who are intensely James Harden fans who will now be associated both in the Brooklyn market and across the country," she said, adding the Nets will grow in "basketball-crazed markets" overseas like China and the Philippines.

"I think the Nets have a very clear strategy of how they want to grow their appeal," Elzie said. "Certainly, Joe Tsai coming outside the U.S. and having that global perspective; it's clear what the mission is."

Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots the ball against the Washington Wizards during a preseason game on December 13, 2020 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Nathaniel S. Butler | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

The branding bump from landing Harden could help make up for a shortfall from lack of arena revenue during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nets CEO John Abbamondi joined CNBC's "Squawk Box" in December and forecast the team would need to navigate revenue troubles throughout the 2020-21 season due to Covid-19.

Abbamondi said the NBA would take a 40% hit to its income with fans still restricted in arenas, and it doesn't appear that will change soon with the league currently enduring outbreaks throughout its clubs.

"The revenues that require [the Barclays Center] to be full, and it's not going to be full for some time," said Abbamondi. "So, we're definitely going to be impacted, but we have an opportunity in front of us, and we think it's a great opportunity to entertain our fans through television and other media."

So far this season, the Nets team are seeing a boost in its local TV ratings on YES Network, and the club's interest among national networks will only grow when the NBA releases the second half of its schedule with Harden now in the mix.

Abbamondi also hinted NBA teams could welcome fans back in time for the postseason, where gate revenues are usually at their highest point. Harden's addition helps here, too, as tickets could be in demand if the virus subsides by the playoffs and fans are welcomed back.

"A championship on its own is great," said Elzie. "But the brand lift of having another star player will help drive tickets and drive fan engagement."

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