It’s tough to tell what has taken longer: the construction of the Nets’ arena in Brooklyn or the completion of this long-discussed trade to acquire Carmelo Anthony. At least, after years of legal delays, we can see the Barclays Center going up. I chatted with Nets CEO Brett Yormark about what the arena means to Brooklyn, why the Nets need a superstar, the building of the brand and a man he calls Michael -- that would be Mikhail Prokhorov.
“I’ve been engaged in this whole move for about six years,” Yormark said. “I’m in Brooklyn quite often, if not daily. The disbelief that the Dodgers left [in 1957], that underserved nature with respect to sports and entertainment, has been passed on from generation to generation.
“Brooklyn has the fourth-largest population in the United States. Kids that are growing up will have something to root for.
“The first-level concourse is being erected. Steel’s coming out of the ground. It’s very tangible. We’re no longer preaching the gospel. Within time, world-class entertainment and sports will be in Brooklyn.”
The arena is scheduled to open in 2012. The dominant question at the moment is whether Carmelo will be playing in it. Yormark can’t talk about another team’s player, but he did address the need for the Nets to have someone to put on the marquee. (Actually, arenas don’t really have marquees anymore, do they? Okay, someone to put on the splash page of the website.)
“Fans like stars,” Yormark said. “They gravitate to stars. Especially in big markets where there’s not a lot of options, you’ve got to give people a reason to believe, a reason to like you. One of the ways to do that is to be relevant. In a market like New York, you need stars to be relevant. The new owners, they understand that.
“Michael, he’s done a tremendous job surround himself with talented people,” Yormark said. “They give us all the resources we need to be successful. They’re a quick study in the business. Prokhorov has given everybody in my office and our organization, a bit of swagger.”
He’s also given the Nets an obvious tie-in to Russia, one they’re trying to expand westward into the continent by joining the Toronto Raptors to play the NBA’s first regular-season games in Europe on March 4 and 5.
Yormark is drawing on his days as the vice president of corporate marketing for NASCAR to simultaneously build the brand in Brooklyn and beyond.
“In NASCAR the sport was activated on a local level,” Yormark said. “You go into a market once a year, maybe twice. It’s all about local activation with drivers, sponsors and fans. We kind of look at it the same way as in NASCAR: You position yourself as a national sport, but you activate on a local level. We’re trying to do it the same way.”
One example was the building’s title sponsor, Barclays, the British based financial services behemoth that paid $400 million for 20 years of naming rights.
There’s just one thing I can’t get past.
“Michael,” Yormark said. “I’m not sure if the receptionist calls him Michael.
“I’ve always called him Michael. He’s always responded. I’ll continue to call him Michael.”
So how about Mike?
“No, no, no.”
Apparently the Americanization of Mikhail Prokhorov has its limits.