THE BLOG

The Rise of the Barclays

11/13/2013 12:57 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Thomas Alter Works at The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. SNAP @Talter

It takes a lot to get noticed in New York City.

With a million dreamers and achievers Yelping and Instagramming around the city day and night, greatness isn't just demanded, it's expected.

This attitude applies to venues as much as anything else. Madison Square Garden is the world's most famous arena, yet it just undertook a $1 billion dollar renovation, because according to New Yorkers, it was cramped and dingy.

Roseland Ballroom, the home of Hillary Clinton birthday parties and hundreds of iconic musical moments is closing in April, in part because the hyperactive pickiness of the modern fan has stopped performers from going there.

Brett Yormark, CEO of the Prospect Heights based Barclays Center, understands these concerns.

"To fill this place up, we know we need events with national significance," Yormark told me Friday night.

Yormark highlighted a "Five Franchise Strategy," that emphasizes the Brooklyn Nets, high level music performers like Justin Timberlake and The Rolling Stones (Jay-Z opened up the arena with eight straight sellouts), high level college basketball, boxing, and "family entertainment," which is Cirque du Soleil and Disney on Ice among other events. Yormark, who's also CEO of the Nets, has done an effective job rebuilding their roster on the fly, but perhaps his shrewdest coup was at the collegiate level.

New York hasn't had a powerhouse college basketball team since The Artist Formerly Known as Ron Artest roamed the court for St. John's in the '90s, but the city has stayed around the game because of the Big East Tournament. MSG has hosted the high-wattage tournament for 30 years, and Barclays tried and failed to lure the conference away.

Instead, the arena inked a long-term deal with Kentucky and Maryland, two fan bases that make up for their distance from Brooklyn with rabid loyalty. On Friday, Maryland played the University of Connecticut and likely doubled their fan base, even though UConn is at least an hour closer. With the constant shifting of Conferences around the country in search of "competitive balance"(cash), the safer bet is to arrange deals with big market school's themselves. This provides insurance if the conference were to disband.

Barclays also signed a long-term contract to host the underrated Atlantic 10 tournament. While the conference isn't as strong as the Big East, many fans of the mid-Atlantic school's will travel to Brooklyn to watch the tournament because it's their only chance to see their team play in the postseason. Ironically, because so many Big East school's fans are thinking ahead towards the NCAA tournament, the conference tournament is at times, a victim of its own success.

"We've known from the beginning we need to grow the platform outside of the Nets, and that means school's that travel and top 25 teams," Yormark said.

"Look around the arena right now. Whole lotta red in here. Lotta alumni. This kind of thing is how we make Barclays a hotbed for all sports."

Yormark is an effective salesman. The intense, energetic, 46-year old CEO resembles a younger mix of Ari Emanuel and Ray Kelly; with a hard sell that begins from the moment you meet him.

Answering only to Mikhail Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner, Yormark exudes the awareness of a man who knows the fate of this arena likely rises and falls with him. Though tight with his words, Yormark is Louis C.K. compared to infamously tight-lipped MSG CEO James Dolan.

Likely out of convenience, Yormark conducts many interviews courtside. It's smart PR though, because there's no better way to feel the energy of an arena, then the risk of a ball smacking you in the face.

He flatly rejects the notion that the 14-month-old Barclays Center still operates in the shadow of its legendary Manhattan neighbor.

"Brooklyn is a separate entity than Manhattan. It's a huge hotbed for sports and there are 2.6 million people here," Yormark notes. "We can sample different sports and entertainment options for them before even getting to Manhattan."

While downplaying the need to draw the Manhattan crowd, Yormark frequently referenced how accessible Barclays is to the rest of the city.

This is certainly part of the standard Nets pitch, this is also accurate. Nine subway lines stop within three blocks of the arena, and the commute from Soho and the Lower East Side is much easier than heading to the frenzied commercial wasteland that is Midtown West Manhattan.

As the rise of DeBlasio or any BuzzFeed list will tell you, Brooklyn is hot. The arena's employees don't admit it publicly, but the Barclays Center has Madison Square Garden in its sites.

New York is the land of competition. Reputation doesn't help when the new kid on the block starts throwing haymakers.

If Brett Yormark has his way, Brooklyn's Barclays Center will be the city's Goliath soon.

Correction: This post incorrectly identified the neighborhood of the Barclays Center as Brooklyn Heights. The Barclays Center is located in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.