Stack’s Stats: Q+A with Brett Yormark
The New Jersey Nets’ CEO discusses Barclays Center.
Seven Questions Or Less
Brett Yormark, CEO, New Jersey Nets
Brett Yormark: My role with the organizations is varied just because I’m the CEO of the Nets and I’m the CEO of the arena. So, on any given day I’m playing out that role both on team and arena.
From a team perspective, it’s obviously a very busy time for us as we celebrate our 35th year in New Jersey but at the same time get ready to open up as the Brooklyn Nets in the fall of ’12 in Brooklyn. There’s a lot to do in order to accomplish that. We have to locate the franchise in Brooklyn, which we’re probably going to do in a month’s time. We just recently announced that we took 35,000 square feet in Brooklyn. It’s the whole relocation of our executive team and front office over to Brooklyn which is something we’ve been thinking about for quite some time.
For many people, it’s a lifestyle move. It’s only about 15 miles from where we play [currently], but it might as well be in California. It’s that dramatic of a move for a lot of people. So, there’s that to deal with.
And then there’s just the business. Many of our supporters in New Jersey, whether they be ticket holders or sponsors or key stakeholders, aren’t necessarily going to be able to follow us to Brooklyn. In some respects, we’re like an expansion team that’s going into a totally different market. So, we’ve spent the better part of the last seven years seeding our brand in Brooklyn for this moment by creating incredible engagement with the local community, businesses that can ultimately support us when we get there.
There’s a lot going on on the team-front. I spend a lot of time in Jersey, but I also spend a lot of time in New York in our sales showroom truly driving the revenue side of the business. That’s something that I love to do, that I gravitate to and I’m involved with on a daily basis. So, whether there are human resource issues or relocation issues or revenue programs that I’m initiating and ultimately selling with my team, there’s a lot to do before we get to Brooklyn.
Our whole brand identity is going to change when you think of our name, our logo, our colors. Those are all things we’re working on now. So, we try to fill out the day and it’s not too hard to do that. At the same time, we’re thinking team and how we’re going to launch the Brooklyn Nets in a very profound way and bring sports entertainment back to Brooklyn.
I also have oversight of the arena – operationally. Working with [former Nets owner] Bruce Ratner and not playing a significant role but certainly playing a role from design, the interiors, how the building is going to behave, look and feel. I’m also spearheading the sales effort on the team when you think of suites and sponsorship, and I play a very active role in the programming of the building. Today, we’ve already booked 175 events. We’re looking to do in excess of 220 [per year]. I’m a busy guy, but I’ve embraced the challenge and am looking forward to bringing us to Brooklyn, opening Barclays Center and doing it in a way that truly differentiates us from others in the marketplace.
SLAM: Are you going to have a new team nickname and new colors heading into the ’12-13 season?
BY: Well, everything is under consideration. We announced officially on September 28th, contingent on Board of Governors approval, which will take place in the Spring, that we will be the Brooklyn Nets. That is the working name of the team. We obviously are considering how do we refresh who we are and what we look like en route to Brooklyn. So, everything is under consideration.
SLAM: How do you want Barclays Center to be perceived by Nets fans and NBA fans, in general?
BY: Well, you know, Barclays Center is bigger than basketball. I want to answer that question more holistically. Our goal is to truly redefine the customer experience in this marketplace. Bruce Ratner often references going into Barclays Center as like going into your living room. It’s going to have a premium feel and flavor, it’s going to be open to all, there’s lots of clubs and restaurants. There’ll be lots of different places for fans to come early and leave late.
The customer experience is something that’s really going to be enhanced and defined by Disney. We’ve made an announcement recently that we’ve aligned with the Disney Institute. They’re doing training for us, they’re going to be helping us with wayfinding, consulting on food and beverage, traffic management. The experience that all of us have had in Disney, which I think in many respects is unprecedented, is something we’re bringing to Brooklyn. We truly feel that’s going to be a key differentiator for us.
The other things that I think is going to define us in Brooklyn at Barclays Center is the content. The volume and variety of events. We’re going to have boxing, college sports, the Brooklyn Nets, family shows and obviously great concerts. And I think between the content and the customer experience, those are the things that are truly going to get people to keep coming back.
Now, architecturally, I think the building is going to have an incredible look with the help of [architectural firms] Ellerbe Becket and SHoP. We truly have a dramatic building that we’re going to unveil in the Fall. The weathered steel exterior speaks to Brooklyn – the grittiness and strength of the borough. We’ve got nine subways lines and Long Island Railroad that have access to the foot of the building, which is truly going to make us accessible to anyone in the Tri-State area. So, I’m thrilled by what people are going to see and feel and ultimately experience at Barclays Center. I think we’re going to give them incredible reasons why the need to come back.
SLAM: What was your strategy in finding the corporate partners with whom you eventually aligned the Nets and Barclays Center?
BY: Initially, our goal was to educate the market on a new way of looking and considering sponsorship. We truly took the philosophy of less is more. Fewer partners but those that we would engage with would have a sense of ownership. We’re going to try to be as technologically advanced as any building in the country.
