Q&A: Lights, Camera, Action At Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

By Barry Janoff

September 24, 2012: The plan to build a sports and entertainment arena in Brooklyn was brought to public attention in 2004 by Bruce Ratner, real estate developer and then majority owner of the NBA's Nets. Since then, Forest City Ratner Enterprises has been at the forefront of a 22-acre Atlantic Yards project that is scheduled to include Barclays Center, housing, shops and recreational areas.

The $3.5 billion plan has had it shares of highs and lows.

In 2007, Barclays agreed to a $400 million, 20-year naming rights deal, which was later renegotiated to $200 million with other incentives added in.

In 2009, in the midst of faltering economic and real estate challenges, Russian multi-billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov acquired majority interest in the team and nearly 50% interest in the arena from Ratner.

This week, after more than 100 lawsuits and changes in financial, design and  environmental strategies, the arena arrives with a bevy of founding partners and sponsors whose presence will be felt throughout the venue.

Barclays Center officially opens September 28 with a series of concerts from Jay-Z (who is a minority investor in the Brooklyn Nets franchise). Basketball comes October 15 when the Nets host the Washington Wizards in an exhibition game, followed by the first official NBA season home opener with the Nets hosting the New York Knicks on November 1.

Other scheduled events include Barbra Streisand, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Green Day, Lady Gaga, college basketball and hockey, tennis, boxing, gymnastics and an exhibition game with the NHL's New York Islanders.

Among the branded sections and activations are the TicketMaster concourse, the MetroPCS upper pavilion and fan photo booth, a Honda auto display and interactive destination, an area of virtual sports games including hoops and jump rope from Brooklyn Hospital Center and the Cushman & Wakefield Theater; and retail stores including the Nets Shop by adidas, Starbucks and Rocawear (which, like the arena's 40/40 Club, is part of the domain overseen by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter).

Founding partners in addition to MetroPCS, TicketMaster, Cushman & Wakefield and Honda include American Express, Calvin Klein, EmblemHealth, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Geico and Stolichnaya. (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.

NYSportsJournalism spoke with Brett Yormark, CEO of Nets Basketball and president and CEO of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, courtside at Barclays Center about the long and winding road to 620 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, USA. It has been eight years from vision to reality. How important is this for your marketing partners?

Brett Yormark: Very important, especially working with them to elevate our brand and their [respective] brands to the highest level. Our goal in the building is to tastefully reinforce the presence of each of our partners. To get all of our messages and their messages out, but to maintain a clean look. We have accomplished that. And we haven't compromised revenues.

NYSJ: In addition to the founding partners and naming rights partner Barclays, there are a number of other companies that will be represented throughout the arena. Is there room for more?

BY: There will be one more founding partner announced [before Barclays Center opens Sept. 28], but then we will take a breather. Let me put it this way: We are still aggressively marketing and selling. But we want to open the building with our strong roster of partners, pause for a moment and then move ahead.

NYSJ: Are there companies coming to you that want to be part of Barclays Center?

BY: Yes. We have companies approaching us all the time. That want to be involved. With Barclays Center now opening, and not just a vision that is years or months away, the interest has become even stronger. There is a lot of interest in sponsorship, tickets, suites. For the partners and companies already aligned with us, this is the moment they have been waiting for.

"We are still aggressively marketing and selling. But we want to open the building with our strong roster of partners, pause for a moment and then move ahead."

NYSJ: Each of the founding partners has their own distinct look and message. What was the challenge in getting them all to work together?

BY: It wasn't a challenge in the negative sense. The challenge was to raise all of their goals, as well as the goals of the Nets and Barclays, to the highest level. We are thrilled that we have such great brands as Calvin Klein, Foxwoods, Geico and Honda — [the latter two of which] recently came on board. They were all willing to work with us to see that our vision and their vision not only came together, but made for a strong partnership. It was never a matter of one partner trying to upstage another. It was always a situation where they each knew how important being involved with this project would be to their strategy and how effective it will be in getting their brand messages to fans and consumers.

NYSJ: How do you feel standing here next to the court and looking at the arena, especially knowing all of the blood, sweat and tears that it took to get to this point?

BY: Honestly, it feels very comfortable. It feels as if you are going into your living room. Which was our goal in working with SHoP Architects and AECOM. We didn't want people to feel as if they were going into an arena. We want everyone who comes in here to be treated special, which speaks to our alignment with Disney (the Disney Institute, which was brought in to train employees with regard to customer service). We want everyone who comes in here to feel like a celebrity.

NYSJ: Courtside branding is very noticeable, with seat back signage from Calvin Klein, Haier, Red Bull and Barclays, and the basketball stanchions with branding from Spalding and Barclays. Are you concerned that this will be a distraction?

BY: Not at all. Our goal was always to have our partners represented in the most efficient way possible, but not to the extent that it would take away from the look and feel of the arena. What you see now is for our basketball setup. It changes depending on the event. Obviously, you will see Barclays Center branding that is permanent, and there is permanent Metro PCS branding on seats in the upper bowl. But I don't believe that anyone can say that the presence of our partners distracts from the look of the building. And, in fact, our goal all along was to incorporate [branding, signage and marketing activation] messages seamlessly into the building and to have it enhance and support our vision.

NYSJ: Brooklyn itself is well represented in Barclays Center, from concessions to locally based marketing partners. How integral was that?

BY: We knew right from the start the importance of the Brooklyn brand. The best of the best of Brooklyn will be here. From a marketer's point of view, the key to Brooklyn is the diversification. We always felt that it was our goal, and in turn the goal of our partners, to be able to target the various ethnic groups that help to make the borough what it is.

NYSJ: With Honda now a founding partner, do you envision a moment such as the 2011 NBA All-Star Game in which NBA partner Kia drove a car onto the Staples Center court and Blake Griffin jumped over the hood to win the slam dunk event?

BY: Honda will have a strong presence in the building [including] an auto display and interactive features for fans. Honda and other partners will be involved in a lot of activation throughout the building and during games and events. But I don't think we will have them drive a car on our brand new herringbone floor. [Laughs.] Not on our herringbone parquet!

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