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Nets Exec Proud Resident of Garden State

By: Rob Jennings/The New Jersey Herald
03/12/2014, 11:23 AM

Hackettstown — The marketing executive who played a key role in transforming the perpetually overlooked New Jersey Nets into the thriving Brooklyn Nets remains a proud lifelong resident of the Garden State.

Fred Mangione, a Jefferson native and a 1993 graduate of Centenary College, was the keynote speaker Friday at the college’s third annual sports management conference.

A 16-year Nets employee, Mangione is chief revenue officer and chief marketing officer for both the Nets and the Barclays Center, where the NBA team plays. His dual, high-powered role gives him standing among the upper echelon of executives in the most populated of New York City’s five boroughs.

Yet Mangione acknowledged that, prior to his longtime employer taking an interest in Brooklyn, he had visited Brooklyn only three times.

“Now I go to Brooklyn every day of my life,” Mangione told the 110 students in attendance.

Mangione recalled the astonished reactions he gets from Brooklyn residents upon hearing that he lives in New Jersey, the state the Nets abandoned after 35 years in 2012.

“They’re like, whoa,” said Mangione, a married father of two living in Glen Rock.

“New Jersey to Brooklyn is like going to London sometimes for people,” Mangione mused.

Centenary College offers sports management courses as an option for business administration majors.

Most students attending the six-hour conference were from Centenary, but participants also included students from William Paterson University, DeSales University and Hackettstown Regional High School.

The half-dozen panelists included 2013 Centenary graduate Arden Wright, a sales representative for Madison Square Garden.

Mangione, of Friday’s speakers, has the highest profile in the highly competitive, networking-driven field of sports management.

“I know there’s a lot of people that want my job. I know there’s a lot of people that would take my job tomorrow,” Mangione said.

David Perricone, an assistant professor in sports management at Centenary, discussed afterward the difficulty of breaking into the business.

“It’s tough to get into, but once you get into it, it’s a fraternity,” Perricone said Monday.

“Everyone’s trying to help everyone,” added Perricone, who got his start with the Pittsburgh Pirates while attending Robert Morris University and was senior director of merchandise for the New Jersey Devils.

Perricone’s students organized Friday’s forum, including Nicole Collins, of Hazlet.

Collins, on track to graduate in January, said she was impressed that Mangione, despite graduating from a small school, is thriving in the big time.

“He was actually an inspiration for a Centenary student like myself,” said Collins, who is pursuing a career in sales and will be interning this summer with a minor league baseball team in West Virginia.

Helping with the Nets’ move to Brooklyn did not make Mangione a New Jersey villain on a par with, say, Walter O’Malley, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers when the team moved out west and still reviled in Brooklyn decades after his death.

The Nets never really established strong roots in New Jersey despite more than three decades in the state.

The team never won an NBA championship, often had a losing record, and even in its few successful seasons — except for back-to-back Eastern Conference titles in 2002 and 2003 — were overshadowed by the New York Knicks.

Gov. Chris Christie, when asked about the Nets leaving, jibed that it did not bother him.

Mangione said that, in the team’s 2011/12 season, the last in New Jersey, the Nets ranked 31st in team merchandise sales, even though there are only 30 NBA teams.

He explained that shirts and other memorabilia associated with the defunct Seattle SuperSonics outsold the Nets.

“Why would anyone want to invest in a franchise that, I don’t want to call it a lame duck, but a franchise that was moving,” Mangione said.

“When we were in New Jersey, we weren’t a brand. We were a basketball team,” Mangione said, drawing a contrast with the present.

Heading into the transition to Brooklyn, developing a brand and memorable logo were among his top priorities.

“We needed a marketing plan that’s subtle, that everybody can respond to. We came up with the tagline, ‘Hello Brooklyn,’ Something nice, something quick,” he said.

Though some diehards from New Jersey stuck with the team, the Nets — now in their second season in Brooklyn — have a much-different and clearly stronger fan base. A franchise that once lagged behind most others is now among the most successful in ticket sales and merchandising.

That is due, in part, to the freshness of starting anew, and the benefit of being Brooklyn’s first major-sport team since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958.

But it is also due to savvy marketing, which is Mangione’s role — everything from hiring Disney employees to train its arena workers to selling food from Brooklyn restaurants.

“You got to make sure you know the business side. Because it’s a business at the end of the day,” he said.

Mangione played basketball at Centenary, and was a member of the first class in which male students were admitted. His professors included Barbara-Jayne Lewthwaite, now Centenary’s president.

He presented a Brooklyn Nets jersey, with the number 1, to her at the start of her speech.

Lewthwaite told the students, “You always knew there was something special about Fred and he would be very successful. “

While sales of Nets gear and tickets are now in the NBA’s top five, the team’s on-the-court performance remains outside the league’s elite.

As of Monday afternoon the Nets had a 31-30 record, for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

In their inaugural season, the Nets were 49-33 and made the playoffs, but lost in the first round.

Success on the court, Mangione acknowledged, is outside of marketing’s sphere of influence.

“We can’t control wins and losses,” he said.