One of the things we wanted to do was to get away from static signage and really incorporate as much dynamic messaging as possible, so that our corporate partners could truly customize their message on an event-to-event basis. There are moments that any one of our partners truly look like they had an ownership position at Barclays Center because we have this street-to-seat, synchronized, LED signage package that creates incredible messaging for our partners, starting with the outside marquee to the inside atrium to our main concourse and then into our bowl. I think that approach has truly resonated with our partners. It’s something we’re really pleased about.
The second part of that is on the heels of getting the Barclays deal done, we felt like we had a chance to go global. That Brooklyn truly is a global brand and the anticipation of this building truly transcends the Tri-State area. So, we have really gone global looking for partners that want to launch or build their brand in the heart of wall commerce. When you think of companies like Haier out of China or Stolichnaya out of Russia or, for that matter, our friends from the UK – Barclays. We think that we’re doing a really good job of not only going global but at the same time staying local.
SLAM: Does a prioritization of digital signage also help enhance revenue for the Nets and Barclays Center?
BY: There’s strategic ramifications and there are financial ramifications of all decisions we make. Hopefully, if I’m doing my job, they’re both very closely aligned. We benefit in both areas. Strategically, it was the right decision to make in going with less clutter, more dynamic signage, more customization for our partners and at the same time it’s been driving revenue.
SLAM: So you open in September 2012. For the first year that Barclays Center is open, through September 2013, what specifically are you going to track and evaluate to measure success?
BY: From an event perspective, obviously exceeding and hitting our 220 anticipated events is obviously a sign of success. But I think, more than that, is the types of events. We want to be a world-class entertainment venue.
We want to bring world-class events to Brooklyn and to Barclays Center and, as I mentioned earlier, we have five major franchises. The Brooklyn Nets, boxing, concerts, family shows and college sports. And I think as we look at all five of those, we want to launch them on a big stage. Kentucky-Maryland will open our college franchise on ESPN, Jay-Z is kicking off our concert franchise. He’s also obviously opening the building officially. The Brooklyn Nets, I’m sure, will be on national TV as we open the season in ’12. The boxing franchise we’re going to open on October 20th on, hopefully, HBO or Showtime with world championship boxing.
If we can accomplish that and we’re well on our way, that’s going to set us up for some great success in all those five areas. We have done a pretty good job – maybe better than just good – of educating artists and promoters on the merits of bringing big-time events to Brooklyn. I think that’s why, to date, with nine-plus months to go we’ve already surpassed 175 events.
SLAM: In Brooklyn, you’re obviously going to have luxury suites and you will have an affluent crowd in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Tri-State area. You still want to hit some of the core customers, who might be middle- to lower-income. How do you evaluate what your pricing structure should be in regards to that?
BY: Going back five or six years when I took this job and when Bruce Ratner was the principal owner of the Nets, he and his partners made a commitment that Barclays Center will always be open to all. We have to price tickets accordingly.
As an example, there will be 2,000 seats for the Nets priced at $15 and under when we get to Brooklyn. That shows the commitment we’re making to the borough and to anyone who wants to come see NBA basketball in Brooklyn. As it relates to other events, pricing and affordable pricing will always be part of the model. It’s truly important for us to get local support, and I think you do that – or enhance that possibility – by pricing your tickets the right way.
Now, are we going to have premium-priced seats? Absolutely. But there will be a balance. We’ve done it with the Nets, and we’ll do it with other events.
SLAM: There have been some economic, housing and environmental issues that some people have had with Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards. There is probably going to be a group of folks who you can sway to come to Barclays even if they were previously against the arena being constructed, and there will be a group that won’t go no matter what. How do you identify those two different sets of people?
BY: As far as I’m concerned, all I’m seeing is support for this project. Anyone that was a naysayer, anyone that was truly not supportive early on, realizes that it’s happening. Obviously, we’re months away from opening, and that they need to embrace it. I think that’s the overall feeling. You’re always going to have people, in any situation, that don’t embrace a movement.
But I think this project, from Day One, has been about bringing sports entertainment back to Brooklyn. It’s been about Brooklyn, it’s been about job creation, it’s been about affordable housing. It’s been out doing what’s right for Brooklyn. There hasn’t been a decision that we’ve made that hasn’t put Brooklyn first and the people of Brooklyn first. If there are a few people out there who aren’t supportive, so be it. It is what it is.
But I think the majority of people love what we’re doing; they’re very supportive. In our season ticket sales alone, over 41 percent are coming from Brooklyn. Which is quite surprising for me because I knew that we would get the support from Brooklyn. But we’ve only released our 4,400 premium seats. We haven’t gone on-sale with our non-premium seating and people in Brooklyn are voting ‘yes’ for the Nets. Even at the premium seat level and there will only be more as we release the non-premium seats.
We love the support we’re getting. Our players go into Brooklyn quite often, and they’re doing community engagement. People are honking their horns and saying ‘We love you, Nets’ and it’s a great feeling.
Barclays Center images provided by the New Jersey Nets.