By Barry Janoff
September 25, 2012: "Okay! Wow! Hello, Brooklyn!"
With those four words, businessman/real estate purveyor Bruce Ratner welcomed the world to Barclays Center, located in the New York borough of Brooklyn, which already has given the world the likes of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Spike Lee, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, George Gershwin, Al Capone, John "Fabolous" Jackson, Chris Rock and Mike Tyson.
After a journey that began in 2004 — but actually has a timeline going back to 1957 — Ratner, wearing the hats of CEO of Forest City Ratner and part owner of the NBA's Nets, stood before a crowd of celebrities, politicians, media, friends and family inside Barclays Center and soaked in the full glory of his achievement.
"We are finally here to celebrate the grand opening of the Barclays Center arena," boomed Ratner. "Let me say that again: We are finally here to celebrate the grand opening of the Barclays Center arena."
The event on September 21 was actually a "soft opening," with the real noise to come September 28 when Jay-Z, who is a minority owner of the Nets and whose vast empire includes Barclays Center tenants Rocawear clothing and the 40/40 Club, takes the stage for the first of eight sold-out concerts.
But with a road that has included more than 100 lawsuits, a change in architectural firms, economic and real estate crisis and various other potholes, it is small wonder that Ratner, Russian multi-billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov (who in 2009 acquired majority interest in the Nets franchise and nearly 50% interest in the arena from Ratner), Nets and Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark and others were celebrating the crown jewel of a planned $3.5 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project under the auspices of Forest City Ratner that is scheduled to also include housing, shops and recreational areas.
"It's been a long time coming," said Barry Baum, svp-communications for the Nets. "A lot of people had their doubts that this would happen. But never had a doubt. He knew it would happen."
Prokhorov confirmed as much. "Two years ago, Bruce Ratner showed me a hole in the ground in Brooklyn. He had the enthusiasm to know what would come out of it."
The venue arrives with the fanfare of being home to the first major league pro sports team in Brooklyn since MLB's Dodgers moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. (The closest has been the New York Mets-affiliated minor-league team Brooklyn Cyclones, which have played at MCU Park in Coney Island since 2001). Other sports events planned for Barclays Center include boxing, tennis, college hockey and basketball, gymnastics and an exhibition game featuring the NHL's New York Islanders, a franchise possibly being courted as a permanent tenant once its current lease with Nassau Coliseum on Long Island expires.
But executives play to also make it a mecca of New York entertainment, directly taking on such venues as Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. Already on the schedule: Brooklyn-born Barbra Streisand, the Who, Green Day, the Rolling Stones (still being finalized), Rush, Disney on Ice, Rihanna and the eight-concert steamroller of Jay-Z. The arena seats 18,500 for hoops and more than 19,500 for concerts.
There also will be an abundance of marketing and on-site activation from partners, Barclays Center and the Nets. Founding partners include American Express, Calvin Klein, Cushman & Wakefield, EmblemHealth, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Geico, Honda, MetroPCS, Stolichnaya and TicketMaster. (An 11th founding partner will be named this week.)
Other sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Haier America, HighPoint Solutions, New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, Red Bull, Sony, Tyco and Willis.
Global financial firm Barclays, which has a 20-year, $200 million naming rights deal, will have an abundance of signage and other marketing activations. The arena also includes such destinations as the TicketMaster Concourse, the MetroPCS Upper Pavillion and interactive displays from companies including Honda and the Brooklyn Hospital Center.
In addition, the venue will open with such retail destinations as the Nets Shop by adidas, Starbucks, MetroPCS, Elbow Room and the aforementioned Roccawear flagship store.
Basketball comes October 15 when the Nets host the Washington Wizards in an exhibition game, followed by the team's NBA season home opener when the Nets host the New York Knicks on November 1. The Nets have made their Core Four — Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace — the crux of a marketing campaign. Those with short memories plan to focus on the team's future and not the past three seasons, during which the Nets compiled a record of 58-172.
"Brooklyn will again be the home of championships," said Ratner, referring to the Brooklyn Dodgers only World Series title in 1955. The Nets reached the NBA Finals in 2001-02 and 2002-03 but lost both times.
"Eight years ago, I said that the opening of Barclays Center would be one of the best stories of the next 25 years," said Yormark. "It took longer to get it done than we expected. But we did it."
Q&A: Lights! Camera! Action! Finally Comes To Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
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