Nets' Yormark, Devils' Krezwick talk about building teams to last

Nets' Brett Yormark (left) with Rich Krezwick of the Devils (right) and moderator Chris Botta of SBJ/SBD.
Day two of the '13 Sports Facilities & Franchises Symposium began with a Metro New York-themed discussion featuring Nets & Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark and Devils Arena Entertainment President Rich Krezwick. The Islanders are set to move from Nassau County Coliseum to Barclays Center for the '15-16 NHL season, and Yormark hinted at possibly integrating the team's branding with the successful imaging of the Nets. He noted the Islanders have about 5,000 season-ticket holders, and that in a recent survey, 70% of them said they intend to retain their season tickets in some capacity when the team relocates to Brooklyn. Yormark: "At the same time, we need to introduce the sport and the game to a new fan base here in Brooklyn. How do you connect those dots? I think we're going to have to meet each other somewhere in the middle. The colors black and white are the new badge of honor in Brooklyn. The question is, can we weave that into their color scheme, and create a connection to the fans here in Brooklyn?"

ALL ABOUT THE BRAND: Building a distinct brand was a central theme in the discussion, with Krezwick likening the Devils' brand-building analysis to someone asking a friend how a first date went. If the response was, “Well, he was strong, he's a winner, and he has tradition,” Krezwick said, then the answer to the next question, Will you go out with him again, might be, “I don't know, maybe." But, Krezwick said, if the response was, "He was exciting, he was upbeat, he was so entertaining," the reply to the question of a second date would be, "Absolutely!” Krezwick continued, "So that's what we wanted to be. We wanted to be that second date, instead of just the first date." He noted the Devils this summer added a themed Carnival cruise experience, and said, "No one would expect to see that out of the Devils three years ago. It just wouldn't happen. But we knew we needed that element, and it's really worked. We have over 5,000 new season-tickets in the last two years, and all the indicators are up double-digits."CLEAN SLATE: While the Devils have worked to put a fresh shine on a 30-year-old brand, Yormark faced a completely different challenge in launching a brand from the ground up while moving the Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn. "We started seeking our brand very early on in the process," he said. "We just didn't want this to become an overnight move, and I think building the anticipation here in the borough, although we weren't really sure when we would arrive, was the first key ingredient for us." Yormark added, "We are very conscious of our brand. Our brand in Jersey really wasn't relevant. We had an eroding fan base for years. The support really didn't exist in the last couple of years we were there. We realized early on that the brand we wanted to align with, mostly, was brand Brooklyn. It's iconic. It's global. It speaks to a boldness, a strength, a grittiness." Yormark also spoke of a "less is more philosophy" when it came to building in-venue sponsorships into the branding of the Barclays Center. "The coloration of sponsor messaging in the building is in line with the color of the building," he said. "We're very brand conscious, and we are going to go against the grain. We think we've developed the right platform to create a sponsor value and charge premium dollars for it. But the days of putting logos everywhere are over." Yormark added, "We're trying to position ourselves as a premium brand, as a premium platform. In order to do that we've got to be a little more disciplined."

BUILT TO LAST: Krezwick said, "I've preached for a long time that you need to plan and budget to be a .500 club. You have to. That's what the statistics tell us.” But he noted, "As important to me is being able to capitalize when you're winning. We saw that in the Spring, in going to the Stanley Cup Final, and going through the playoffs, and just pushing as hard as we possibly could when the fish were biting. So you have to be poised, to capitalize and be spontaneous, and take advantage of that opportunity, but you certainly can't count on it." Yormark weighed in, "What we try to do is create a lot of equity behind brand Nets. Players come and go. One year you're up, one year you're down. So the question is, Do you create a brand and platform that sustains the winning and losing, the volatility of team sports, and really create a lifestyle brand? You give people lots of different reasons to want you, not just wins and losses."

EMPIRE STATE COMPETITION: With the opening of Barclays Center, the tri-state area now has three major indoor sports arenas that compete for major events. "I look at Jersey as a separate market from Brooklyn," Yormark said. "I think there's enough for everyone." Krezwick added, "On the sports side, we are completely separate, and frankly can support each other." But regarding the competition for music acts, he noted that the Rolling Stones and other shows have played multiple buildings in the market and sold out those buildings. "So I think it's complementary,” he said.

PREMIUM PRODUCTS: Selling suites is becoming more challenging, and Krezwick said, “We're all struggling with the same issue. It's a lot harder today than it was ten years ago to sell a suite. Nobody's plunking down $300,000 and begging to get in the building." Krezwick said he is pushing a different sales tactic with the Devils when it comes to premium seating. "It's the consultive sell," he said. "For too long, we tried to sell things. We're transactional in that sense in selling things, rather than going into a meeting with a company and finding out what their needs are. Because they really might be better served to have ten season tickets, a dozen suite nights for their board meetings every month, and a couple premium seats because the president of the company loves hockey. We should be selling them that package. Sell them something they want to buy, instead of something we want to sell."

ALL-IMPORTANT CONNECTIVITY: Improving the in-stadium fan experience continued to be a hot topic at the conference, with Krezwick detailing the process of upgrading wi-fi capabilities at Prudential Center. He said, "We went from 60 antennas to 200 antennas in the building, and we can accommodate over 6,000 people now at the same time. We'll take that to 10,000, and eventually it's going to have to be 18,000, because everyone is going to want to access their portable device at the same time very soon."

QUICK HITS:

--Krezwick on the design process for the Devils' Mission Control social media space at Prudential Center: "I want the 55-year-old receptionist to be afraid to walk past it. That was the only direction. It needed to look cool."

--Yormark's advice for execs leading a new venue project: "Don't put anything in cement. Put it in pencil, not pen, because you're bound to have to make a change along the way."

--Krezwick on the reported outdoor Devils-Rangers game at Yankee Stadium: "We went from first in the East on March 1, to out of the playoffs spot as we sit here today. That's not great momentum leading in to a selling season, but something like this would provide terrific momentum. It's something for people to talk about in our office, and it's certainly something that Devils fans are going to be supremely interested in."

--Yormark on what he looks for in a job candidate: "I want to see that they've struggled somewhere. I want to know that they've had to overcome obstacles."

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