Thus, the total rebrand. The Nets are trying to make you forget they ever were in New Jersey. Everything about the team now screams premium. The centerpiece is Jay-Z, who has been intimately involved in glitzing up the operation, from polishing the logo to redesigning the uniforms to choosing which forks are used in the private suites. The Nets are rebranding with Jay-Z class. They are more about the ambience than the food. (Though—and Ratner wants to make sure you know this—they are bringing in all sorts of Brooklyn cuisine to the concessions.)
In addition to the Vault, there’s also the Legends Lounge on the Main Concourse and the signature Barclays Center feature, the “Loft Suites.” These are private boxes like any other private box at an arena, but with fewer seats (ten), thus making it (theoretically) more affordable for smaller businesses. (By “theoretically,” I mean “$275,000 for the season.”) The loft-suite licenses also provide “use of the suite on nonevent dates.” The team says over 80 percent of its corporate boxes have been sold already. The one corporate box that’s off-limits? The “Prokhorov Suite,” sitting at the center bowl of the arena, larger than any other private box and reserved for the mercurial Russian owner. (Prokhorov told me back in November that he plans on attending a quarter of the regular-season games and “all the playoff ones.”* He also made sure that I heard him call Dolan “that little man.”) The Nets frequently note that a minimum of 2,000 seats a game will cost $15 or less, at least for the first season. Still, it’s clear that the Nets did not move to Brooklyn to be Pepsi to Jim Dolan’s Coke: They want to be Veuve Clicquot.
Ratner & Co. believe Brooklyn as a whole is already well on its way to super-premium status and will never go back. They believe Ratner has built exactly the sort of architectural showpiece and modern sports-and-entertainment megaplex that the newly gentrified Brooklynites want. They believe that Prokhorov and his staff will eventually lure someone like Howard to pack the joint to capacity for Nets games. They believe Jay-Z will persuade the biggest names in the music business to play his home arena, or fill the place himself eight times a year, if need be. They believe that the idea of Brooklyn itself—the Brooklyn brand, the actual word Brooklyn—has commercial power. As Yormark puts it: “I often tell people, ‘Shame on us if we do not leverage this. It comes for free. You do not have to pay for it, and to some degree we inherit it.’ From a marketer’s perspective, just the diversification of Brooklyn itself is a marketer’s dream.”
They’re also counting on simple logistics. “Brooklyn has the same advantage as Manhattan: urban mass transportation,” says Harvey Schiller, CEO of GlobalOptions Group and former chairman and CEO of YankeeNets, the short-lived organization that once ran the Yankees and Nets as one business and launched the yes Network. “You have a feeder system of 12 to 15 million people in the area who don’t have to drive to get there.”
But what if Ratner and his partners are wrong? What if the new titanium-coated Brooklyn is a developer’s narcissistic fantasy, and nothing more? Even in Brooklyn Heights, the borough’s most expensive neighborhood, no one fetishizes being ostentatious with one’s wealth; they’re all spending their money on the illusion of healthy food, and preschool. Jay-Z may be Brooklyn’s own, but the Loft Suites are Manhattan in every way. “From my experience, people who enjoy Brooklyn enjoy it because it’s not Manhattan,” says Tony Ponturo, CEO of Ponturo Management Group, a sports and entertainment consulting firm. ”If you feel no pride of ownership as a Brooklynite, then it’s not going to work. You have to at least make sure they’re putting something into the community that makes it feel right.”
One can argue that Brooklyn will never reach the gilded state Ratner imagines. As high as rents are going, as expensive as Brooklyn preschools are becoming, Brooklyn has a natural ceiling on it: It is never going to be Manhattan, and how could it be? It’s not in the borough’s DNA. Ratner & Co. made their bet on Brooklyn at the height of the economic boom; they’ve been working on this project since 2003. But the borough, and the world, look different now. Everything, everywhere, feels more precarious and less bulletproof. Perpetual unlimited growth seems like a long-forgotten fever dream.
Also, there is the issue of traffic. At a “public meeting” called the “Barclays Center Traffic Mitigation Plan Public Meeting,” the Nets made their parking strategy as clear as possible: Please do not drive, Nets fans. The goofy traffic consultant and civic curio Gridlock Sam, who has worked as a paid adviser on the project, flat-out said, “Don’t even think of driving to the arena. We will maximize transit and encourage sustainable transportation choices.” There will be only 541 allotted parking spots near the arena, with 612 more, amazingly, for people who are redirected off the BQE and parked in garages so far away that they will be bussed to the arena. Yes, they’ve certainly made plenty of public-transit options available—from a new LIRR and subway entrance to empty buses being available and waiting after games to extra Q and 4 trains running postgame to 400 bike-parking spaces—but still. People love cars, even in this town. The nightmare situation involves random Barclays Center patrons driving up, through, and around Park Slope and Cobble Hill all night looking for free parking.
*This article has been corrected to show that a conversation the author had with Prokhorov about his game attendance took place in November, not December.