By Jeff Roberts – Staff Writer
FRANKLIN LAKES – Alan Ashkinaze was sold.
Nets owner Bruce Ratner held court just a few feet from him under one of the two tents in the spacious back yard. Ashkinaze’s 8-year-old son, Josh, got to take a picture with forward Brian Scalabrine. Then he talked basketball with coach Lawrence Frank.
“It certainly brings the basketball team a lot closer that the players, the coaches and the owner are not just people you see on your TV screen. They’re real people,” said Ashkinaze, a Hackensack lawyer.
So he bought a full season ticket package. And maybe more importantly, he bought into the Nets.
The question is, for how long?
The Nets are reaching out to their fans and right into their back yards. They kicked off the latest initiative in a campaign to be a kinder, gentler, more intimate and accessible franchise Wednesday night by throwing a party at the home of season-ticket holders Cesar and Diana Shapiama.
It will be followed by dozens more in the Ticket Influencer Program, where other season-ticket holders will host their family, friends and business associates – prospective ticket buyers – to share some food and drink and talk Nets basketball with the owner, front office personnel and players, and maybe buy some seats.
Judging by the results – smiles, networking, oh and 20 full season ticket plans sold just Wednesday – the plan is working.
But despite assurances from Nets officials that the prospective move to Brooklyn in 2008 is not a topic among fans, the new ticket buyers say it will test their allegiance, no matter how intimate and friendly the team is.
“I probably wouldn’t go to Brooklyn,” said Ashkinaze, who lives in Oradell. “That would end it. I like the convenience of the Meadowlands. I think it’s a great arena. It’s close for us, accessible.”
Ted Gatto, a pharmacist from East Hanover, beamed after talking to Frank. But when Brooklyn came up, his face scrunched up.
“I think it would be a detriment to the organization,” he said. “I don’t want them to leave. I strongly oppose them leaving New Jersey. Just the commute alone and the parking situation – it would be questionable,” that he would follow.
The Nets say they are proud of their Jersey roots, at least until the Brooklyn issue resolves itself. They’ll cross that bridge when they come to it.
“Brooklyn’s been a non-issue so far,” said Wayne’s Brett Yormark, president and CEO of the parent company of the Nets, Nets Sports & Entertainment. “Ÿ… What we’re telling people is for the next few years we’re going to be here. We’re going to market like we’ve never marketed before as if we’re staying for another 20 and we’ll give them a reason to follow us to Brooklyn.”
Ratner is gambling that they will. It’s a $450 million gamble at the minimum, the price of the proposed Brooklyn arena.
He cannot offer a championship, or even an Eastern Conference title for the team’s fans to rally around this off-season. But he can come to your house. He can look you in the eye and shake your hand and talk basketball with your kids. And he can bring president Rod Thorn and Scalabrine and Frank with him.
“People first of all will follow us no matter what, whether we’re Brooklyn or whether we’re Jersey,” Ratner said. “Because they’re Nets fans. You bleed being a fan. As a kid, I grew up in Ohio and I’ll always have some place in my heart for the Cleveland Browns.
“I think you’re always a Nets fan.”
Ratner said some fans may reduce the number of games they attend, but they will still remain loyal. He compared the Nets’ prospective move to the Jets shifting from Shea Stadium to the Meadowlands – a matter of miles, not culture.
Kevin Codey, 20, son of acting Governor Codey, is not so sure.
“I’m not pleased,” he said. “It would be tougher to go to games. I hate going out that way to begin with.”
Ashkinaze, who will share his tickets with a partner, plans to take his son to the games as well as his clients. Michael Encarnacion, deputy mayor of Paterson and owner of a real estate firm, also bought a full season plan to share with his business partner.
They’re excited about the Nets. They’re excited to have met Ratner and Thorn and Frank in such an intimate setting. But for now, their enthusiasm stays on this side of the Hudson.
“It would be hard for me to go to Brooklyn,” said Encarnacion. “They wouldn’t be the Nets from New Jersey then. They’d be the Nets from Brooklyn.”
Article Re-printed with permission Alan S. Ashkinaze and Original Owner