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Volume 20 No. 41

Events and Attractions

When downtown Brooklyn’s new $1 billion Barclays Center opened Sept. 28, it was for the first of eight sold-out concerts by native son Jay-Z, and brought together people from all walks of business.

Borough President Marty Markowitz was spotted holding court at a pregame soiree, along with a host of New York sports industry executives, brand-side sports marketers, CEOs and the occasional billionaire, including Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Still, you couldn’t help but feel the evening was a consecration of sorts for Brett Yormark, CEO of the Nets and Barclays Center, who has done more commercially with a below-average team than would seem possible, considering the Nets have averaged just 32 wins a season since his arrival seven years ago.

With the persistence and funding of developer Bruce Ratner, the Barclays Center opened only after wading through nine years of litigation, the worst economy since the Great Depression and an NBA lockout.

After nine years of litigation, economic woes and an NBA lockout, the Barclays Center — home of the Brooklyn Nets — opens with a birthday party and a concert.
On opening night, happily removed from “home” courts owned by others and between endless congratulatory hugs and handshakes, Yormark beamed, especially since the arena opened on his 46th birthday.

It was a smile also fueled by a first-year arena schedule now approaching 210 events, on display at the first party in the new arena’s Calvin Klein Club.

“It’s a Brett-fest,” NBA executive vice president Mark Tatum said with a laugh.

“This is the first big music event where the sports industry turned out,” said Scout Sports and Entertainment chief Michael Neuman,

Bruce Ratner and Brett Yormark
accompanied by his Geico client, ad director Bill Brower.

Other sport-types spotted: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, YES Network President Tracy Dolgin, Golden Boy Promotions Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Binkow, CAA Sports sales executive Paul Danforth, Leverage Agency head Ben Sturner and Marquis Jet co-founder Jesse Itzler, himself a former rapper. On the athlete side, there was a host of Nets players and New York Giants salsa dancer Victor Cruz.

Other guests at the “Yormarkathon” included

Yormark’s birthday cake
those with a personal connection, like the owner of Brant Lake Camp, a sleepaway camp Yormark went to at age 5, and the decorated: Magic Johnson and John Calipari were in Yormark’s suite, the coach of the defending NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats staying anonymous in the 50,000-watt incandescence of Johnson’s celebrity.

Not everyone at the “pregame” was aware that opening night was Yormark’s birthday. No one was especially surprised when they found out, their amusement enhanced by years of knowing Yormark, the sports industry’s answer to Tony Robbins, for his relentlessness and predilection for PR.

“You’ve got to admire his sales ability and tenacity in seeing that building through all those years,” commented a former co-worker, “but we

The NBA’s Mark Tatum and Coca-Cola’s Bea Perez at the Calvin Klein Club party
all know Brett likes to read about his own handiwork.”

Many in the business-to-business crowd were there to take in the opening-night sights and fete Yormark.

“I’ve worked with Brett since his NASCAR days [1998-2005], so this is like seeing a friend of yours get married,” said longtime Coke marketer Bea Perez, currently the company’s chief sustainability officer. “There was a vision for this place, and they saw it through so many years of frustration.”

How the night came to coincide with Yormark’s birthday remains a bit fuzzy. Yormark said, “It

Nets minority owner Jay-Z appears in the first in a series of concerts.
was always going to be the latter part of September and it just started to move later … and then it was ‘great — it’s on my birthday.’ It’s kind of surreal — I don’t know if I’m ever going to have a bigger night professionally, so I wanted everyone who had touched me along the way to be there.”

That included a surfeit of family: twin brother and Sunrise Sports and Florida Panthers President Michael Yormark, mistaken time and again for his sibling, along with their children, and Brett and Michael’s mother, Arlene Sloan, who recalled another event all those years ago.

“You know, I was a single working parent for their first bar mitzvah, so we had this little lunch for maybe 30 people,” she said, struggling to be heard above the rap thumping across the 18,000-seat arena. “This one was a little more elaborate.”

One year after stepping into the triathlon business, the Saugerties, N.Y.-based HITS equestrian company is launching a running series. The series will include six two-day running festivals in 2013, though the company has not determined the location of the events.

Like its triathlon events — which feature races of five different distances — HITS’ running events will feature a marathon, half-marathon, 10-kilometer, 5-kilometer and one-mile race, held on the same course.

“We think the business model with five distances is appealing to [runners],” said Tom Struzzieri, CEO and president of HITS. “That works with our ability to create economies of scale.”

Struzzieri has hired Boulder, Colo.-based event promoter Barry Siff to oversee the series.

Siff, who oversaw the Colorado-based 5430 series of triathlon events, said he is looking at Oceanside, Calif., Hartford, Conn., and similarly sized cities to host the events. He said the company hopes to attract 5,000 to 10,000 runners to each of its events.

“We’re not looking at Chicago or L.A.; we want cities just a little smaller than these,” Siff said.

HITS’ two national series of endurance events pits the company squarely against the Competitor Group, owner of the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series, and the World Triathlon Corp., owner of the Ironman brand of triathlon races.

HITS’ triathlon business was modest in its first year. Through nine of its 12 races, the company has attracted 5,300 total athletes. Its largest event, in Palm Springs, Calif., attracted 1,100 athletes. It signed national sponsorship deals with Chicago-based High Tower financial and Hammer Nutrition energy products.

The company’s registration numbers don’t compare with 62 Ironman events, which regularly attract between 1,500 to 2,000 athletes and have a wide range of bike, shoe and other gear sponsors. But Struzzieri said his goal is for the HITS races to have a smaller, more grassroots feel.

Struzzieri said the series lost money in its first year and that he is “still a few years” away from breaking even. The successful equestrian events, he said, subsidized the loss. In July, he became sole owner of the company, purchasing a share from the private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners.

He said the triathlon series would return in 2013, and that he has adjusted registration fees to give customers steep discounts for signing up early.

“Our first-year numbers weren’t huge, but they were about where we thought they’d be,” he said. “This was new territory for us. We learned a lot.”

Fred Dreier is a writer in New York.