SBJ/May 21-27, 2012/Franchises

For Nets’ sponsors, seeing arena is believing at partner summit

Around 100 business partners of the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center gathered earlier this month in Brooklyn for a partner summit less than five months before the scheduled Sept. 28 opening of the $1 billion arena. While these executives have been told for the past seven years that the planned building would become a reality, a visit by NBA Commissioner David Stern as well as a tour of the site — at which more than 80 percent of the roof was finished and seats were being installed — was evidence that the venue is more real than ever.

Renderings are giving way to reality in Brooklyn.
Rendering: SHOP ARCHITECTS
It hasn’t been an easy path for the Nets, as the process included struggles with lawsuits, financing and a change in design from the radical building envisioned by the original architect, Frank Gehry.

“I’m just happy to no longer have to answer the questions of ‘if’ and ‘when,’” said Nets Sports & Entertainment and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark.

Nets officials announced a schedule of 183 ticketed events for the arena’s first year, including college basketball, which tips off with defending national champion Kentucky playing Maryland on Nov. 9. Programming will include a variety of musical performances, including a Jay-Z concert to open the building, along with Barbra Streisand and Andrea Bocelli, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, Disney On Ice, and 48 or more other family shows from Feld Entertainment, as well as boxing through Golden Boy Promotions.

Rumors of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game being played at the new arena were rampant during the summit, but official confirmation from the team and league officials on hand was not forthcoming.

About 75 percent of the 100 suites in the arena have been sold, including four of the 11 Vault Suites, which include seats in the first 10 rows of the arena and are priced at $550,000 a year. While mum on other specific numbers, Nets officials said they have sold about 75 percent of their premium Nets seats, and the move to Brooklyn has already allowed them to double nonpremium season-ticket sales revenue.

MOVING ON BROOKLYN: Ticketmaster has augmented its pending NBA league sponsorship with a founding partnership at the Barclays Center, according to sources close to the deal.

Considering founding partner deals run from $2 million to $4 million annually, it will be interesting to see how Ticketmaster activates on-site. Rival ticketer StubHub was also pursuing a Barclays Center deal, which sources said resulted in Ticketmaster purchasing the high-end sponsorship rights.

Other founding partners include EmblemHealth, Metro PCS, Cushman & Wakefield, Stolichnaya and Foxwoods Resort Casino.

In another nontraditional sponsorship assignment, Calvin Klein is onboard at the founding partner level. Some of the rationale for the hookup has to be the Nets’ new black and white logo syncing with Calvin Klein’s trademark, which is also black and white. The apparel brand also will make a luxury marketing play by aligning itself with some of the arena’s high-end seating areas. Remaining, or at least unannounced, top-tier sponsorship categories in the building include insurance and automobile.

EARLY IMPACT: With Barclays Center nearing completion, Commissioner David Stern will have seen the Nets call four different arenas home during his years leading the NBA: Rutgers Athletic Center, the Izod Center, Prudential Center and now Barclays Center. Stern called the new arena “extraordinary” and noted that “several owners told me this was never going to happen, even as the steel was going into the ground.”

Inside the Barclays Center
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
“Now you’ve got this billion-dollar infrastructure doing some degree of battle on different fronts with the billion-dollar infrastructure sitting across the river in New York City [Madison Square Garden], and it will give everyone here enormous entertainment opportunities,” Stern said. “Just the dateline of the games here — Brooklyn — is very exciting and an incredible opportunity.”

With a new collective-bargaining agreement in place after last year’s lockout, Stern said technology integration is the biggest challenge facing the NBA and every big sports property. “You’ve got this fan base that loves to come to our games for three hours but doesn’t plan to be disconnected and will penalize you if and when they are,” he said. “You have to find a way to welcome and accommodate them.”

ON ICE: Fitting hockey into the Barclays Center is akin to placing the proverbial square peg in the round hole. The arena will use a horseshoe-shaped seating configuration for an exhibition game between the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 2. Barclays Center holds 14,500 for hockey, far below the NHL average capacity of 18,264, though it has only 500 fewer seats than the NHL’s smallest arena in Winnipeg.

Note that the Islanders’ 2011-12 average attendance of 13,191 (second-worst in the NHL) would fit comfortably into the Barclays Center.

The Islanders’ lease at Nassau Coliseum expires in 2015, and while the Isles have been unable to reach a deal for a new arena, owner Charles Wang and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman have said the team’s days at the coliseum will expire with the lease.

“It’s very important to keep that hockey team out there on Long Island in New York. That team is the [Long] Island team, whether it’s Brooklyn, whether it’s Queens, whether it’s Nassau — that’s the No. 1 goal,” said Barclays Center developer and Nets minority owner Bruce Ratner. “We’d love to have them. Whether or not there would be a decision by ownership of the Islanders as whether that’s what they want to do, I don’t know. … I happen to be very friendly with Charles Wang and I hope we’ll be able to work something out.”

There’s also chatter in hockey circles that even before the Islanders are free to move, an AHL team might seek tenancy in the building, at least on a short-term basis. Barclays Center officials also said they are in talks with the KHL to bring its brand of Eurasian hockey to Brooklyn.
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