In early December, Barclays Center was abuzz with typical pregame energy as the Brooklyn Nets prepared to face the red-hot Toronto Raptors. Around the arena, fans were adorned in black and white jerseys customary to the NBA team, but if you looked closer, not all the apparel looked the same.
Fans dressed in black and white striped jerseys with “Jeep” plastered across the chest were sprinkled through the stands celebrating not the Nets, nor the rival Raptors, but Juventus — a soccer team located nearly 4,000 miles away in Turin, Italy.
The fans were there for Juventus Night, a themed game at Barclays featuring the storied Italian club.
In recent years, the relationship between basketball and soccer has grown, led by players of each sport and propelled by social media platforms like Instagram, which has documented top international soccer players like Neymar Jr. at the NBA Finals or jersey exchanges between American and European players.
The Nets alone have several soccer fans on their roster, including Kenneth Faried, who met with the Juventus squad during its summer tour earlier this year, as well as D’Angelo Russell and Jared Dudley.
Mike Zavodsky, the chief revenue officer for the Nets, noticed the growing relationship between the sports and decided to explore that as an opportunity to grow the NBA team’s fan base. A cold call to Luca Adornato, Juventus’ head of marketing, started a conversation which culminated in a watch party for Derby d’Italia at Barclays, followed by Juventus Night during the Nets’ game Friday evening.
Zavodsky’s goal was to find a way to grow the Nets’ fan base both domestically, with New York locals who hadn’t yet been to Barclays, and internationally, with basketball fans looking for a team to support. Zavodsky’s idea aligned with Juventus, a team which, like many other European clubs, was looking to find a way into the American market.
“They’ve played games here and are looking to grow their fan base in America — in New York, in particular,” explained Zavodsky. “So, it was a natural win-win. And then when you add in the fact that we both were black and white, it made it that much more seamless.”
That was a huge selling point, and the synergy between the two teams — not only in organizational goals, but in culture — was undeniable.
Juventus reached out to its larger fan base and local supporters within the tri-state area to inform them about the partnership and offer opportunities for them to partake in the event.
The main event was a watch party at the 40/40 club by Tanduay Rum at Barclays for Juventus’ clash with Inter Milan. With appearances by club ambassador and former Juventus star David Trezeguet and Kerry Kittles from the Nets, a display of the Serie A championship trophy, and giveaways such as a trip to Italy for a Juventus match, the watch party was certainly appealing.
Later that evening, the Italian club’s branding could be seen throughout Barclays as the Nets took on the Raptors. At various moments during the game, Juventus highlights were featured on the screen, introducing basketball fans to the club’s culture and history. The Brooklynettes were outfitted in black and white striped Juventus jerseys for various performances as well.
Outside of this event, Zavodsky believes there is more opportunity in this space due to similarities between the two sports’ cultures.
“If you look at the fan bases, they are very passionate on both sides; I think that’s the biggest synergy,” he said. “They get behind their teams, they root for those teams and no one else. And that’s the connectivity that we like. So if we can make Juventus fans Nets fans and vice versa, that’s the big goal at the end of the day.”
The preferences of soccer and basketball fans may not be as different as you would initially think. Both basketball and soccer are fast-moving sports that consist of few breaks with athletes whose faces are visible rather than hindered by helmets or facemasks, allowing them to essentially become brands themselves. With dwindling attention spans and fandom that is moving away from specific teams and towards individual athletes, these similarities may bring the fan bases of these sports closer together.
Given this, Zavodsky and the Nets don’t believe Juventus Night will be their only activation in the soccer space. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
“We’d love to develop many partnerships in this space,” said Zavodsky. “I think it’s beneficial any time you can tap into a new audience and grow your fan base. I think there’s a mutual benefit across the board.”
The Nets already have many partners in various markets, most notably in London, where their naming rights partner, Barclays, is based, and National Grid, which has a large U.S. and UK presence.
“If we can replicate that same type of connectivity with the local market and work with some local Italian companies who may have an affinity for working with us given their relationship [with Juventus], that would be great, and however we can help Juventus the other way, we would certainly look to do so.”
As for activating in Italy, that’s not out of the question and something the Nets are interested in pursuing through the NBA.