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Nets expected to thrive with 'Brooklyn' brand

The Nets' impending exodus from East Rutherford hardly will create the kind of sorrow reminiscent of that historic day in 1957, when Walter O'Malley moved his team 3,000 miles to Chavez Ravine.

But will the Nets' anticipated arrival in Brooklyn - right there at the Atlantic Yards spot where the Dodgers could have gone after Ebbets Field was closed - be enough to bring back that singular identity that had been lost for more than a half-century?

"Nothing can replace the Dodgers, but this is the closest thing," said Joseph Dorinson, a professor at LIU and a noted Brooklyn historian. "I think this is the closest thing to repairing that broken heart."

Just imagine how an NBA jersey bearing the name Brooklyn would sell.

The "Brooklyn" brand is expected to be an instant merchandising success. The change in address alone will increase the value of the franchise - Forbes ranks the Nets 26th in value ($295 million) in the 30-team NBA; the Knicks ($613 million) are No. 1 - but Forbes senior editor Kurt Badenhausen says the move into a more viable arena will be the biggest asset.

"They will control all of the revenues at the arena," Badenhausen said. "Right now, they share a significant amount of the revenues at the Izod Center with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority."

There remains some skepticism in the grandiose plans by Nets owner Bruce Ratner, the mega-developer who in 2003 introduced the idea of building an arena within a major infrastructure at Atlantic Yards and relocating the Nets to Brooklyn. The $4.2-billion development plan recently changed after architect Frank Gehry removed himself from the arena project. The architecture firm of Ellerbe Becket was brought in to produce a new design, one that would be far more cost-effective (read: scaled down) than Gehry's original - and visually stunning - creation, which had a whopping $950-million price tag.

Though some of the initial reactions by Brooklynites about the economy-sized arena were negative, the Nets still have reason to be extremely optimistic about their future in Brooklyn. Of course, anything would be better than the cavernous, obsolete Izod Center at the commuter's nightmare that is the Meadowlands. Brooklyn's new Barclays Center, which is expected to break ground in the fall and be completed for the 2011-12 season, will have the benefit of being located at the third-largest commuter hub in the tri-state area.

But going head-to-head with the Knicks on the business side will be a challenge. New York has shown it can support two baseball teams - the Yankees and Mets rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, on Forbes' list - and it should be the same for basketball. The Nets will aggressively market the area, including Long Island, where the franchise had a brief heyday as an ABA franchise in the 1970s.

"There's enough to go around for everyone," Nets CEO Brett Yormark said. "I think . . . it will create an incredible sports rivalry between the Nets and the Knicks, and that's good for fans, it's good for the sport of basketball, and that excites me in a big-time way."

It also excites the NBA, which is always open to gaining a bigger footprint in the largest market. More notably, it doesn't seem to bother the Garden, which will face competition for events with Barclays Center, or the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday. Nets insiders say the Knicks have been "absolutely terrific" throughout the Brooklyn process. Though the Nets are moving into the heart of what has traditionally been Knicks territory, the roots are so established that the Nets are more likely to be viewed as the Mets are in relation to the Yankees.

"I think they will continue to play second fiddle to the Knicks because of the histories of the two franchises," Badenhausen said. "If the Nets become an elite franchise on and off the court, that would certainly put a dent in the value of the Knicks."

That remains to be seen. Though the Nets already have a 20-year, $400-million naming-rights deal with Barclays, and 28 to 30 percent of suites have been sold before the shovel hits the ground in the fall - they will need to generate a great deal of revenue just to be able to pay off the ambitious project and still remain viable at the same time.

"The bar is really set high for the Nets," Badenhausen said, "if they're going to make this deal a success."

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